The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Documents associated with: 6th Winter Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures in Oil, Dudley Gallery, London, 1872
Record 6 of 9

System Number: 09587
Date: [21/28?] February 1873[1]
Author: JW
Place: London
Recipient: The Editor of an American Newspaper[2]
Repository: Unknown
Document Type: MsLd[3]


Feb 1873.


I observe that many American Journals have [thought proper] to inform the "curious reader" on the authority of a correspondent who conceals his personality under the initials S T - that "the peculiarities of my pictures, "Symphony in grey and& green"[4] ["]Nocturne in blue and silver[5]" etc, were suggested to me, by one of my "boon companions", when I had in my "off hand way" hastily given life to one of my "peculiar creations."

I should not, myself, have ventured to intrude a matter so purely personal upon the notice of the public, but when a journal like your own, is led into error, with respect to "my peculiarities" I think it due to you, to set these peculiarities before you in their true light.

However gratifying ST may suppose it to be to me, to be represented as "hastily giving life to my peculiar creations" candour compels me to confess that (whatever their worth may be) these creations are the result of much earnest study and deep thought. Each of these represents to me at least, a problem laboriously solved, and their peculiar titles suggest as much, (not to Art critics of course) but to all who are capable of understanding, or inferring their meaning. Their titles moreover if "poor things[6]" are "mine own."

I may add that ST's communication to your journal was recently forwarded to me, by Mr. Stephen Tucker[7], with a letter, saying it is Mr Sam Theobald's[8] feeble recollection of an anecdote which (alarmed at seeing it in print) he hastens to fasten upon me. Mr Tucker who professes to have forgotten the circumstances but ingeniously adds: "Yet it reads like one of my ingeniously amiable, postprandial fictions" This letter I retain in my own possession, where it is open to the inspection of any of your curious readers, whom the fiction may concern more than it does

Your obedient Servant

J MacNeill Whistler[9]

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  [21/28?] February 1897
The final version of this letter has not been located, but it was mentioned to S. P. Avery on 1 March [1873], #10629. A letter on a similar subject was published in The Athenaeum, 22 November 1873, #13150 (Getscher, Robert H., and Paul G. Marks, James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent. Two Annotated Bibliographies, New York and London, 1986, B.3).

2.  The Editor of an American Newspaper
Probably the Baltimore Gazette (see the letter to Avery mentioned above). This letter appears not to have been published.

3.  MsLd
This letter was recorded by David J. Holmes Autographs, Philadelphia, in 1986, but its location is currently unknown. It is in the hand of Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881), née McNeill, JW's mother [more]. There is a longer draft of the same letter by two unknown writers, with several major amendments and additional material (#07429).

4.  Symphony in grey and green
Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean (YMSM 72) was exhibited at the 6th Winter Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures in Oil, Dudley Gallery, London, 1872 (cat. no. 37).

5.  Nocturne in blue and silver
The term 'Nocturnes' to describe JW's 'moonlight' pictures was suggested to JW by Frederick Richards Leyland (1832-1892), ship-owner and art collector [more] (see #08794). Nocturne in Blue and Silver (YMSM 118) was one of the first two paintings exhibited as 'Nocturnes', in the 6th Winter Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures in Oil, Dudley Gallery, London, 1872 (cat. no. 237).

6.  poor things [...] mine own
Quotation from Shakespeare's As You Like It, act V, scene iv: 'A poor virgin, sir, an ill favoured thing, but mine own.'

7.  Stephen Tucker
Stephen Isaacson Tucker (1835-1887), collector, genealogist and Queen's Herald [more].

8.  Sam Theobalds
Samuel Theobald (fl. 1878-1906), eye specialist [more].

9.  J MacNeill Whistler
In the hand of A. M. Whistler. JW usually wrote 'J. A. McN. Whistler' at this date, but dropped the 'A' after his mother's death in 1881.