The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Documents associated with: Universal Exhibition, Paris, 1867
Record 10 of 31

System Number: 06529
Date: [27 April/May 1867][1]
Author: JW
Place: [London]
Recipient: Anna Matilda Whistler[2]
Place: [unknown]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: Whistler W523
Document Type: ALS

[monogram with motto:] JAMcNW[3]

My own darling Mother -

Of course I will come to you - I would at once if it were possible - for this whirl of excitement of ambition and hopes and dissappointments [sic] and bitterness that has so long engulfed me and so completely as to cause even this strange silence towards the few who love me, and even to you my Mother of whose continued kind indulgence and patient forgiveness and loving cheerfulness I have so many proofs! All this struggling and preparation is now over, and I am glad to come to you Mother dear and rest with you for the few days I may and then accompany you [p. 2] back[4] to London - We will have much to say to each other and to sympathise with, and to be sad about - for we are all sad Mother darling, sad and surrounded with gloom - Willie's[5] letter will tell you how our poor, dear intimate friend and comrade Traer[6] has gone from among us - the kind friend - the much loved companion - you know how fond we were of him - and so were you dearest Mother - he was a brother to us - and our grief is great - To die now suddenly in a maison de santé[7] alone is it not heartrending - I cannot write to you all about the sad details - but will tell you by and by what part we found ourselves of necessity taking in the sad arrangements that have followed, how we received the poor Mother and Sister[8], whose only comfort was in our friendship - how we wrote to the wife[9] - and how at last Seymour [p. 3] Haden[10] came, full of insolence and brutality and hatred - to take charge of the whole matter - how he insulted the absent Mother and sisters, and was grossly insulting to me - until no longer able to put up with the fellow I struck him and then and there punished him and avenged not only poor Traer but all of us! - You know partly how he had treated Traer like an upper servant as Traer himself said - but you do not know as I do how he had made him lead a dog's life - tracking him - pursuing him and making his existence one forlorn shrinking from this bully! - Many a time has he come to me in his trouble for sympathy and comfort - You know with his big heart and great strength he had the tenderness of a girl - and the simplicity of a child - Seymour has often caused him great anguish by his brutal insults - all this and more I will tell you, when I come for you - Meanwhile dear Mother stand firmly by your [p. 4] [son] as I know you will - No son of yours could or would bear longer with the blackguard insolence of such a bully as Seymour Haden - and we all know that Sis would only have suffered more from his triumphant intolerance than she can now from his just punishment - I beg that your kind feelings for her may not lead you either to write to him - or to receive any of his letters - You know he is no gentleman and would only insult you - and I would avoid all recurrence of these scenes - I am so pleased Mother dear with the affectionate interest you take in my pictures and my disappointment [11]- If it is possible to have them removed you may be sure it shall be done - but I am afraid it is impossible - However on the other hand you will be glad to hear that the French people have treated me at their Royal Academy splendidly, and there I have a complete success[12]! - Goodbye now Mother dear - Write to Lindsey Row - No 2 - I must be in London for at least ten days to come - and then will go over for you - Of course you cannot stay at 62. Sloane Street -

Your affectionate son


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1.  [27 April/May 1867]
Dated from references to family row with F. Seymour Haden, after the death of James Traer on 23 April 1867 (see below).

2.  Anna Matilda Whistler
Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881), née McNeill, JW's mother [more].

3.  JAMcNW
Monogram 'JAMcNW' with the motto 'VINCERE AUT MORI' (Lat., 'conquer or die') under the crest of a mailed arm and hand holding a dagger. This is the crest and motto of the McNeills of Colonsay, who were not, as far as is known, related to JW. See #07452, where JW claims to be related to the McNeills of Barra.

4.  back
It is not known where AMW was at this time.

5.  Willie's
William McNeill Whistler (1836-1900), physician, JW's brother [more].

6.  Traer
In late April 1867, JW was in Paris where his works were on view in the American section of the Universal Exhibition, Paris, 1867, and 85th exhibition, Ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et lithographie des artists vivants, Palais des Champs Elysées, Paris, 1867. There he quarrelled with F. S. Haden, over Haden's treatment of James Reeves Traer (ca 1834 - d.1867), partner in F. S. Haden's medical practice [more] (see #01914, #01915, #01917, #05848-#05850, #06994-#06996). Traer and JW's brother William had visited Paris for a medical conference in April. During the trip, Traer died suddenly on 23 April, allegedly in a brothel (see #12332); for the doctor's report, however, see #11801. Haden came over from London and arranged for Traer's burial at the Père La Chaise cemetery in Paris, with what JW and his brother regarded as unseemly haste. In the resulting confrontation in a café on 26 April, Haden alleged that JW had pushed him through a plate glass window. JW's relations with his brother-in-law had been deteriorating for several years but the Traer affair marked the final breakdown of their association. A family feud developed. From then onwards, Haden forbade JW, his brother and his mother from visiting the Haden home at 62 Sloane Street.

7.  maison de santé
Fr., maison de santé, private hospital or asylum; sanatorium.

8.  wife
Louisa Jane Holloway Traer (b. ca 1839, m. 1856), née Savage, wife of James R. Traer [more].

9.  Mother and Sister
Mrs Traer, mother of James Reeves Traer, and Ellen Traer (b. ca 1837), J. R. Traer's sister [more].

10.  Seymour Haden
Francis Seymour Haden (1818-1910), surgeon and etcher, JW's brother-in-law [more].

11.  disappointment
Probably a reference to Universal Exhibition, Paris, 1867, which opened on 1 April. JW sent Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge (YMSM 33), Wapping (YMSM 35), Symphony in White, No. I: The White Girl (YMSM 38), and Crepuscule in Flesh Colour and Green: Valparaiso (YMSM 73). JW was not invited to exhibit in the British section, the American section was poorly hung, and his work was poorly received (see #09192, and Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908, vol. 1, pp. 139-41).

12.  complete success
85th exhibition, Ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et lithographie des artistes vivants, Palais des Champs Elysées, Paris, 1867, opened on 15 April and lasted until 5 June 1867. JW exhibited At the Piano (YMSM 24), The Thames in Ice (YMSM 36), and an etching, La Tamise. JW's works were well received; see JW to Lucas Ionides, 22 April 1867, #11312. The critic Willem Bürger wrote to Manet: 'Quelle belle peinture: au Piano, no. 1561!'; see Etienne Joseph Théophile Thoré to Edouard Manet, 15 April/May 1867, #00433.