The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Documents associated with: 104th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, Royal Academy, London, 1872
Record 2 of 17

System Number: 11468
Date: [1871/1876][1]
Author: JW
Place: [London]
Recipient: Walter Greaves[2]
Place: [London]
Repository: Library of Congress
Call Number: Manuscript Division, Pennell-Whistler Collection, PWC 9/639
Document Type: TLc[3]

My dear Walter -

Do you know there comes strangely enough to mind to-day something you said about a portrait[4] you are doing in a blue dress - Now Walter don't allow yourself to wander into my symphony in blue[5] - whatever you do! - I know you would not intentionally - but still you see that is the danger unconsciously - However you have only to talk it over with Harry[6] and remember what I said to you both before about it - and you will see that of course it would be not only unfair to yourselves but to my inventions too - I don't know why this suddenly occurs to me now but I think long ago my dear boys I wrote a letter[7] to you on the subject - yes and Harry spoke to me about it and acknowledged that he thoroughly understood and would pay heed to what I meant -

Don't you see Walter you know how I continually invent - and invention you know is the cream of the whole affair and so easy to destroy the freshness of it - And you know that all the whole system of arrangements and harmonies[8] which I most certainly invented, I brought you up in, so that it is only natural that I should expect my pupil[9] to perceive all harmony in the same way: - he must do it - for I have shown him that everything outside of that is wrong - but what I mean is that any special thing, like for instance this blue girl, blue - on blue - etc., he should avoid -

Now look, suppose you were to see any other fellows doing my moonlights[10] - how vexed you would be - You see I invented them - Never in the history of art had they been done - Well nothing more natural than that you two should do them - and quite right that the traditions of the studio should go on through the pupils - but still for instance it would be absurd now to paint another "White Girl[11]." Don't you know what I mean -

Ah well, I don't doubt you thoroughly feel what I say - and fancy my writing such a long letter! - It's worthy of Horace[12].

With kindest regards to your mother and sisters[13],
Ever affectionately your friend,

J. A. McN. Whistler

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  [1871/1876]
The reference to 'moonlights' suggests a date from c.1871/1872 (see below); matters relating to a portrait by Henry Greaves mentioned in another letter to Greaves indicate the latest date as 1876 (see #11494, mentioned below).

2.  Walter Greaves
Walter Greaves (1846-1930), boatman and painter [more].

3.  TLc
The Pennells' typescript copies of correspondence with the Greaves family contain numerous, but not always clear, corrections and amendments, particularly of punctuation. None of the originals has been located. This letter was partially quoted in Pocock, Tom, Chelsea Reach: the Brutal Friendship of Whistler and Walter Greaves, London, 1970, p. 106.

4.  portrait
Probably the picture by Greaves now entitled W. Greaves, The Green Dress, Tate Gallery (z75) in the Tate Gallery, London (ibid., p. 106, repr. f. p. 49).

5.  symphony in blue
Probably The Blue Girl: Portrait of Miss Elinor Leyland (YMSM 111). JW never completed it.

6.  Harry
Henry Greaves (1843-1904), boat builder and painter [more].

7.  letter
This may have been #11494.

8.  arrangements and harmonies
The first painting exhibited by JW with a musical title was Symphony in White, No. 3 (YMSM 61) in 1867. In 1871 he began to use musical terminology in his titles, and in 1872 to co-ordinate the titles of paintings with a common colour scheme. Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (YMSM 101) was shown at at 104th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, Royal Academy, London, 1872 (cat. no. 941), and Arrangement in Grey: Portrait of the Painter (YMSM 122) was first exhibited as 'Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2' - a Portrait' at 5th Exhibition, Society of French Artists, London, 1872 (cat. no. 130). That title was later given to Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle (YMSM 137) at the Mr Whistler's Exhibition, Flemish Gallery, Pall Mall, London, 1874 (cat. no. 6), and it was for this exhibition that JW retitled his earlier paintings to conform with this musical nomenclature.

9.  pupil
The Pennells wrote about the Greaves brothers, 'We have often heard him speak of them as his "first pupils"' (Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908, vol. 1, p. 107; see also Marchant, Wm. and Co., A Reply to an Attack Made by One of Whistler's Biographers on a Pupil of Whistler, Mr. Walter Greaves and his Work, London, 1911, pp. 46-47). In 1911 Walter Greaves himself wrote 'Whistler would never allow us to exhibit anything without his permission, and always insisted on our mentioning that we were "pupils of Whistler" (preface, Greaves, Walter, Exhibition of Works, London, Goupil Gallery, 4 May 1911, p. 6.

10.  moonlights
'Moonlight' was JW's first name for his night pictures of the Thames. Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea (YMSM 103) was exhibited as 'Harmony in Blue-Green - Moonlight' at 5th Winter Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures in Oil, Dudley Gallery, London, 1871 (cat. no. 265). F. R. Leyland suggested the term 'Nocturne', which JW first used at the 6th Winter Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures in Oil, Dudley Gallery, London, in November 1872, when Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Southampton Water (YMSM 117) was exhibited as 'Nocturne in Grey and Gold' with Nocturne in Blue and Silver (YMSM 118) (cat. nos. 187, 237; see #08794).

11.  White Girl
Symphony in White, No. I: The White Girl (YMSM 38).

12.  Horace
Quintus Horatius Flaccus (fl. 65-68 B.C.), Latin poet.

13.  mother and sisters
Elizabeth Greaves (1810-1900), née Greenaway, wife of C. W. Greaves [more], whose daughters included Alice ('Tinnie') Fay Greaves (b. 1852), model [more]. Emily ('Eliza') Greaves (b. ca 1842), model [more]. Greaves ignored JW and painted her in blue (ibid., p. 106).