UNIVERSITY of GLASGOW

The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Documents associated with: Howell, Charles Augustus
Record 28 of 397

System Number: 11867
Date: 23 August [1871][1]
Author: Anna Matilda Whistler[2] and JW
Place: London
Recipient: Frederick Richards Leyland[3]
Place: [Liverpool]
Repository: Library of Congress
Call Number: Manuscript Division, Pennell-Whistler Collection, PWC 6B
Document Type: ALS


2 Lindsey[4] Houses Chelsea

Wednesday, Augt 23rd

My dear Mr Leyland.

Jemie wishes me to write at his side, of his having been this morning to examine more carefully the Picture, of which he wrote[5] you last night his first impression, his feeling of responsibility as to the opinion he had given, disturbed him early to rise & go at once to Howell[6], and they together went to see the picture, he has just come back & while he works I am his Amanuensis. he says he had the picture out & looked at it scrutinisingly in a good light & he likes it less.

If a Velasquez[7] at all (which he doubts greatly) it is not one containing the beauties either in color or execution of that great Master. the Drawing is very weak & the lovely grey [p. 2] tones are supplanted by curious brown-reds, that he does not know in Velasquez, besides which there is an awkwardness in parts of the execution that makes them rather heavier than I like - Voila you see that having finished what I was about I have taken up this note myself -

The fact is my dear Baron[8], I do not recommend you to buy the picture as a fine Velasquez - now that I have seen it well - It certainly is a fine and most impressive picture - and I do not doubt that it is of that period - the scheme being one that at first sight and in the evening as was the case yesterday with me, would make one suppose he stood before a Velasquez sure enough -

Now if I were learned in the mass of his works, I might be more able to fix this, but knowing only the few that I do, I have formed for myself [p. 3] and an ideal this one does not come up to - So that if it were afterwards clearly proved that this were a copy of the time - for it is an old thing - or a work by some pupil or contemporary I should not be surprised - It is a grand work to possess only the painting is not worthy of the name you would be obliged to put on the frame* -

Howell says he will write to you this evening and tell you all I say - but at the same time hopes that you will take it and as who say should secure it for him, on the conditions he has already proposed to you - as he is sure he could sell it advantageously by the time he mentions - and if you did so I do not know that you would run any great risk - [line drawn across page]

*What is bad in this picture, is, as I remember once saying to you about the badness [p. 4] of men who ought to be great, worse by far than the ordinary badness of mediocre people -

Now I don't know what more to say about it - You might buy it and as Howell pledges himself to return the money should you not like it - why there would be no harm done - besides - but there! my feeling would always be: what a grand thing and what a cruel pity so much of it is so poorly done! - for me it is manqué[9] - for others it might still remain the fine picture it certainly ought to be - Voilà at last my verdict -

Ever Yours

J A McN Whistler


This document is protected by copyright.


Notes:

1.  23 August [1871]
JW lived in 2 Lindsey Row from February 1867 to June 1878. However, occasional letters between August 1871 and October 1876 were written as from 'Lindsey Houses'. This letter must predate October 1871 when a 'Velasquez' was in Speke Hall (see below). Finally, the gazeteer confirms that 23 August was a Wednesday in 1871.

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

3.  Frederick Richards Leyland
Frederick Richards Leyland (1832-1892), ship-owner and art collector [more].

4.  2 Lindsey
'2 Lindsey ... awkwardness' written by AMW; 'In parts ... Whistler' written by JW.

5.  Picture of which he wrote
JW's previous letter has not been located. The picture was the portrait of a soldier, known as Formerly attributed to Velazquez, The Corregidor of Madrid (whereabouts unknown) (z22) (see Merrill, Linda, The Peacock Room. A Cultural Biography, New Haven and London, 1998, p. 123).

6.  Howell
Charles Augustus ('Owl') Howell (1840? - d.1890), entrepreneur [more].

7.  Velasquez
Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660), painter [more]. The painting was sent to Liverpool and, despite JW's advice, Leyland decided to keep it. When JW saw it at Speke Hall, later in 1871, he appears to have revised his opinion and described it to Walter Greaves as 'a grand Velasquez' (#11469). It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1884 as by Velasquez but the attribution was apparently not generally accepted for it was sold after Leyland's death for only £130, less than half its original purchase price. It has since disappeared (see Linda Merrill, op. cit., p. 123).

8.  Baron
JW used to call F. R. Leyland 'Baron' but Leyland never in fact acquired any titles (see #08796).

9.  manqué
Fr., deficient.