System Number: 04030
Date: [6/13 June 1878]
Recipient: Editor of Mayfair
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler M301
Document Type: ALdS
96. Cheyne Walk. Chelsea.
Dear Sir -
Under the title of "The Upside down Joke" an annecdote [sic] is taken from your columns that establishes a bond of union between us -
We have been both abused - I have been turned "upside down," and you have been called "stupid" - both unwarrantable liberties -
Believe, I beseech you, in my sympathy, and let us insist together upon the name of the aggrieved lady - so that her complaint may be attended to - and whilst your intelligence be vindicated again as has already been attempted in "Piccadilly" - I may also profit, - and, once for all, be
placed placed before a sensitive public "right side up" -
Faithfully Yours -
J A. McN. Whistler -
1. [6/13 June 1878]
This is a draft of the letter published in Mayfair, 18 June 1878 (see #13177). It was written within a week of an article published in Piccadilly: Town and Country Life, 6 June 1878 (see below).
"The 'Upside-Down' Joke," Piccadilly: Town and Country Life, 6 June 1878, p. 52. Writing to the editor (Walter Theodore Watts (later Watts-Dunton) (1832-1914), solicitor, novelist and poet [more]) (see #13731), 'A Brother Artist' complained about a paragraph published in Mayfair, which he called 'that stupid print,' concerning 'a lady of aesthetic tastes' who had lent a Whistler for exhibition and was shocked to discover that it had been hung upside down. The painting was described as 'a fine Whistler, in the artist's best manner - that is to say, a dull green piece of canvas, with a white streak across the middle'. At this time, Aglaia Coronio (1834-1906), née Ionides, wife of George Coronio [more], owned Nocturne in Black and Gold: Entrance to Southampton Water (YMSM 179). As far as is known, it was not on exhibition in 1878. However, there might possibly be some foundation for the story since it could be described as having 'a white streak across the middle', the streak being the lights of the bay, and it is said Mme Coronio did not like it (Way, Thomas Robert, Memories of James McNeill Whistler, the Artist, London and New York, 1912, pp. 97-98).
Mayfair: A Tuesday Journal of Politics, Literature, and Society, etc., published between December 1876 and February 1880. Correspondence on this subject continued on 18 June, and on 25 June 1878 Mayfair published "The 'Upside-Down Picture'" with two illustrations and letters from three of the forty-four people who claimed to own the painting in question. As Getscher and Marks comment, 'Whistler seems to have taken this all for the pleasant fun it was' (Getscher, Robert H., and Paul G. Marks, James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent. Two Annotated Bibliographies, New York and London, 1986, B. 7, p. 28).
4. The Upside down Joke
The immediate inspiration for this joke could have been the Nocturnes currently on exhibition at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1878 (cat. nos. 53, 56, 57) namely, Nocturne in Blue and Silver (YMSM 151), Nocturne in Blue and Gold (YMSM 154), and Nocturne: Grey and Gold - Chelsea Snow (YMSM 174). Nocturne in Blue and Gold (YMSM 154) was described as a view of 'the river in fog' (Times, 2 May 1878) and could have been the offending picture, but it has not been identified, and its history is unknown.