The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Documents associated with: Gentle Art of Making Enemies, The
Record 20 of 181

System Number: 11416
Date: [26 November 1886][1]
Author: JW
Place: [London]
Recipient: Editor, The Daily News[2]
Place: [London]
Repository: Published[3]
Document Type: PLc


SIR, -

The anonymous "British Artist"[4] says that "Mr. Whistler denies that the recent policy of the Society of British Artists was the cause of the secession of Messrs. Reid[5] and Burr[6] from the ranks of that Society."

Far from me to propose to penetrate the motives of such withdrawal, but what I did deny was that it could possibly be caused - as its strangely late announcement seemed sweetly to insinuate - by the strong determination to tolerate no longer the mediocre work that had hitherto habitually swarmed the walls of Suffolk Street.

This is a plain question of date, and I pointed out that these two gentlemen left the Society six months [p. 2] ago - long before the supervising committee were called upon to act at all, or make any demonstration whatever. Your correspondent regrets that I do not "go further," and straightway goes further himself, and scarcely fares better, when, with a quaintness of naïveté rare at this moment, he proposes that "it will be for the patrons of the gallery to decide whether the more than half-uncovered walls are more interesting than the works of many artists of more than the average merit."

Now it will be for the patrons to decide absolutely nothing. It is, and will always be, for the gentlemen of the hanging committee alone, duly chosen, to decide whether empty space be preferable to poor pictures - whether, in short, it be their duty to cover walls, merely that walls may be covered - no matter with what quality of work.

Indeed, the period of the patron has utterly passed away, and the painter takes his place - to point out what he knows to be consistent with the demands of his art - without deference to patrons or prejudice to party. Beyond this, whether the "policy of Mr. Whistler and his following" be "selfish or [p. 3] no," matters but little; but if the policy of your correspondent's "following" find itself among the ruthlessly rejected, his letter is more readily explained.

[butterfly signature]

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  [26 November 1886]
Date of publication in the Daily News.

2.  The Daily News
This is part of a sequence of letters on the subject (see anon. to Daily News, 24 November 1886 (#11415), and JW's letter to same, [22 November 1886], (#11412).

3.  Published
Published in Whistler, James McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, London and New York, 1890, pp. 189-91, under the heading 'Autre Temps autre Mœurs', on which our transcription is based. The original has not been located. (See Getscher, Robert H., and Paul G. Marks, James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent. Two Annotated Bibliographies, New York and London, 1986, B. 41.)

4.  British Artist
An unidentified member of the Society of British Artists, of which JW was the increasingly unpopular President.

5.  Reid
John Robertson Reid (1851-1926), genre, landscape and marine painter [more].

6.  Burr
John P. Burr (1831-1893), genre painter [more].