The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 05860
Date: [3/5 April 1889?][1]
Author: JW
Place: [London]
Recipient: Henry Labouchere[2]
Place: [London]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler T205
Document Type: MsLd[3]


Henry, -

You certainly must have the following correspondence in its entirety; for it seems most proper that in the columns of Truth, where fearlessly the crimes of Respectability are exposed, should be recorded the details of an incident in which the element of grave offence is, not unnaturally, quite missed by the daily papers in their indignation at the insignificance of the object to which public attention has so unwarrantably been drawn - a "Notice Board[5]"! - the common sign of commerce!

Now, however slight might be the value of the work in question, destroyed, it is surely of startling interest to know that work may[6] be destroyed, or worse still, defaced and tampered with at the present moment, in full London, with the joyous approval of the major part of the popular press.

I leave to your comment the fact that, in this instance the act is committed, with the tacit consent of a body of gentlemen officially styled "Artists," at the instigation of their President[7] as he unblushingly acknowledges, and there I will distinctly state (and this though in principle irrelevant, - [for what becomes of the soul of a "Diocesan Member of the Council of Clapham" is artistically a matter of small moment,] is [I now see is, the only evidence that will at present be at all considered or even understood]) that the "notice board of the Royal Society of British Artists" did not "bear on a red ground, in letters of gold, the title of the Society" - and that "to this Mr Whistler during his Presidency" did not "add with his own hand a decorative device of a lion and a butterfly[8]".

The "notice board" was of the familiar blue enamel, well known in Metropolitan use, with white lettering, announcing that the exhibition of the Incorporated Society of British Artists was held below, and that for the sum of one shilling the public might enter.

I myself mixed the "red ground", and myself placed, "in letters of gold the" new "title" upon it - in proper relation to the decorative scheme of the whole design, of which it formed naturally an all important feature. The date was that of the Society's Royal Grant[9], and in commemoration of its new birth. With the offending Butterfly it has now been effaced in one clean sweep of independence, while the Lion, "not so badly drawn," was differently dealt with - it was found not "necessary to do anything more than restore it in permanent colour, and that," with a bottle of Brunswick black[10], "has accordingly been done" - and, as Mr Bayliss[11] adds, with absolute truth, and in the careless pride of achievement, "the notice board was no longer the actual work of Mr Whistler"!

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  [3/5 April 1889?]
This is a response to a letter from W. Bayliss to the Morning Post on 2 April 1889 (#09462).

2.  Henry Labouchere
Henry Du Pré Labouchère (1831-1912), journalist and Liberal MP [more].

3.  MsLd
Written by Charles James Whistler Hanson (1870-1935), engineer, son of JW and Louisa Fanny Hanson [more].

4.  detail
This word was written in pencil in another hand at the top left corner but does not seem relevant to the letter.

5.  Notice Board
JW had painted a new notice board for the Society of British Artists when they were awarded the title 'Royal' during his Presidency in 1887.

6.  may
This word was underlined a second time in pencil. Further additions and deletions on this sheet are also in pencil.

7.  President
JW was elected President of the SBA on 1 June 1886 and took office in December. He was forced to resign on 4 June 1888 but retained the post until November.

8.  lion and a butterfly
The lion was the Royal emblem, and the butterfly, JW's monogram. JW designed a lion for the RBA notepaper and catalogues, as well as for the signboard.

9.  Royal Grant
On the occasion of Queen Victoria's fiftieth Jubilee, on 20 June 1887, JW sent her an illuminated Address on behalf of the SBA (see M.1133-6). On 27 July he attended the Naval Review at Spithead. He made a set of twelve etchings, the 'Naval Review set', (K. 316-331) that was presented to the Queen in a specially designed album (see M.1132-3, 1138-45). JW then sent a Memorial to the Queen requesting that the Society be called 'Royal'. The SBA received a Royal Charter, thus becoming the Royal Society of British Artists (RBA).

10.  Brunswick black
Brunswick Black ink dried to an enamel like surface. It was used for covering etching plates, so that the lines scraped with the etching needle would show clearly as copper lines against the black surface.

11.  Mr Bayliss
Wyke Bayliss (1835-1906), painter and architect [more].