The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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20th February 2003 - The Ten O'Clock Lecture

The Ten o'clock lecture was perhaps James Whistler's major statement upon the subject of his own artistic ideals and intentions. First given on this day in 1885 in the Prince's Hall, London, Whistler's lecture aimed to 'outline the difference between art and nature', and 'attacked both Ruskinian photo-realism and Oscar Wilde's vulgarisation of Whistlerian ideas on decoration and dress' (Richard Dorment, Whistler, p. 21). It was intended that the lecture be taken 'on tour' to the United States of America, but this never happened.

Overall the press in Britain and America reviewed the lecture very positively; below are some excerpts of some of the reviews:

"Mr. Whistler's lecture is distinctly a surprise. We expected, as a matter of course, wit, humour, and neat epigram. We got these and a great deal more." - DAILY NEWS.

"There was a large and brilliant audience, at whose hands the lecturer experienced a very favourable reception." - MORNING POST.

"...the Prince's Hall was crowded with literature and fashion. There were lords and ladies, beauties and their attendant 'beasts,' painters and poets, all who know about Art, and all who thought that they did... all seemed delighted with 'Jimmy.'" - TRUTH.

"Few, if any, of the audience who crowded Prince's Hall last night, to listen to the message, with the delivery of which Mr. Whistler had mysteriously announced himself to be commissioned, credited the lecturer beforehand with the remarkable powers of oratory which he showed that he possessed." - ST. JAMES'S GAZETTE.

"Flashes of amusing paradox and outbursts of characteristic cynicism elicited much mirth from the audience - and the whole was a great success..." - THE GLOBE.

"Mr. Whistler...spoke for more than an hour with really marvellous eloquence." - PALL MALL GAZETTE.

"The success of Mr. Whistler's 'Ten o'Clock' was indeed unquestionable, not only as a rare entertainment; but as a most unexpected revelation of serious and scientific work, from a man who has been popularly regarded as eccentric and incomprehensible." - MANCHESTER GUARDIAN.

"A certain proportion of the crowded audience had evidently come in the expectation of seeing the McNeill stand upon his head, but they were disappointed; the historic white lock remained uppermost, and James firmly planted on his feet, delivered many well-aimed thrusts with the keen rapier of epigrammatic satire." - PUNCH.

"The discourse abounded in sparkling paradoxes, polished epigrams, and novel views on Art. It was a serious protest against mediocrity and vulgarity arising out of recent attempts to popularise Art. The success of the lecture was brilliant." - CABLEGRAM IN NEW YORK TRIBUNE.


To read a full transcript of the Ten O'Clock Lecture, click here.