The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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3rd April 2003 - Whistler on Corsica

On 3 April 1901 Whistler wrote a letter to Rosalind Birnie Philip from Ajaccio, Corsica (GUL Whistler P441). JW had travelled to the island in mid-January of that year and was to remain there until the first day of May, when he sailed back to England via Marseilles.

His letter of 3 April hints at many of the main interests that the artist had at that particular time of his life. The first was the activities of the Académie Carmen, a studio in Paris run by Carmen Rossi but which had Whistler as its figurehead and guest tutor from its opening in 1898. However, by 1901 enthusiasm had dimmed, students were drifting away, and Whistler was absent. Tensions had been rising between the artist and Rossi. Whistler writes lightly:

"This last [letter] I fear the Apprentice & Massière will not like - She preferred running the whole show, even to its "winding up". - So thats all right - ... How do you like "this Aristocratic and intolerant Academie"? - How do you Ma'ame? -"

Whistler also discusses the reason for his being on Corsica - his health. However, stormy weather on the island during his stay did not help much:

"It has stormed - and frozen & been terrible - and now today - it is simply amazing! 40- degrees - out of doors in shade. But what's the use! all this time lost as far as work goes! - Only as the Conservateur says, but you have gained the most important - your health - yes - but I have not known how to do that decently -"

Whistler had spent some months travelling in search of 'his health', and the letters from his time in Ajaccio contain various references to how it had been revealed to the artist that in past years he had been perhaps over-doing things.

Whistler's final obsession during his Corsican months was with the postal service itself. Again and again he asks when such and such a letter arrived, how long it took, when he might receive a telegram, and whether all of his letters were being forwarded correctly. It is a great testimony to the nineteenth century that the postal service was as good as it was - as Whistler himself said on 3 April: "The P. O. people are capital".