The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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30th April 2003 - Edouard Manet

After a long illness from which he had been suffering for about 5 years, on 30 April 1883 the painter and printmaker Edouard Manet died. Known for providing a transition from the realism of Gustave Courbet to Impressionism, Manet was influential in being one of the first artists to choose urban subjects for paintings from the events and appearances of his own time, and in this manner he inspired many French painters of his day. He shared an interest with Whistler in the art of the 17th century Spanish painter Velázquez.

There does not appear to have been much written correspondence between Whistler and Manet during their lifetimes, although the one letter from Manet to Whistler in the collection of Glasgow University Library (22 November [1880], GUL Whistler M257) is significant in that it inaugurated a lifelong friendship between Whistler and the art critic Théodore Duret; Manet writes (translated from the original French):

"Just as you are a master painter my friend Theodore Duret is a master connoisseur. Let me therefore introduce him to you, he has the greatest desire to tell you face to face how greatly he admires your work -"

In the year 1900 Whistler confided his own thoughts concerning Manet's work to his biographers Joseph and Elizabeth Pennell; he was not altogether complimentary:

"Manet did very good work, of course, but then Manet was always l'écolier, - the student with a certain sense of things in paint, and that is all! - he never understood that art is a positive science, one step in it leading to another. He painted, you know, in la manière noire - the dark pictures that look very well when you come to them at Durand-Ruel's [Paris art dealer], after wandering through rooms of screaming blues and violets and greens - but he was so little in earnest that, midway in his career, he took to the blues and violets and greens himself. You know, it is the trouble with so many - they paint in one way - brilliant colour, say - they see something, like Ribot [Théodule Augustin Ribot, French painter], and, dear me! they think, we had better try and do this too, and they do, and, well, really you know, in the end they do nothing for themselves!"

(The Life of James McNeill Whistler by J. and E. R. Pennell (vol. II, 1908, pp. 261))