The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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12th August 2003 - 'The Glorious Twelfth'

In Scotland, the twelfth of August marks the opening of the grouse shooting season. There is plenty of evidence to show that Whistler enjoyed eating the fruits of the season, including letters he wrote to friends thanking them for gifts of game (see for example LCMS PWC 2/61/3) - however, his own shooting skills have been called into question.

On 9 December 1873 Thomas Layland wrote to Whistler in the following terms:

"My dear Jimmy [...] Are you coming down to Speke this Christmas? - We have had several shooting days - and you might have good sport @ the remaining dogs!! - in case you venture out - Pardon the recollection - it was a sudden thought - [...] T. Layland"

(GUL MS Whistler L143)

The obscure reference to 'the remaining dogs' is an allusion to an earlier partridge shooting trip Whistler had partaken of at Speke in the autumn of 1872. It appears that a creature of the four-legged variety rather than of the feathered kind had felt the wrath of Whistler's shotgun. Fellow artist Mortimer Menpes takes up the story:

On occasions Whistler had been known to drift out into the open and become a sportsman. A man told me that he once persuaded him to go out with a gun, and he told me he had not been out long before the most extraordinary thing happened. 'Suddenly,' he said, 'Whistler had a marvellous chance. A large bird - it might have been a peacock - came sailing majestically up to him. I whispered to him, 'Now's your chance!' Whistler, having been brought up at West Point, knew all about loading. He soon loaded his gun, fixed his eyeglass, and fired; and - it was a most extraordinary coincidence, but - the next thing I realised was that my favourite dog was shot. Nothing more was said, and somehow or other we drifted back home. That was the only day's sport I ever had with Whistler.' When I told the Master this story, he laughed, and said: 'Yes: I did shoot the dog. It was a dog without artistic habits, and had placed itself badly in relation to the landscape.'

(Mortimer Menpes, Whistler as I Knew Him, London, 1904, pp. 60-61)