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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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27th September 2003 - 199 Years Old Today!

Tonight the final concert in the series Musical Reflections takes place in the Glasgow University Concert Hall at 8 pm. The programme features songs by Chausson, Faure, Debussy, Ravel, Rossini, Vaughan Williams and many others, performed by Sandra Porter (mezzo-soprano) and Graeme McNaught (piano). Tickets are required for this event and further information may be gained by ringing 0141 339 2708.

The concert marks the date of Whistler's mother's 199th birthday. Born in 1804, Anna Matilda Whistler was sometimes known to look upon her birthday rather soberly; for example, on 30 September 1874 in a letter to James H. Gamble she looked back upon her 70th birthday in the following way:

"My own birthday was on Sunday 27th Sept. My sons cannot realise that their Mother who sympathises so, as if yet young, with them, can have attained the term alotted [sic] to pilgrims on earth. But I do & try to live day by day prepared for the summons."

(GUL MS Whistler W547)

If Anna was aware of each passing year as representing life drawing nearer to its end, then her son James however did not always consider his mother's birthday with such sensitivity. In a greeting written to Anna (then living in Hastings, away from Whistler in London) in September 1876, the artist wrote:

"I come to wish you many happy returns my darling Mother - and to assure you of my fond affection - and my great wish to be with you this day! ..."

Unfortunately, Whistler's 'great wish' to join his mother for a celebration was over-shadowed by a more pressing matter, an eight course meal that he was hosting for his friends and patrons in London that night (as evinced by a surviving menu; see GUL MS Whistler W843). This despite his assurance to Anna that "I have managed to pay off many of my debts and am making careful economies". At least in one regard however did the artist talk straight to his mother; he signs his note "Your fond though faulty Son".

(GUL MS Whistler W557)