The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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18th November 2003 - Cats and Dogs

Despite having reported previously in this journal how Whistler once shot (and seemingly killed) a dog whilst out on a hunting trip (see entry for 12 August 2003), it does actually seem that the artist had some fondness for animals. For example, when moving from his house The Vale in November 1889, Whistler wrote to his Private Secretary to ensure that the incoming tenants were made aware of the needs of Whistler's feline friends:

"Ask Mr. Shannon and Mr. Rickett with my compliments if they will be kind to the cats? - I wish they would take care of them"

(see letter #09136, The Correspondence of James McNeill Whistler, 1855-1903, online edition)

Whistler's fondness for pets extended also to birds. On 30 October 1888 the Pall Mall Gazette ran a column which included the following reference to Whistler's new confrère:

"We are told that the Ex-President is now accompanied by a new familiar in the shape of a most knowing and wicked magpie, who sits on his shoulder, as he etches, and doubtless imparts many mischievous thoughts in its native French tongue"

(see GUL pc10, p. 51)

However, Whistler seems not to have had much luck when it came to dogs. In the case of his canine companion 'Chow' it appears that the creature was also popular with some one other than the artist, leading to a 'dog-napping' incident. Whistler writes:

"Poor little chow! - You know he was so beautiful! and such a success here - that all the dog fanciers had their eye upon him - and finally he was stolen - No reward brought him back! -"

(Freer Gallery of Art, FGA Whistler 76)