The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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12th December 2003 - Dancing Mechanics

In order to bring in some extra income, it seems that in the 1880s the Royal Society of British Artists was accustomed to hiring out its galleries for use by other social parties. When, however, in December 1887 Whistler, who was then the President of that Society, stumbled upon a scene of which he did not approve, he wrote an official letter to the Secretary of the Society, Horace Henry Cauty, condemning what he saw:

"Dear Mr Secretary,

"I beg formally to state that I thoroughly disapprove of the condition of things I came upon in the Galleries the other evening, (on the occasion of some gathering of amateur mechanics,) not only because of the gross impropriety of the species of Show going on in the midst of this Royal Society's Exhibition - but also because of the risk of damage to the works on the walls, inseparable from such condition.

"I shall bring the question before the Society at the next General Meeting, and meanwhile I protest against the letting of the rooms for dancing purposes. To do so, however, is I learn actually contemplated at this moment, notwithstanding my personal remonstrance with you upon the subject"

(GUL MS Whistler R211)

Following Whistler's bitter and stormy resignation from the Society in June 1888, a row ensured between himself and the new President, Wyke Bayliss, as to how and why the annual income of the Society had apparently declined during Whistler's Presidency (see GUL MS Whistler P24-25). Could it be that the income lost from social events of the kind Whistler objected to led (in part) to the "mad machine" of the Society's finances "cycling wildly" down the hill...?