The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Documents associated with: 6th Winter Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures in Oil, Dudley Gallery, London, 1872
Record 5 of 9

System Number: 07429
Date: [21/28 February 1873?][1]
Author: JW
Place: [London]
Recipient: The Editor of an American Newspaper[2]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler X3
Document Type: MsLd[3]


I observe that your journal, in common with many others, has many American journalists have thought proper to inform their public "curious readers" - on the authority of a correspondent who conceals his personality under the initials S T, - that "the peculiar titles of my pictures, 'Symphony in grey & green[4],' 'Nocturne in blue & silver[5]' etc", were suggested to me by one of my "boon companions," when I had, "in my off-hand way, hastily given life to one of my peculiar creations".

So ignorant[6] is S. T., however, of the mere outward facts concerning my works, that he proceeds to inform the reader that, "the painting thus hastily quickly begun and finished", and for which "various names" were suggested by the aforesaid boon companions, "without success, until some one said: 'Call it symphony in white'," "represented a female figure clothed in white". The picture bearing that "peculiar title" does, in fact represent two figures.[7]

I should not, myself, have ventured to intrude a matter so purely personal upon the notice of your readers; the public, but since you have thought it worth while to entertain them with my "peculiarities", you will, no doubt desire your valuable journal it renders but when a journal like your own is led with respect to "my peculiarities" I think it due to you to set these peculiarities before them you in their true light.

However gratifying S. T. may suppose it to be to me, to be represented as "hastily giving life to my peculiar creations," candour compels me to confess that (whatever their worth may be) these creations are the result of much earnest study and deep thought. Each of them represents, to me at least, a problem laboriously solved; and their [illegible] peculiar titles affirm suggest as much, (not to art-critics of course) but to all who are capable of understanding, or inferring their meaning. These titles moreover, if "poor things[8]," are "mine own."

I may add that S. T's communication to your journal was recently forwarded to me by Mr Stephen Tucker[9], with a letter, informing me that saying: " it is "Mr Sam. Theobald[10]'s feeble recollection of an anecdote which (alarmed at seeing it in print) he hastens to fasten" upon him, Mr Tucker; who professes to have forgotten the circumstance, but ingenuously adds: "yet it reads like one of my ingeniously aimiable [sic], post-prandial fictions".

This letter I retain in my own possession, and beg to inform you that where it is open to the inspection of any of your curious readers whom the "fiction" may concern more than it does

your obedient servant

[J A McN W?]

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  [21/28 February 1873?]
A revised version of this letter is dated 'Feb. 1873' (#09587). The final version has not been located, but is mentioned in a letter to S. P. Avery, 1 March [1873], #10629.

2.  The Editor of an American Newspaper
Probably the Baltimore Gazette (see the letter to Avery mentioned above). This letter appears not to have been published.

3.  MsLd
The draft was written in one hand and corrected in another, neither of these being JW's.

4.  Symphony in grey and green
Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean (YMSM 72) was exhibited at the 6th Winter Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures in Oil, Dudley Gallery, London, 1872 (cat. no. 37).

5.  Nocturne in blue and silver
The term 'Nocturnes' to describe JW's 'moonlight' pictures was suggested to JW by Frederick Richards Leyland (1832-1892), ship-owner and art collector [more] (see #08794). Nocturne in Blue and Silver (YMSM 118) was one of the first two paintings exhibited as 'Nocturnes', in the 6th Winter Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures in Oil, Dudley Gallery, London, 1872 (cat. no. 237).

6.  So ignorant ... two figures.
This paragraph is crossed through neatly by three vertical lines.

7.  two figures.
Symphony in White, No. 3 (YMSM 61). This was the first picture to be exhibited with a musical title, in 99th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, Royal Academy, London, 1867.

8.  poor things
Quotation from Shakespeare's As You Like It, act V, scene iv: 'A poor virgin, sir, an ill favoured thing, but mine own.'

9.  Mr Stephen Tucker
Stephen Isaacson Tucker (1835-1887), collector, genealogist and Queen's Herald [more].

10.  Mr Sam. Theobald
Samuel Theobald (fl. 1878-1906), eye specialist [more].