The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 06826
Date: [January/February 1899][1]
Author: JW
Place: [London]
Recipient: Académie Carmen[2]
Place: [Paris]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler W815
Document Type: PD[3]

Proposition No. 2.

That flesh should ever be "low in tone", could seem, to many, a source of sorrow - and of vast vexation! - And its rendering, in such circumstance, an unfailing occasion of suspicious objection and reproach! -

Such objection - which is the more fascinating, in that it would imply superiority and much virtue on the part of the one who makes it - is vaguely based upon the popular superstition as to what flesh really is - when seen on canvas! - for the people never look at Nature with any sense of its pictorial appearance - for which reason, by the way, they also never look at a picture with any sense of nature, but, unconsciously, from habit, with reference to what they have seen in other pictures -

[p. 2] Now in the usual "pictures of the year," there is but one flesh, that shall do servise [sic] under all circumstances, whether the person painted, be in the soft light of the room, or out in the glare of the open -

The one aim of the unsuspecting painter is to make his man "stand out" from the frame - never doubting that, on the contrary, he should really, and, in truth, absolutely does, stand within the frame - and at a depth behind it, equal to the distance at which the painter sees his model -

The frame is, indeed, the window through which the painter looks at his model, and nothing could be more offensively inartistic, than this brutal attempt to thrust the model on the hitherside of this window! -

Yet this is the false condition of things to which all have become accustomed, and in the stupendous effort to bring it about, exaggeration has been exhausted - and the traditional means of the incompetant [sic] can no further go -

[p. 3] Lights have been heightened, until the White of the tube alone remains - Shadows have been deepened until Black only is left!

Scarcely a feature stays in its place - so fierce is its intention of firmly coming forth -

And in the midst of this unseemly struggle for prominence, this gentle truth has but a sorry chance - falling flat and flavourless, and without force -

The Master from Madrid[4] himself, beside this monster success of mediocrity, would be looked upon as mild - "Beau. bien sure [sic] - mais vieux jeu![5]" -

Whereas could the people be induced to turn their eyes, but for a moment, with the fresh power of comparison, upon their fellow creatures, as they pass in the Gallery, they might be made dimly to perceive - though I doubt it, so blind is their belief in the bad - how little they resemble [p. 4] the impudent images on the walls! - How "quiet in colour" they are! - How "grey"! - How "low in tone"! -

And then it might be explained, to their riveted intelligence, how they had mistaken meritriciousness [sic] for mastery, and by what mean methods the imposture had been practised upon them -

[butterfly signature]

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1.  [January/February 1899]
Another document entitled Propositions No. 2 was originally written in May 1884, but this version has a different text, and, judging by the signature, dates from much later (see some rough drafts of variations in a notebook, #13379). JW was occupied in revising, writing out, and in some cases getting translations of his Propositions early in 1899 (see JW to T. Duret, 30 January 1899, #09659). The Pennells note that an English version and Duret's translation of A Further Proposition were hung on the walls of the Académie Carmen in Paris in February 1899, and that the lithographed text, #06825 was hung there the following month (see Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908, vol. 2, p. 236). All these copies were probably made to hang on the walls of the Académie, for a letter from JW in London to Inez Eleanor Addams (fl. 1898-1927), née Bate, painter [more], in Paris, asks for the papers on 'low tone' ([6 May 1899], #00014).

2.  Academie Carmen
The Paris atelier operated by Carmen Rossi, model, proprietess of the Académie Carmen [more], from 1898-1901.

3.  PD
This is a lithographed version of one of JW's Propositions. The document is one large sheet of paper, with one 'page' written on each quarter of the front of the sheet, the page order being top left (1) and right (2), and then lower left (3) and right (4). There is an almost identical copy of this document at #06827.

4.  The Master from Madrid
Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660), painter [more].

5.  Beau. bien sure [sic] - mais vieux jeu!
Fr., beautiful, certainly, but old.