The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 09542
Date: [December 1899][1]
Author: JW
Place: [London]
Recipient: [unknown][2]
Repository: John Fowles
Document Type: ADcS[3]

Proposition -

A picture is finished when all trace of the means used to bring about the end has disappeared. -

To say of a picture, as is often said in its praise, that it shows great and earnest labour, is to say that it is incomplete and unfit for view. -

Industry in Art is a necessity - not a virtue - and any evidence of the same, in the production, is a blemish - not a quality - a proof, not of achievement, but of absolutely insufficient work - for work alone will efface the footsteps of work. -

The work of the Master reeks not of the sweat of the brow - suggest[s] no effort - and is finished from its beginning[4]

The completed task of perseverance only, has never been begun, and will remain unfinished to eternity - a monument of goodwill and foolishness. -

"There is one that laboureth[5], and taketh pains, and maketh haste, and is so much the more behind."

The masterpiece should appear as the flower to the painter - perfect in its bud as in its bloom - with no reason to explain its presence - no mission to fulfil - a joy to the artist - a delusion to the philanthropist - a puzzle to the botanist - an accident of sentiment and alliteration to the literary man. -

[butterfly signature]

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1.  [December 1899]
This 'Proposition' was originally published in the catalogue for 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884, which opened on 17 May, and later in Whistler, James McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, London and New York, 1890, pp. 115-16 (see #13163). However, the signature on this copy suggests a much later date, and a similar copy is dated December 1899 (#12748).

2.  [unknown]
This may have been a gift to a friend or pupil. Lithographic copies of JW's 'Propositions' were hung on the walls of his studio, and in the Académie Carmen in Paris from 1898.

3.  ADcS
This document was also published in Thorp, Nigel (Editor), Whistler on Art: Selected Letters and Writings 1849-1903 of James McNeill Whistler, Manchester, 1994, and Washington, 1995, p. 78, as 'Whistler, Propositions - No. 2. May 1884'.

4.  finished from its beginning
JW frequently used or parodied biblical language. This phrase is reminiscent of the verses: 'For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.' Heb. 4.2-4.

5.  There is one that laboureth
Possibly derived from the bible: 'A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent', Prov. 28.19-21, and 'What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?' Eccl. 3.9.