Propositions - No. 2.
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 - suggests no effort - and is finished from its beginning.
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, 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 fulfill - 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.
1. [1/16 May 1884]
This text was presumably written shortly before it was first published, under the heading 'L'Envoie' [sic], as a prologue to the catalogue for 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884, which opened on 17 May.
Published as Propositions - No. 2. in Whistler, James McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, London and New York, 1890, pp. 115-16. There are minor differences in punctuation from the text as printed in 1884, chiefly the elimination of commas before dashes. Published in Thorp, Nigel (Editor), Whistler on Art: Selected Letters and Writings 1849-1903 of James McNeill Whistler, Manchester, 1994, and Washington, 1995, no. 30, p. 78. There is also a copy by JW of this 'Proposition' (#09542, #12748).