The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Philip Gilbert Hamerton, 1834-1894

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1834.09.10
Place of Birth: Lanesise, Shaw, Lancashire
Date of Death: 1894.11.04
Place of Death: Boulogne-sur-Seine, France


Philip Gilbert Hamerton was an etcher, critic and writer on art. His father John Hamerton, a solicitor, married Anne Cocker in 1833; she died shortly after Hamerton was born. He was brought up by his aunts in Burnley. In 1858, he married Eugénie Gindriez, the daughter of a republican ex-prefect. Their son died in 1888.


Hamerton came to London in 1853 to study painting with Joseph Paul Pettitt. Early efforts to become a landscape painter led him to the Lake District and the Scottish island of Innistrynich, Loch Awe, resulting in his first book, The Isles of Loch Awe and other Poems of my Youth (London, 1855). He taught himself art criticism, mainly by reading John Ruskin. By 1861 he had settled in France and soon became a prolific writer, making his debut as a critic with Hamerton, Philip Gilbert, 'Painting in France: The Salon of 1863,' The Fine Arts Quarterly Review, vol. 1, October 1863, pp. 225-262. During the 1860s he contributed articles and book reviews to the Cornhill Magazine, Macmillan's Magazine and the Fortnightly Review. He was art critic for the Saturday Review from 1866-68. Hamerton, Philip Gilbert, Etching and Etchers, London, 1868, arguably his best-known work, was a landmark for the etching revival and includes a chapter on JW, of whom he wrote: he 'has very rare and very peculiar endowments, and may in a certain sense be called great, – that is, so far as greatness may be understood of faculties which are rather remarkable for keenness and originality than range'.

From 1869 until his death Hamerton was also editor and co-proprietor of The Portfolio, in which he aimed to reproduce the broadest range of graphic art and sought to advance the cause of the 'painter-etcher' by publishing the work of English artists.

Hamerton wrote various articles on JW. In 1867 he complained that Symphony in White, No. 3 (YMSM 61) was 'not precisely a symphony in white', since yellow, brown, blue, red and green also appeared (Anon., 'Pictures of the Year: IX,' The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, vol. 23, no. 605, 1 June 1867, pp. 690-91). JW's celebrated reply, published in 1890 and probably written in 1878, was 'does he then, in his astounding consequence, believe that a symphony in F contains no other note, but shall be a continued repetition of F, F, F? .... Fool!' (#11386). In September 1880 they exchanged an angry series of letters in Scribner's Magazine, instigated by Hamerton's quotation from his friend Seymour Haden. Hamerton was a frequent contributor to the exhibitions of the Painter Etchers' Society. In 1882 he was made an Officier d'Académie, and on 3 March 1894 he received the degree of LL.D. from the University of Aberdeen.


Hamerton, Philip Gilbert, 'The Artistic Spirit,' The Fortnightly Review, vol. I, June 1865, pp. 332-343; Hamerton, Philip Gilbert, 'Mr. Wedmore's Catalogue of Mr. Whistler's Etchings,' The Portfolio, vol. 18, March 1887, pp. 61-62; Hamerton, Philip Gilbert, The Graphic Arts: A Treatise on the Varieties of Drawing, Painting, and Engraving, London, 1882; Hamerton, Philip Gilbert, The Portfolio: an Artistic Periodical, London, 1890; Lugt, Frits, Les marques de collections de dessins et d'estampes: marques estampillèes et écrites de collections particulières et publiques; marques de marchands, de monteurs et d'imprimeurs; etc..., Amsterdam, 1921, nos. 2080; Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 2004; Grove Dictionary of Art On-line, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 2004); Czach, Marie, Philip Gilbert Hamerton: Victorian Art Critic, PhD thesis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1985; Kissane, James, 'Art Historians and Art Critics - IX: P. G. Hamerton, Victorian Art Critic,' Burlington Magazine, January 1972, pp. 22-28.