The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

return to search results

Document associated with: 31st Exhibition of Works of Modern Artists, Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, Glasgow, 1892
Record 1 of 1

System Number: 11819
Date: [2 March 1892][1]
Author: [unknown][2]
Place: Glasgow
Recipient: Editor, Glasgow Herald[3]
Place: Glasgow
Repository: Published
Document Type: TLc


'Please return[5]
G. Buchanan
Curator - Art
Glasgow Art Gallery'


(K. A. G. No. 671).

"Glasgow Herald", Friday 4th March, 1892.

Letters to the Editor.

Sir George Reid[7] and Glasgow Art. (second letter)


March 2, 1892


Mr. Whistler is the apostle of the new gospel which has so stridently proclaimed that art can be viewed only from its technical side. Criticism of his productions is regarded by his disciples as an act of unpardonable impertinence, revealing nothing but the crass ignorance of the critic. In the mind of the great master himself it is understood to arouse no feeling save that of an ineffable disdain, unless, as in recent instance, it compels him to make a well intentioned and forocious [sic], if somewhat feeble, attempt at the personal chastisement of the offender. It would, however, be perfectly superfluous to enter into any detailed analysis of the three copies of his art which at present embellish the walls of our Art Institute[8]. The faculty for appreciating these subtle harmonies has not been conferred upon all of us, and not a few of those who vainly scrutinize these productions, in the hope of discovering their hidden beauties, would ultimately be content to find the explanation of their existence in some recondite phase of American humour.

In any case, they serve to manifest the nature of the trivialities which the painter of "My Mother[9]" - surely the suggestions made by this title are of the kind which the artist's most fulsome journalistic adulator would term "bleat" - does not hesitate to dispatch from his (p. 2) studio. The acquisition of this portrait for the Paris Luxembourg has been interpreted by his admirers as affording conclusive proof of his infallibility. It may be borne in mind that a similar honour [was conferred] upon that imperfectly emancipated art-pupil, Mademoiselle Marie Bashkirtseff[10], whose picture was obtained at the lowest price given by the Luxembourg authorities.

The portentous purchase by the civic authorities here of Mr. Whistler's senile Carlyle renders it necessary for that section of the community who are not enamoured of Impressionism to watch with some vigilance the formation of a permanent collection. A portrait which omits entirely to bring out the individuality of the sitter cannot be redeemed even by the most expert craftsmanship, and the painter who is in the autumn of his life can only rest his claim to immortality upon four complete portraits stands but little chance of recognition even from immediate posterity.

Great, however is the Glasgow Art Club[11]. If no steps are taken to counteract its influence, we shall speedily rejoice in the possession of a gallery replete with many such vagaries.

+ Sir George Reid, in his recent admirable address, has done something not by what he said, but by what he left unsaid, to destroy the illusion which has gathered round the arrogant Mutual Admiration Society (p. 3) who have acquired such ascendency [sic] in out [sic] midst. The Glasgow Impressionists, if so they can be called - for as morbid is their sensitiveness that it is scarcely possible to bestow any appellation upon them without incurring their resentment - have by dint of exalted pretensions and vigorous self-advertisement succeeded in inducing us to take them very seriously indeed. The spectacle of a laborious mediocrity striving after originality, and achieving only eccentricity, is not in reality either an elevating or an exhiliarating [sic] one. It is also one with which a very considerable section of the art-going public are already sated, and its continuance is by no means likely to add to the prosperity of future exhibitions.

Whatever our coteries of self-idolators may say of themselves, art history was never made by men as conspicuously destitute of the creative faculty. The teachings of Mr. Ruskin[12] are in these days, doubtless, utterly at a discount; but it is none the less necessary that the painter should bear in mind the fact that art has its intellectual as well as its technical side. Sir Joshua Reynolds[13], whom even Mr. Whistler must acknowledge to have been able to perform as well as to preach, has said "that a painter stands in need of more knowledge than is to be picked off his pallet, or collected by looking on his model, whether it be in life or in picture." The impressionist, however, as we well know, has decreed that all thought and emotion should be stigmatised as literature, and so banished from the artistic cognissance [sic]. In the future a divorce is to be established between art and intellectual (p. 4) culture, and the theory seems to be practically laid down that the more illiterate a painter is the greater are the chances of his attaining perfection in his work.

Nowhere has this pernicious doctrine taken deeper root than among the exponents of impression, as that creed is interpreted in Glasgow. The highest ambition of its representatives is to be expert craftsmen. Their favourite dogma in regard of art is that it should have no meaning. To this is to be attributed, in a great measure, the lack of all distinction, delicacy, dignity, refinement, and pleasure-giving quality which characterises their work. What the future may have in store for our colour-grinders time only can reveal. The Newlyn School[14], however, it may be remarked, which in several points was not dissimilar from theirs, is already numbered among the things that were. Perhaps even these amongst us, who are furthest from youth, will ere long be able to recall the days when there was a Glasgow Art School -

I am, etc.,


This document is protected by copyright.


1.  [2 March 1892]
Dated in the letter and published in Glasgow Herald, 4 March 1892.

2.  [unknown]
The letter is signed 'Criticus'.

3.  Editor, Glasgow Herald
Not identified.

The headings at the top of p. 1 (from 'Whistler...Thomas' up to '(second letter)') are repeated at the top of each page, with the exception of '(K. A. G. No. 671)', absent from pp. 2-4.

5.  Please return
This paragraph is handwritten.

Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle (YMSM 137).

7.  Sir George Reid
George William Reid (1819-1887), Curator, British Museum Print Room [more]. Reference to George Reid's words are explained in a footnote pointing to the Glasgow Herald, Tuesday, 23 February 1892. p. 6: 'Sir George Reid, President of the Royal Scottish Academy, last night delivered an address on Art and Artists before the students of the Glasgow School of Art.'

8.  Art Institute
31st Exhibition of Works of Modern Artists, Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, Glasgow, 1892.

9.  My Mother
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (YMSM 101).

10.  Mademoiselle Marie Bashkirtseff
Mariya Konstaninovna Bashkirtseva ('Marie Bashkirtseff') (1858-1884), artist and diarist [more].

11.  Glasgow Art Club
Led by Edward Arthur Walton (1860-1922), painter [more], the Art Club had been instrumental in persuading the city to acquire JW's portrait of Carlyle.

12.  Mr. Ruskin
John Ruskin (1819-1900), critic, social reformer and artist [more].

13.  Sir Joshua Reynolds
Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), painter [more].

14.  Newlyn School
Artists working in Newlyn, Cornwall, including Stanhope Alexander Forbes (1857-1947), artist [more].