The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Documents associated with: Mr Whistler's Exhibition, Flemish Gallery, Pall Mall, London, 1874
Record 18 of 71

System Number: 07583
Date: [September/October 1874?][1]
Author: JW
Place: [Liverpool]
Recipient: Rachel Agnes Alexander[2]
Place: [London]
Repository: British Museum, London
Call Number: Department of Prints and Drawings, 1958-2-8-04, 35, 36
Document Type: ALS

Dear Mrs. Alexander -

I fancy that I may be up in town by the end of this week if not indeed by Thursday - and if pleasing to you all I will begin the picture[3] of May[4] - which I hear from the Mother[5] you have lately thought of, and would like her painted in her riding habit -

Now what I propose, and really I ought first to apologise for the cool way in which I seem to be [p. 2] talking without even stopping formally to introduce myself - it is such an age since I have seen you or written or in any way made mes devoirs[6]! - I fear you will perceive that I have not at all improved in demeanour - but you know something of the absurd studio life I lead and you were always kind and indulgent. - Well then Mrs. Alexander it occurs to me that if you like I will paint May in your own house[7] - I think I should like this if you do not fear that I should be in the way - The new drawing room [p. 3] with its white and black wainscot is what I think of - it would be so delightful to be able to hang the picture up every now and then and see how it would look in its own proper place! -

I think I may promise to make very little "mess" and to give not so much trouble to my new sitter as I did to poor Cissie[8]! How is Cissie and am I forgiven yet? - How does her picture look? and do have you any secret wish that I should do anything to it? for may be [p. 4] a touch might easily be given to it while there -

If all this does really not displease you, will you kindly write me a line my dear Mrs Alexander by return if convenient - so that I may know before leaving Speke Hall[9] - By the way there is a shop in South Audley Street, No. 63 - Milton[10] & . . . something, who have charming felt hats, and feather "picture hats" they call them[,] such as you cannot get elsewhere - Perhaps if you were to ask you might see something lovely for May - large I should have it - with a big soft brim - looped up - however they know all about it - it is there [sic] speciality and [p. 5][11] doubtless will show you some lovely ones all bravely gotten up with large feather I suppose for I think it would be charming to paint May with the hat on, the feather swooping grandly away! - I dont exactly know how - but they will manage it. -

[pen drawing]

And now, since I am making the wildest proposals possible which for aplomb I am sure you will think unequalled, I am going to say that if you can give me a spare bed - I would offer to inflict myself upon Aubrey House for a week or so, and get at the picture every morning! The habit will be black I suppose - and the hat black felt or grey with white feather and black arrangement - Don't be afraid of having it too big - [p. 6] The Leyland[12] children have hats from the South Audley street [shop], and if you were to say that Mrs Leyland[13] recommended you to go there they will at once understand the sort of thing you wish and do their best -

With apologies for this very long and abrupt letter which please answer in the most unreserved way and tell me that you would not have me in the house!

believe me, dear Mrs Alexander
with kindest regards to all
Very Sincerely Yours

J A McN Whistler -

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  [September/October 1874?]
Dated from references to Miss May Alexander (YMSM 127), which was planned in 1873 (see Study for 'Portrait of Miss May Alexander' (M.498) - Study for 'Portrait of Miss May Alexander' (M.499)) but not started until well after the exhibition of Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander (YMSM 129) in June 1874. May's portrait was probably started when JW returned from Speke in September 1874 and was incomplete when her father, William Cleverly Alexander (1840-1916), banker and patron [more], paid £50 on account on 1 February 1875 (#07565).

2.  Rachel Agnes Alexander
Rachel Agnes Alexander (b. ca 1837, m. 1861), née Lucas, wife of W. C. Alexander [more].

3.  picture
Miss May Alexander (YMSM 127).

4.  May
Agnes Mary Alexander (1862-1950), daughter of W. C. Alexander [more].

5.  Mother
Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881), née McNeill, JW's mother [more]. None of her surviving letters mention this subject.

6.  mes devoirs
Fr., my respects.

7.  house
Aubrey House, the Alexanders' home at Campden Hill, Kensington.

8.  drawing room
JW also carried out an interior scheme for the Alexanders (see Designs for the arrangement of china in the dining room at Aubrey House (M.487) - r.: Colour schemes for the decoration of Aubrey House; v.: Head and shoulders of a nude (M.492); Gladstone, Florence M., Aubrey House, Kensington, 1698-1920, London, 1922, pp. 5, 33, 54, and reproduction of interiors, f. p. 32).

9.  Cissie
Cicely Henrietta Alexander (1864-1932), later Mrs Spring Rice [more]. 'Cissie' was the subject of the portrait Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander (YMSM 129). It took an exceptionally long time, with over seventy sittings.

10.  Speke Hall
The mansion near Liverpool, where JW was a frequent guest in the early seventies, residence of Frederick Richards Leyland (1832-1892), ship-owner and art collector [more]. JW was at Speke possibly in July and certainly in September 1874 (see #01603 and #10072).

11.  Milton
Walker and Milton, milliners. The shop was close to Grosvenor Square.

12.  p. 5
Between the words 'May' and ''with', JW left a space round the embossed monogram of F. R. Leyland 'FRL'. The letter is also written around a drawing, Study for 'Portrait of Miss May Alexander' (M.498): 'doubtless ... manage it' is written on the left; 'And now ... every morning!' on the right; 'The habit ... having it too' underneath the drawing.

13.  Leyland
Florence Leyland (1859-1921), later Mrs Prinsep [more], and her sister Elinor Leyland (1861-1952), later Mrs Speed [more]. They are wearing large hats in the pastels, Portrait of Miss Florence Leyland (M.509) and Elinor Leyland seated (M.510), which date from about 1873.

14.  Mrs Leyland
Frances Leyland (1836-1910), née Dawson [more]. She is wearing a stunning hat in the pastel, Mrs Leyland seated (M.549), which dates from 1873/1875.