The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Documents associated with: 1st Summer Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1877
Record 118 of 119

System Number: 08699
Date: [1886/1887?][1]
Author: [Walter Dowdeswell][2]
Place: [London]
Repository: Library of Congress
Call Number: Rare Books and Manuscripts Division
Document Type: ADd

Reminiscences of James Abbot McNeill Whistler.

The first picture I ever saw by Whistler was The portrait of his mother[3] - at the Royal Academy. It struck [illegible] me as child as I was I was then. - as being very strange very stately and almost wonderfully [illegible] in singularly devoid of colour - It was, if I remember correctly, hung over a door, or at any rate pretty high up - but not too high to be seen.

The next I saw were The first pictures I ever saw by Whistler were two small upright "nocturnes" - (one was a dark blue one, I know representing dotted with the colours of a falling rocket[4]. The other I think was a pale blue one) about 24 x 16, which were hung as pendants on the south wall at an Exhibition at the Dudley Gallery[5]. This was in 18  

- At the same exhibition there was a tiny picture by E. J. Gregory[6] - hung on a screen - of a lady peering into the interior of an open grand piano and called "The Mouse" - These three pictures were the only ones that I remember in the show, and they made an impression on me. Isaac[7], a picture dealer, was looking at the Gregory as we (my father[8] and I) came up and in reply to my father's question chaffing question as to whether he had bought all the bargains, he replied, "No, this is the only one I should like, but it's sold." It was a charming little thing.

These two nocturnes; I learnt from the description given me by an school cl[assmate?] early chum [illegible] who was at school at Brighton College, were also exhibited at the Autumn Exhibition at the Pavillion at Brighton[9]. My boy friend, thought them very strange odd -

[p. 2] The first Etchings I ever remembered to have seen of his were shown me by Mr Huish[10] in his private room at 148 New Bond Street. They were some ordinary impressions of the "Thames set[11]" the 16 plates of Ellis & Green. - I asked to have them for sale at Chancery Lane[12], and obtained them.

The Grosvenor Gallery[13] opened.

Edward S. Palmer[14], a picture dealer in Duke Street, St. James' Square - a man of considerable taste - died, and his stock of etchings came into my own hands. This collection was the first important parcel I had ever had of which included examples by men who had been foremost in reviving the Art in our time. There was among these one proof the first I ever saw by Ch. Méryon[15] - "Le Pont au change et la Samaritaine" - Mr. Wedmore[16] came to see it - heard of it somehow - and I sold it to Mr. Byrne[17] of Old Square [illegible] with them as a nucleus and some proofs of plates, published in "L'Art" and "The Portfolio[18]", as a nucleus, I hung the little end of sky lighted end of our shop in Chancery Lane, and held opened what was probably the first exhibition of miscellaneous etchings by modern Artists that had ever been held in England - It was modest, but it included examples by Robert Macbeth[19], Ch. Walters[20], Brunet Debaines[21], Bracquemond[22], Seymour Haden[23], Flameng[24], Jacquemart[25], Méryon which was[26] lent me by Mr. Rawlinson[27] among them being a fine "[Absinthe?]" and some beautiful new dry points by Whistler - "Battersea-Dawn" - "Oyster Smacks" "The Guitar Player[28]" and some others, all of which I got from Mr. Huish who had them from Mr. Whistler.

[p. 3] It was during this little "Exhibition" (there was no catalogue by the bye, but I posted the names of each subject upon the glass) that I was first introduced to Mr. Whistler. Mr. Chas. B. McLaren[29] M.P. also a young barrister in New Square, brought him in one morning to me at Chancery Lane. He didn't look to the other looked principally at his own Etchings and remarked to me "That's a beauty!" - pointed to the "Battersea Dawn" (always a favourite plate of his) He said I should have framed them differently, and in answer to my question "How?" told me to come down to his house and he'd show me.

This was the first time I had ever seen him, - my father had met him at 145 New Bond St[30]. - and had been greatly struck with his personality.

On the next Saturday afternoon I went by Penny Steamer to Chelsea, and called upon him at " The White House" in Tite Street. which built by E. W. Godwin[31] - and to which he had recently moved. (I had previously tried to see him, and had called at Lindsey Houses* his house[32] there had a the first peacock blue door in the only one in London for some years - he took the colour with him to his door at The White House. - but had failed to find him "at home." This was before I was introduced by Mr. McLaren) The house was a very strange one - the front door opened on to the pavement, and on entering one found oneself at once up midway upon a flight of stairs, - I was directed to descend, and found myself in a large terra cotta coloured room [p. 4] with two long win with white woodwork. - very plainly furnished and very unusual. There were two long windows almost [16?] ft high on one side of the room, looking upon a little bit of garden. They had small square panes of about a foot square. [illegible] The furniture consisted of a table and some [illegible] large low chairs and a couch, covered to the ground in terra cotta serge. I had expected to find the furniture furniture very severe in design, but to my surprise found no design at all save what was necessary for comfort. Upon the couch was an Etching framed in a black fillet and reed. 1¼. no gold. - even margin top and bottom - more at the sides [drawing of frame cross-section].

After a minute, Whistler came in, and after a few remarks about the frame, said "Well, I suppose you'd like to see the studio now you're here?" - I said I should whereupon he [now?] invited me to follow him up a very narrow staircase (past the front door again) and after his coolly telling me that "he wouldn't keep me long" - and warning me not to "break my neck up the stairs" (a not altogether needless warning) we came to the Studio - It appeared to run the whole length of the house - and was the top floor. A large canvas[33] of several lightly draped figures was on the easel. A model with a shawl thrown over her was cutting out paper patterns at a table. I asked him [p. 5] what he had done fresh in Etching - and he led me to one end of the Studio, which was simply covered with beautiful studies in coloured chalk upon brown paper, pinned upon the wall. Here he showed me a new state of his plate "Speke Hall[34]" - on which he had just recently added the etched figure in the foreground - I told him I had seen it - he seemed surprised and asked "where?" - I told him I had a proof of it.

I don't think I met him again until after his return from Venice.

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  [1886/1887]
Dated by known association of JW and Dowdeswell; however, the reminiscences might in fact date from much later, possibly after JW's death.

2.  [Walter Dowdeswell]
This appears to be written in the hand of Walter Dowdeswell (1858-1929), art dealer [more].

3.  portrait of his mother
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (YMSM 101).

4.  falling rocket
Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (YMSM 170) (cat. no. 170).

5.  Dudley Gallery
9th Winter Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures in Oil, Dudley Gallery, London, 1875. The other Nocturne exhibited was Nocturne: Grey and Gold - Westminster Bridge (YMSM 145) (cat. no. 160), although it is in landscape format.

6.  E. J. Gregory
Edward John Gregory (1850-1909), painter and illustrator [more].

7.  Isaac
Isaac, a picture dealer.

8.  my father
Charles William Dowdeswell (1832-1915), art dealer [more].

9.  Brighton
Second Annual Exhibition of Modern Pictures, Corporation of Brighton, Royal Pavillion Gallery, Brighton, 1875.

10.  Huish
Marcus Bourne Huish (1843 - d.1921), barrister, writer and art dealer, Director of the Fine Art Society [more]; the premises were at 148 New Bond Street, London, W.

11.  Thames set
A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames, 1871 (the 'Thames Set') (K.38-44, 46, 52, 66, 68, 71, 74-76, 95) (excat 4), was published by Frederick Standridge Ellis (1830-1901), author, publisher and book-seller [more].

12.  Chancery Lane
The premises of Messrs Dowdeswell and Dowdeswell were at 36 Chancery Lane, London from 1865.

13.  Grosvenor Gallery
The first exhibition was 1st Summer Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1877, which opened on 1 May.

14.  Edward S. Palmer
Edward S. Palmer, picture dealer.

15.  Ch. Méryon
Charles Méryon (1821-1868), etcher [more].

16.  Mr. Wedmore
Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921), art critic [more]. 'Mr. Wedmore ... Square' written in the left margin.

17.  Byrne
Byrne, probably a collector.

18.  The Portfolio
L'Art and The Portfolio, art journals.

19.  Robert Macbeth
Robert Walker Macbeth (1848-1910), etcher and painter of rustic genre [more].

20.  Walters
Ch[arles?] Walters, etcher.

21.  Brunet Debaines
Alfred-Louis Brunet-Debaines (1845-1939), etcher.

22.  Bracquemond
Joseph Auguste ('Félix') Bracquemond (1833-1914), painter and etcher [more].

23.  Seymour Haden
Francis Seymour Haden (1818-1910), surgeon and etcher, JW's brother-in-law [more].

24.  Flameng
Léopold Flameng (1831-1911), artist and copyist [more].

25.  Jacquemart
Jules-Ferdinand Jacquemart (1837-1880), water-colourist and etcher [more].

26.  which was
'which was ... "[Absinthe?]"' is written in the left margin.

27.  Rawlinson
Possibly William George Rawlinson (1840-1928), silk merchant, collector [more].

28.  The Guitar Player
Battersea: Dawn (K.155); possibly Fishing-Boats, Hastings (K.158); and The Guitar Player (K.140).

29.  Chas. B. McLaren
Charles Benjamin Bright McLaren (1850-1934), first Baron Aberconway, lawyer, MP and collector [more].

30.  145 New Bond Street
The premises of Dowdeswells.

31.  E. W. Godwin
Edward William Godwin (1833-1886), architect and designer [more]. JW moved into the White House at the end of September 1878, his lease of 96 Cheyne Walk being up on 25 June 1878.

32.  his house
'his house ... White House' is written in the left margin.

33.  canvas
Not identified.

34.  Speke Hall
Speke Hall, No.1 (K.96); states IV and X do not have the figure in the foreground.