The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Documents associated with: Loan exhibition of Portraits for the Benefit of the St. John's Guild and the Orthopaedic Hospital, National Academy of Design, New York, 1895
Record 2 of 2

System Number: 09738
Date: [14 March 1896][1]
Author: JW
Place: London
Recipient: Edward Guthrie Kennedy[2]
Place: New York
Repository: New York Public Library
Call Number: E. G. Kennedy II/75
Credit Line: Edward Guthrie Kennedy Papers / Manuscripts and Archives Division / The New York Public Library / Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Document Type: ALS

36. Tite Street. Chelsea -

Well - well - well! O K!

You have distinguished yourself! - and I shall never quite let you forget it - In the midst of all my sadnesses it has in a way almost done me good - for I didn't know that at this time I should have answered to the spur as who should say at all - !

And yet here I am as easily moved to astonishment at the want of appreciation of the beautiful things I send you, as I might have been ten years ago! -

Really my boyishness - not to say childishness is [p. 2] is [sic] a rare proof of eternal youth! -

And so O K you dont like The "Smith's Yard"! - and the "Good shoe[3]" you think is without excuse! - And was there no one in New York to tell you that these two are perhaps the most remarkable among all the new lithographs! - The most personal - and the very best proofs of the qualities (if there be any at all) of the man who did them! Why do you know you had better write to little Mr. Brown[4] of Dulwich or of Bond Street, and ask him what he thought of them, or what they think of them here? - You are not in luck O K! -     Sometimes your objections fall upon comparatively unsettled questions - but this time you have put your foot full upon two of the most brilliant things of the whole collection!     I don't mean this from my own point of view as the excentric [sic] artist - but I am telling you that in the exhibition[5] in two places of honour hung these two drawings - and that from the very opening they were prime favourites of all who would be connoisseurs!

Now this is a fact - I mean those who wished to show their knowledge and appreciation always spoke of the wonderful life and action of the horses in the Smiths Yard, & The Good Shoe! -

Dear me! and those are the two that are absolute blanks to you O K!

Do you really then fail to see the picture that is that same Smith's yard? -    And the "Good Shoe"?! -    Well lets say no more about it! - I can quite understand why the show of lithographs in New York was a failure! - and as to the "Girl with the bowl[6]," I may content myself with telling you that it is one of the prettiest drawings of the lot - a great success in Paris where it first appeared - In London the draped and nude figures were the most sought after in the whole exhibition - But what is the use! you have had over & over again the first chances at lovely little things of the kind in the Studio in Paris - Pastels & Water colours [p. 3] in that white chest of drawers well known to you! - but I suppose they said to you nothing - or seemed "without excuse".     - Well you know best - and yet there are, by this time, quite a little lot of these same objectionable figures in America -

Never mind my dear O K! - You are a dear good O K - and we like you - and will forgive you many things - And you have been very nice to me just now in my anxieties - and so prompt and charming! -

The lithographs - of which I enclose now a list[7] - went by last Wednesday's steamer (March 11) - together with a hurried post card - One lives in such haste that there is time for nothing! - You will find however two entirely new things - The "Savoy Pigeons" - & "Evening - the little Waterloo[8]" - just out of the oven, as who should say - I wonder if you will like them? - Whatever by the way, you disapprove of, you must simply return - Amongst others, I know I have put you up three of the objectionable "Smith's Yard"! - and three more of "The Good Shoe"! - Put 'em out O K! - as I tell you in my card, [p. 4] it was too late to go through the package again - And you see those very subjects were such favorites here, that, using my judgement, as you told me to do, I certainly thought you would want more of them over there -

Now about "Carmen[9]" -

So you think her a disagreeable young person do you! Well I suppose she had better come back - We had rather a fancy for her in Paris - where she was believed to be a rare piece of work! Well - "autres gens[10]" - you know -

And Mr. Pope[11] who was ready for the "wreckage", thinks the gipsy Carmen, with her eyes alive, incomplete - and "unsigned"! - And you couldn't help him to see the broad Butterfly on her sleeve! - It is too big! - that's all O K - right across the arm - as though worked in the dress - Never mind - Send her back -

And now about myself - a poor business O K! [p. 5] What shall I say when you know that sadness is still my part! - The Lady[12] of my life still suffers! and we wander and wait in the long weariness of hope!. - -

For the last two years - perhaps three - what has it been? - and long it must yet be -

Home we have left - and studios - and work! - what is it - what can it be! - Fitful - and terror stricken - And all just as ease & success - and even power & perhaps even knowledge seemed to be smiling upon us! -

Heaven help us! - I don't know... -        Overwhelmed & entangled in engagements undertaken in full confidence -

.. But what am I saying! - Don't mind me O K - I feel [as] though I could talk to you if you were here and together things might look brighter - After all very little would make it all right - Easily I could clean off the slate as one might say, if I could be rid of the terrible sense of responsibility that weighs upon me - and could be again in security and in calm at my canvases! - What I should like to do would be to send back two [or] three cheques to people and say "now at my ease you shall have your pictures - free from all signs of fright and fatigue - and then you shall pay me again"! - Good God! - when I do get out of this, I will never allow any one to advance a halfpenny on work not delivered! -

Well well my dear friend - you must forget all this! - and I need not say burn this pitiful evidence of weakness and depression - Had I know you will - and this time once again Not a soul shall know [p. 6] not an eye shall see "This miserable paper I have confided to you O K."

After all - things are perhaps brighter - my dear wife is better - and our Doctor is a great medicine man! - and all must be well - and this life of hotels and ruin will give way to the happy one of work and achievement!

But you see now that money is not being heaped up as it might have been! - and that you are right in wondering at the sums spent! -

I have sent for The Pink Girl[13], and the Black and grey[14] one - and you shall hear -

This must go now - Write to me and cheer us all up my dear O K - and believe always in our affectionate friendship -

J McN. Whistler

[p. 1] You[15] will have had my cable at the beginning of the week, begging you to send over to me here The "Firewheel[16]" - I do trust that by this time it is well on its way - beautifully packed - and insured for 1200 guineas -

[p. 7][17] 'I cannot understand how this letter escaped destruction[.] It is unnecessary to comment on this strange mingling of scolding for imaginary fault-finding on my part, & somewhat confused and distressed expression of his mind on account of his wife's illness.

In reporting to him the limited interest of the public then to the lithographs he mentions, he, of course, blames me.

Any one can look at the subjects mentioned & see if the distinguished qualities exist, which he claims for them.

Mr. A. A. Pope bought a picture of his from Dowdeswell[18], I believe, which he calls "Wreckage".

I did not see the signature on the arm of "Carmen"

[p. 8] Mr. Pope owns the painting now, of Carmen.

The allusion "not a soul shall know, not an eye shall see" has been explained in a letter alluding to Bancroft[19], & the purchase of paintings by me from Dr. Cavaffy[20].

The letter is more of a mixture of sarcasm, drollery & distress than any other of his that I have received.

He blamed for imaginary wrongs, even his wife!'

This document is protected by copyright.


'March 14. 1896'

Not to be used

'Very special'

E. G. Kennedy Esq
Messrs Wunderlich & Co.
868. Broadway -
New York -
U. S. A.


[stamp X 2:] POSTAGE & REVENUE / 2 1/2d
[postmark:] LONDON & HOLYHEAD / CONTINENTAL NIGHT MAIL / T. P. O. / MR 14 / 96
[on verso:] SAVOY HOTEL,
[postmark on verso:] P.O.N.Y. / 3 / [illegible]
[postmark ON VERSO:] 30 P / 1896


1.  14 March 1896
Dated from the postmarks.

2.  Edward Guthrie Kennedy
Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932), dealer with H. Wunderlich and Co., New York [more]. JW called him O'K.

3.  Good shoe
The Smith's Yard (C.124) and The Good Shoe (C.122).

4.  Mr. Brown
Ernest George Brown (1853 or 1854-1915), assistant manager at the Fine Art Society [more].

5.  exhibition
Mr Whistler's Lithographs, The Fine Art Society, London, 1895.

6.  Girl with the bowl
Girl with Bowl (C.118).

7.  list

8.  Evening - the little Waterloo
Savoy Pigeons (C.154) and Evening, Little Waterloo Bridge (C.155).

9.  autre gens
Fr., other people.

10.  Mr. Pope
Alfred Atmore Pope (1842-1913), manufacturer and collector [more]; see The Selsey Shore (YMSM 200) for an account of the' wreckage'.

11.  Carmen
Crimson note: Carmen (YMSM 441).

12.  Lady
Beatrix Whistler (1857-1896), née Beatrice Philip, artist [more].

13.  Pink Girl
Rose et or: La Tulipe (YMSM 418).

14.  Black and grey
Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian (YMSM 378); Kennedy finally received it in 1900 after the 10th [Exhibition], Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1900.

15.  You
'You ... guineas' is written in the left margin of p. 1, at right angles to the main text.

16.  Firewheel
Nocturne: Black and Gold - The Fire Wheel (YMSM 169)

17.  [p. 7]
This note is by E. G. Kennedy; a further comment by Kennedy on this letter is #11526.

18.  Dowdeswell
C. W. or one of his sons, Charles and Walter Dowdeswell, of Dowdeswell and Dowdeswell, art dealers.

19.  Bancroft
John Chandler Bancroft (1822-1907), politician, diplomat and collector [more].

20.  Dr. Cavaffy
Dr John Cavafy (ca 1839-1901), physician and collector, son of G. J. Cavafy [more].