The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Documents associated with: Cuckoo (London)
Record 3 of 8

System Number: 02870
Date: [30 April 1881][1]
Author: JW
Place: London
Recipient: Charles Augustus Howell[2]
Place: [London]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler LB 12/51
Document Type: PLcS[3]


"The Cuckoo," Tuesday, April 12th, 1881


The exhibition of etchings at the Hanover Gallery has been the occasion of one of those squabbles which amuse everybody - perhaps, including even the quarrellers themselves. Some etchings, exceedingly like Mr. Whistler's in manner, but signed "Frank Duveneck," were sent to the Painter-Etchers' Exhibition from Venice. The Painter-Etchers appear to have suspected for a moment that the works were really Mr. Whistler's; and, not desiring to be the victims of an easy hoax on the part of that gentleman, three of their members - Dr. Seymour Haden, Dr. Hamilton, and Mr. Legros - went to the Fine Art Society's Gallery, in New Bond-street, and asked one of the assistants there to show them some of Mr. Whistler's Venetian plates. From this assistant they learned that Mr. Whistler was under an arrangement to exhibit and sell his Venetian etchings only at the Fine Art Society's Gallery; but, even if these Painter-Etchers really believed that "Frank Duveneck" was only another name for James Whistler, this information about the Fine Art Society's arrangement with him need not have shaken that belief, for the nom de plume might easily have been adopted with the concurrence of the society's leading spirits. Nor is it altogether certain that the Painter-Etchers did anything more than compare, for their own satisfaction as connoisseurs, the works of Mr. Whistler and Frank Duveneck. The motive of their doing so may have been misunderstood by the Fine Art Society assistant with whom they conferred.

Be that as it may, this assistant thought fit to repeat to Mr. Whistler what had passed, and also his own impressions as to the motive of the comparison and the inquiries which the Painter-Etchers had instituted. Whereupon Mr. Whistler addressed a letter to Mr. Seymour Haden (who is, by the way, his brother-in-law),* [footnote: The italics are mine.- J. A. McN. W.] of which all that need be here said is that it is extremely characteristic of Mr. Whistler. "Is it," he writes, "officially, as the Painter-Etchers' president that you pry about the town? Of what nature, pray, is the necessary duty that has led two medical men and a Slade professor to fail as connoisseurs and blunder as detectives?" Mr. Whistler thinks these queries so pertinent, and in such perfect taste, that he has had the letter in which they appear printed, and a copy of it sent to all the members of the Painter-Etchers' Society's Committee. Has Mr. Whistler, whose work often commands respect, no judicious friends? If he has, they have surely left town for the Easter holidays.

"The Cuckoo," Saturday, April 30th, 1881.


Some time ago I referred to a storm in an "æsthetic tea-pot" that was brewed and had burst in the Fine Art Society's Gallery, in Bond-street, in re Mr. Whistler's Venice etchings. It seems to me that Mr. Seymour Haden, Mr. Legros, and Mr. Hamilton stumbled on an artistic mare's nest, that they rashly suggested that Mr. Whistler had been guilty of gross misfeasance in publishing etchings in an assumed name, and that they are now trying to get out of the scrape as best they may. This is, however, simply an opinion formed on perusal of the following documents, which I here present to my readers to judge of.

No. 1. The following paragraph was some time ago sent to me with this letter:-

"If the Editor of "The Cuckoo" should see his way to the publication of the accompanying paragraph as it stands, twenty copies may be sent, for circulation among the Council of the Society of Painter-Etchers, to Mr. Piker, newsvendor, Shepherd's Market."

"MR. WHISTLER AND THE PAINTER-ETCHERS. - Our explanation of the 'Storm in a Tea-pot' turns out to have been in the main correct.

"It appears that not only were the three gentlemen who went to the Fine Art Society's Gallery to look at Mr. Whistler's etchings guiltless of offence, but that the object of their going there was actually less to show that Mr. Whistler was than that he was not the author of the etchings which for a moment had puzzled them. For this, indeed, they seem to have given each other - in the presence of the blundering assistant, of course - three very distinct reasons.

"Firstly that, as already stated, Mr. Seymour Haden had quite seriously written to Mr. Duveneck to buy the etchings. Secondly, that they at once accepted as satisfactory and sufficient the explanation given them of Mr. Whistler's obligations to the Fine Art Society; and, thirdly, though this count appears to have somehow slipped altogether out of the indictment - they were one and all of opinion that, taken all round, the Duveneck etchings were the best of the two!!!* [Footnote as above]

It is a pity a clever man like Mr. Whistler is yet not clever enough to see that while habitual public attacks [p. 2] on a near relative cannot fail to be, to the majority of people, unpalatable, they are likely to be, when directed against a brother etcher, even suspecte."

I did not at the time "see my way" to publishing the paragraph "as it stands," but, having subsequently received the following correspondence, I think it only right to give Mr. Piker's paragraph publicity, along with the letters subjoined[4]:-

To this last characteristic letter Mr. Seymour Haden has not as yet vouchsafed any answer, and here the matter rests. As requested, we have sent Mr. Piker the copies he requires for distribution.

To C. A. Howell -

[butterfly signature]

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  [30 April 1881]
Dated from final date on document.

2.  Charles Augustus Howell
Charles Augustus ('Owl') Howell (1840? - d.1890), entrepreneur [more].

3.  PLcS
This is a printed copy of Whistler, James McNeill, The Piker Papers. The Painter-Etchers' Society and Mr. Whistler, London, 1881, with an inscription by JW to Howell at the end of p. 2. It relates to an incident between JW, Francis Seymour Haden (1818-1910), surgeon and etcher, JW's brother-in-law [more], and the newly formed Painter Etchers' Society. In the spring of 1881, the Society held an exhibition at the Hanover Gallery. However, when Frank Duveneck (1848-1919), painter, etcher and art teacher [more], submitted three Venice etchings, Haden (who was President of the Society) suspected that they were in fact by JW. Anxious to compare the etchings with those that JW had been printing for the Fine Art Society, Haden, Alphonse Legros (1837-1911), painter, etcher and art teacher [more], and Dr Edward Hamilton (1815 or 1816-1903), doctor of medicine and print collector [more], paid a visit to the Society's gallery. JW was indignant when he heard of the visit, regarding it as an attack on his artistic integrity. A lengthy correspondence ensued. This was eventually published in a pamphlet referred to above. The pamphlet appeared in several forms; 'Extracts from the Press' refers to the correspondence that was published together with two articles from the Cuckoo (see 'A Storm in an Aesthetic Teacup,' The Cuckoo: The News and Gossip of the Day, 12 April 1881; 'Mr Whistler and the Painter Etchers,' 30 April 1881). See also correspondence including JW to Painter-Etchers' Society, #11632, #13151; F. S. Haden to E. G. Brown, #01943; JW to C. A. Howell, #02878.

4.  letters subjoined
For transcriptions, see M. B. Huish to F. S. Haden, #01131; F. S. Haden to Huish, #01944; JW to F. S. Haden, #13147.