The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Documents associated with: Boehm, Joseph Edgar
Record 15 of 71

System Number: 04060
Date: 23 May 1878
Author: JW
Place: London
Recipient: Metropolitan Board of Works[1]
Place: [London]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler M331
Document Type: ALdS[2]

96. Cheyne Walk - Chelsea -

May 23rd 1878 -

To the Board of Works


I am, I must say, astounded at getting from you a reply such as that of your letter of the 20th inst[3], - to my most rightful request. -

I tell you that I have complied with all your requisitions not only as far as custom requires, but absolutely as far as lies in my power. -

The panels and mouldings are in their places - the façade in every detail coincides with the amended façade approved by the Board, - the builder's[4] work is terminated, and it is monstrous that I should be kept out of my house until some chosen Sculptor shall [p. 2] in his turn, have filled these panels with the bas reliefs the Board insist upon - and [(]their wishes I have already undertaken to fully carry out so soon as is practicable in matters so entirely artistic as these decorations) [be?] question -

The question between me and the fate of being turned into the street is one of hours almost -

The question of completing works of Art like the decorations proposed, may be one of weeks or even months - during which time I shall, (if I am to be really subjected to the tyranny threatened in your letter,) be without a house or Studio in which to carry on my work -

In proportion as you estimate the importance and beauty of the decorations you insist upon, so must you recognise the necessity of these being executed by a sculptor of distinction -

One must of course wait the time of such men as Mr Boëhm[,] Mr Leighton or Mr Watts[5], unless indeed the Board elects after all to stultify itself by accepting any kind of work that could be done by the nearest stonecutter in a couple of hours -

And now I have to tell you reluctantly, but finally, that I am advised that your witholding [sic] the lease, inflicting upon me, as it does, a damage for which no amount of money can ever compensate, is a proceeding whose wanton cruelty and unexampled vexatiousness no court of law would countenance - and I hold you from this date answerable for all the injury you are inflicting upon me. -

Unless I get the lease in the course of tomorrow, I shall instruct my solicitor[6] to communicate with you -

The bearer waits your answer -

[p. 3] I have the honor to be, Gentlemen,
Your obedient Servant

J A McNeill Whistler

'John Cossins[7]'

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  Metropolitan Board of Works
The Metropolitan Board of Works were slow in giving JW planning permission for his new house, the White House on Tite Street, designed by Edward William Godwin (1833-1886), architect and designer [more]. They said they would withhold the lease until alterations were made to the façade by the addition of panels containing bas-relief sculpture. JW finally moved into the White House in June 1878.

2.  ALdS
Published in Thorp, Nigel (Editor), Whistler on Art: Selected Letters and Writings 1849-1903 of James McNeill Whistler, Manchester, 1994, and Washington, 1995, pp. 53-54, no. 19. The final version of this letter has not been located.

3.  letter of the 20th inst
Not located.

4.  builder's
Benjamin Ebenezer Nightingale (b. 1838), builder [more].

5.  Boëhm[,] Mr Leighton or Mr Watts
There is no evidence that JW ever approached either George Frederick Watts (1817-1904), painter and sculptor [more], or Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), painter and sculptor [more]. It is, however, possible that he mentioned the possibility of a commission for these bas-reliefs to his friend, Joseph Edgar Boehm (1834-1890), sculptor [more].

6.  solicitor
JW's lawyers were George and William Webb.

7.  John Cossins
John Cossins, JW's valet [more]. He was probably the 'bearer' mentioned earlier, who was to wait for a reply from the Board. This is possibly written in his own hand.