The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Documents associated with: Whistler, Helen
Record 14 of 149

System Number: 12816
Date: [15/30 April 1880][1]
Author: JW
Place: Venice
Recipient: Matthew Robinson Elden[2]
Place: [London]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler E61
Document Type: ALS

If you only knew the real delight a long letter from you gives me I am sure old fellow you would sit down at once and write me another like the one I have just received - As a general thing people write one very unsatisfactory sort of letters [sic] - they have apparently a knack of leaving out or missing altogether the very pith of their news! - They tell you that which they ought not[3] to have told, and they leave untold that which they ought to tell - and there is no joy in them! - so that one puts down their letters always with a "hang it! Why the deuce doesn't he say who or what!...!["] Now you my dear Elden, and my sister Mrs. Doctor Willie[4] are both charming and your letters a happiness - In return I have lots to talk to you about - but it is such difficulty to get simply the chance! - I mean the half hour which of course becomes an hour I never can place at either end of the day - for I am working with the kind of wildness that belongs to the sportsman! - I ought to say eagerness - so I am up early [p. 2] and off - and by the end of the day manage more or less to bring back some thing in my bag - and my work is charming to me - most absorbing - the only drawback being still the intense cold! The bitterness of the winter[5] here has been beyond anything unfortunate for me - no - perhaps I am not just right there - for while it has prolonged my stay in Venice, it has opened for me a mine that I might otherwise have left undiscovered - simply rushing back to London with the etchings[6] of infinitely less rare beauty that I doubtless should have completed in a few weeks had I not been made a prisoner by the ice and snow - But now if it would only be amiably warm! - It is so execrably cold! miserably wretchedly cold! and if you only knew how trying that is here - In Chelsea you see one could sit cowering over the fire and remain indifferent to all time lost - but here! When 'all outdoors' means lovely work of the most fascinating - with every possible joy thereto attached - golden guineas among others - then you can fancy the rage of the pent up painter! - Now then last week I have stood, with frozen fingers that could scarcely hold needle or chalk[7], trying to put down what I could not help going out to look at - suffering most acutely but unable to remain in my cage - I can't tell you how intoxicating this place is - I mean it without any exageration [sic] - Lessor's photographs[8] can I am sure give you no idea of Venice - There is work for more than a lifetime in it and a delight in it all - I shall bring you back lots but I am greedy for so much more - I do so wish you were here that I might show you the marvels that wait for me at every turn - Indeed that is the danger of the place - You are perfectly bewildered with the entanglement of beautiful things! You say I will do this and I must do that and I ought to do the other! and if not carefull [sic], it all ends in dizziness and craze! - And mind you, all this while, it is not merely the 'Views of Venice' or the Streets of Venice, or the 'Canals of Venice' such as you have seen brought back by the foolish sketcher - but great pictures that stare you in the face - complete arrangements and harmonies[9] in color & form that are ready and waiting for the one who can perceive -

Dear me! one might pass a lifetime out here - not but what I am most anxious to get back - and am straining every nerve to complete my work and leave - I picture to myself the joy I shall have in showing you my pastels - Seriously I think you can form no idea of their bright beauty - their merry lightness and daintiness - I have today looked them all over and am quite in love with them myself - ! This you may smile at and believe to be nothing new - but I wonder what you will say to the drawing in them all - You can't imagine what I have taught myself by all this - I have worked very well - notwithstanding this awful weather - and shall bring, I hope, sixty pastels[10] - my etchings - (and they are far away in quality beyond the old ones) - and a large painting[11] - but this last you must keep quite for yourself and the doctor - I fancy the pastel business will become quite the fashion - that is lots of chaps [p. 3] will be sure to go in for pastels! We shall have Tissot[12] and Co going it - they can't help it! - My dear fellow it is a great find - and we must keep it dark as long as we can - Now of other matters - First there is all the business about the mysterious disappearance of the 3 girls and comic pictures[13] - It must be ferreted out - I have written to the doctor[14] and said that I hope you will all consult together - Way[15] of course - also that he had better see Lewis[16] - The way to put it is to take the initiative and say that I insist upon the man in posession [sic] explaining where the[y] went - and that for the sake of my creditors I hold Messrs Waddell[17] responsable [sic] - If old Leyland[18] is at the bottom of it - if he has induced the purloining of the lobsters[19] &c &c with a view to their destruction and we could find it out it would be too delightful! - Howell[20] in his career of Australian discovery is capital! I like the ball at the Jones[21] - and wish I had been there - be sure you remember me most kindly to Jones himself and the ladies - Tell Howell that it will be cruel indeed if he continues this silence! - I wrote[22] to him long ago - and certainly he received my letter as safely as every one else did theirs though doubtless he will explain to me that it never reached him - Go and ask Huish[23] to read you my letter! - You will see what I said about the "big platists"! you will dance with delight - As to Morris[24] - his answer is not to the point - no one knew of his having the canvasses[25] - and when I went into his box at the Ga[i]ety[26] one night just at the end of things he never said a word about their transportation to Waddell's - I have lots more to say but this must go now - Write again at once and I will answer directly - I send this to the Doctor's for you for I have forgotten your exact address -

[p. 1][27] With kindest regards to all at home, Always affectionately Yours

[butterfly signature]

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  [15/30 April 1880]
This letter dates from some time after Elden's letter of 12 April 1880 (#01048).

2.  Matthew Robinson Elden
Matthew Robinson Elden (1839-1885), artist [more].

3.  that which they ought not...ought to tell
Written in the language of Romans 7.15 - 'For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.'

4.  Mrs Doctor Willie
Helen ('Nellie') Euphrosyne Whistler (1849-1917), née Ellen Ionides, JW's sister-in-law [more]. JW had written, thanking her for an informative letter, on 22 March 1880 (#06688).

5.  winter
It was the coldest winter in Venice for years, with cold and frost causing great hardship in the city.

6.  etchings
JW went to Venice with a commission from the Fine Art Society for a set of twelve etchings, Mr Whistler's Etchings of Venice, 1880 (the first 'Venice Set') (K. 183-189, 191-195). (excat 5), which were published later in 1880 . However, he did far more than was needed for this set (K.183-232, 240).

7.  needle or chalk
When it was too cold to work with an etching needle on the copper-plates, JW turned to chalk and pastel drawings on brown paper.

8.  Lessor's photographs
Émile-Aubert Lessore (1805-1876), sculptor, illustrator and etcher [more].

9.  arrangements and harmonies
JW's titles emphasized colour harmonies and composition above subject.

10.  sixty pastels
Venice pastels (see M.725-828). JW mentioned this number of pastels in a letter to Charles James Whistler Hanson (1870-1935), engineer, son of JW and Louisa Fanny Hanson [more], on 2 May 1880 (#01954).

11.  large painting
Possibly Nocturne in Blue and Silver: The Lagoon,Venice (YMSM 212) or Nocturne: Blue and Gold - St Mark's, Venice (YMSM 213), or a portrait, A Gondolier (YMSM 216), which has disappeared and may never have been completed.

12.  Tissot
Jacques ('James') Joseph Tissot (1836-1902), painter and etcher [more]. JW was wary of the competition from his one-time fellow student.

13.  3 girls and comic pictures
The Three Girls (YMSM 88); The Gold Scab (YMSM 208), The Loves of the Lobsters (YMSM 209), and Mount Ararat (YMSM 210).

14.  doctor
William McNeill Whistler (1836-1900), physician, JW's brother [more].

15.  Way
Thomas Way (1837-1915), lithographic printer [more].

16.  Lewis
Sir George Henry Lewis (1833-1911), society lawyer [more].

17.  Waddell
James Waddell (b. 1838), chartered accountant, of J. Waddell and Co. [more].

18.  Leyland
Frederick Richards Leyland (1832-1892), ship-owner and art collector [more].

19.  Lobsters
The Loves of the Lobsters (YMSM 209).

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

21.  Jones
Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898), painter and designer [more].

22.  wrote
JW's letter of 26 January 1880 (#02860).

23.  Huish
Marcus Bourne Huish (1843 - d.1921), barrister, writer and art dealer, Director of the Fine Art Society [more]. JW wrote to him that since etching was done with a fine needle it should be done only on small copper-plates ([21/26 January 1880], #02992).

24.  Morris
Philip Richard Morris (1833 or 1836-1902), painter [more].

25.  canvases
With the agreement of his creditors, JW destroyed some unfinished or unsatisfactory canvases to prevent them being sold at auction. Some, however, disappeared from his studio, and resurfaced years later.

26.  Ga[i]ety
Gaiety Theatre, London.

27.  [p. 1]
These parting words are added at the top of page one.