The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Documents associated with: Whistler, Helen
Record 8 of 149

System Number: 11563
Date: [1 January 1880][1]
Author: JW
Place: [Venice]
Recipient: Deborah Delano Haden[2]
Place: [London]
Repository: Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Call Number: FGA Whistler 18
Credit Line: Charles Lang Freer Papers, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: Gift of the Estate of Charles Lang Freer
Document Type: ALS[3]

You are too nice and kind my dear little Sis and I got both your letters[4] and enjoyed them as you may well imagine - and frozen[5] I am and certainly feel that I also should live in conservatories with flowers and pines and the other luxuries that one is naturally meant for - the most charming people to say delightful things to you and in every way this absurd and ridiculous poverty[6] effaced! - there! these are my sentiments - and I offer them to you on this New Year while je te la 'souhaite bonne et heureuse'[7] and you must pass on to the dear Mother[8] and Nellie[9] this greeting from the generally-misunderstood-though-well-meaning-yet-difficult-to-explain brother Jim! - I think Susie[10] would approve of this sentence [p. 2] as reminding her of her favorite literature - Tell Willie[11] I don't understand quite what the Mummie means about the etching - but that Jack McNeill[12] is to have the engraving of her Portrait[13] certainly - and I left it signed and all ready (at least I think I did - ). If [he] can't find any special one let him send the proof he likes best - and I shall be everlastingly obliged to him - Perhaps Howell[14] would be worth consulting though it is scarcely worth while - There are some Reillys[15] here with Lady Rowden[16] who I believe sent me a cutting from the Daily News[17] with a description of Xmas day in London in which it was regretted that Whistler should be etching in Venice instead of painting the fog[18] so worthy of him at home! - There is but one thing that consoles me in my numbed state here and that is the total darkness you seem to live in over there - Of course if things were as they ought to be all would fit in well and I should be resting happily in the only city in the world fit to live in, instead of struggling on in a sort of Opera Comique country when the audience are absent and the Season is over! - I said the other night to the horror of the few listeners at the consul's[19] where on me veut du bien[20] though I fancy I am a trial, that an artist's only possible virtue is idleness! - and there are so few who are gifted with it. - Quite true - isn't it? - you understand me I am sure - you who see so many flooding the place with their vicious work. Look at the 'Uncle Johns[21]' who rest on the Sunday as I once heard him say and who sin all the week as I told him - Ah well! Nous ne sommes pas ici pour nous amuser[22] - though I really believe we are, and the mistake is with the dull ones who arrange life for "us others" - they say this is right - and that is wrong - and know not - and we are poor when we ought be rich, that we might sing and our songs not reek of the sweat of the brow, which they like and [p. 3] which is horrid and offensive like themselves - I shall bring back some things[23] though I fancy that will delight a few - among others (I may confide in you) - myself! - at last! - Do say lots of things with my love to Mary Ironsides and George[24] - I wish he could speak Italian and were consequently coming to Venice instead of Portugal -

Tell Nellie I have received the World[25] all right so far - by the way have you seen the Xmas number? but I wish Willie would forward them regularly now every week for I lend them to the Harrises (American Consuls) - Well Goodbye Sis - with much love to Annie[26], and the nicest things to all - I know there will be a lot I shall think of directly I have sent this off - but I shall say it in my next to Nellie - probably tomorrow - probably not! I hear you say -

Always affectionately


Oh I shall look for the glass things[27] Nellie and Miss Caird[28] want

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  [1 January 1880]
JW was in Venice from 20 September 1879 until November 1880. This letter is dated by his reference to 'New Year'. Another, later, hand added 'JAN.1, 1880?]'.

2.  Deborah Delano Haden
Deborah ('Debo' or 'Sis') Delano Haden (1825-1908), née Whistler, JW's half-sister [more].

3.  ALS
A copy of this letter, written in unknown hand, is #01919. '18' is written in another hand at the top of the letter.

4.  your letters
Not located.

5.  frozen
This is the first of several letters mentioning the unusually cold weather (see #02992).

6.  poverty
JW was declared bankrupt on 8 May 1879.

7.  je te la 'souhaite bonne et heureuse'
Fr., I wish you a good and happy New Year.

8.  Mother
Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881), née McNeill, JW's mother [more].

9.  Nellie
Helen ('Nellie') Euphrosyne Whistler (1849-1917), née Ellen Ionides, JW's sister-in-law [more].

10.  Susie
Susie, a friend or relation of JW and D. D. Haden, possibly Susan P. Livermore.

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

12.  Jack McNeill
Patrick T. Jackson ('Jacks') McNeill (1835-1898), accountant, JW's cousin [more].

13.  engraving of her portrait
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (YMSM 101) was engraved by Richard Josey (1840-1906), reproductive engraver [more].

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

15.  Reillys
Reilly, unidentified.

16.  Lady Rowden
Lady Rowden, a social acquaintance of JW.

17.  Daily News
London daily newspaper; the cutting has not been identified.

18.  fog
JW's known London paintings represented night rather than fog. At first JW called them 'moonlights' and later 'Nocturnes'. Critics, however, did describe some as representing 'mist' or 'fog'. See the Athenaeum, 6 May 1882, p. 576, on Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Cremorne Lights (YMSM 115); 'une féerique brume' on Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Southampton Water (YMSM 117), Huysmans, Joris Karl, Certains: G. Moreau - Degas - Cheret - Wisthler [sic] - Rops - Le Monstre - Le Fer, etc., Paris, 1889, p. 67.

19.  consul's
The house of the American consul in Venice, John Harris (d. 1881), American consul in Venice [more].

20.  on me veut du bien
Fr., they wish me well.

21.  Uncle Johns
Possibly a term for amateur artists. The tone of this reference suggests a jibe at Francis Seymour Haden (1818-1910), surgeon and etcher, JW's brother-in-law [more].

22.  nous ne sommes pas ici pour nous amuser
Fr., we are not here to amuse ourselves.

23.  some things
JW's etchings (K.183-232, 240), pastels (M.725-828) and oils (YMSM 211-222).

24.  Mary Ironsides and George
Mary Ironsides (1826-1884), née Swift, JW's cousin [more], and George Ironsides (b. ca 1822), merchant, husband of Mary Swift [more].

25.  World
London society journal.

26.  Annie
Annie Harriet Haden (1848-1937), later Mrs Charles Thynne, JW's niece [more].

27.  glass things
JW visited the island of Murano near Venice, which was famous for its glass, and etched Glass-Furnace, Murano (K.217).

28.  Miss Caird
Ellen Caird, friend of Mrs F. Leyland, possibly a sister of Sir James Caird.