The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 00739
Date: 6 January 1900[1]
Author: JW
Place: Paris
Recipient: John James Cowan[2]
Place: [Edinburgh]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler C240
Document Type: ALS

[Chatham coat of arms with motto:] BENIGNO NUMINE



Saturday Jan 6. 1900.

A happy New Year - my dear Cowan -

and my compliments & best wishes to you all - Your letter is delightful - and it shall all be as you wish - and you shall help too - Only of course you know there is no question between us about the cheque for your portrait[3] - That you shall write out for the 600 gs. as originally agreed upon - and this time, when the picture is in your hands - Nothing would induce me again to receive gold in advance! - [p. 2] from anyone! There is something strained about it always - & certainly " cela ne porte pas bonheur"!

It is too funny that you should meet Chapman[4], and that he should make much of his friendship for me, and grieve with [you] over the sale of the picture! - Why he is an old offender! and up to his armpits in ill gotten wealth! - an offender at first hand - for the paintings he has turned over and over again, he originally had from me direct! which is a very different thing indeed! and for a mere pitance. bargaining! and screwing down. The famous "Bognor[5]" nocturne, he gave me perhaps £50 for, or perhaps 30 - and he has just sold to Mr. Frere[6] [sic] of Detroit, with great secrecy, for at least £1000! To Kennedy[7] of N.Y., he sold three[8] beautiful pictures, making him promise not to tell me what he gave! - One of them was the beautiful nocturne of Southampton Water[9]! - Bless you - The Chapman is "sober" enough always! Don't you have anything to do with him! & dont let him tempt you for a moment to buy a large canvass [sic] of three figures - The story of it is in your "Gentle Art[10]" under the title "Auto-Biographical," page 288 - read it - and show this to Chapman when you see him :

I hope you are not losing money out in Africa[11], and I trust you have no one in those doomed armies in the Transvaal! And I will write again shortly[12] - with my kindest regards to Mrs. Cowan[13] and again my best wishes to you all -

Always sincerely yours,

J. McNeill Whistler

As you see, I am staying here for a while - as the ladies are away -

So write to me here -

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  6 January 1900
This is a reply to J. J. Cowan to JW, #00738.

2.  John James Cowan
John James Cowan (1846-1936), paper manufacturer and collector [more].

3.  portrait
Arrangement in Grey and Green: Portrait of J. J. Cowan (YMSM 402). JW began the portrait in 1893 but despite numerous sittings, he was still dissatisfied with it. It was still in his studio in 1900.

4.  Chapman
Alfred Chapman (1839-1917), engineer and collector [more].

5.  Bognor
Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Bognor (YMSM 100).

6.  Mr. Freer
Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), industrialist, collector and founder of the Freer Gallery of Art [more]. The picture was sold to Freer for £1050.

7.  Kennedy
Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932), dealer with H. Wunderlich and Co., New York [more].

8.  three

9.  Southampton Water
Probably 'Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Southampton Water (YMSM 117) and Nocturne: Battersea (YMSM 120). The third, another of the "very early twilight marines" that T. W. Dewing referred to as 'Barges' cannot be identified: see Dewing to Freer, 21 December [1898] and Freer to Alfred Chapman, 13 October 1899 (FGA).

10.  Gentle Art
Whistler, James McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, 2nd ed., London and New York, 1892, p. 288. Chapman had owned several of JW's works in cluding Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Bognor (YMSM 100) and Pink and Grey: Three Figures (YMSM 89). Apparently, Chapman tried to sell the picture in 1891 through the dealers Dowdeswell's for £1000. JW heard of it and tried to stop the sale. He told E. G. Kennedy that Chapman had gone to him and 'offered to paint his portrait, full length - or that of his wife - and make him a present of it, if he would give me that canvas that I might destroy it! - But he would listen to nothing.' See JW to E. G. Kennedy, #09733. JW went on to write a letter to the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, 28 July 1891. He asserted that the painting was 'long ago barely begun, and thrown aside for destruction': 'I think it not only just to myself to make this statement, but right that the public should be warned against the possible purchase of a picture in no way representative, and, in its actual condition, absolutely worthless.' Chapman only succeeded in selling the picture after JW's death.

11.  out in Africa
JW was alluding to the Boer War (1899-1902), a war fought between Britain and the two Boer (Afrikaner) republics, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. Cowan's son was in the British army there (see J. J. Cowan to JW, #00740).

12.  shortly ... Whistler
Written at right-angles to the main text in the margin on p. 1.

13.  Mrs. Cowan
Sophy Cowan (b. ca 1850), née Gillespie, wife of J. J. Cowan [more].