The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
Home > On-line Edition > Transcription/Database Record

the on-line edition

System Number: 00746
Date: 2-4 July [1901][1]
Author: JW
Place: London
Recipient: John James Cowan[2]
Place: [Glasgow]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler C247
Document Type: ALS[3]



Tuesday - July 2.

My dear Cowan -

I just got back yesterday from a little run over to Dieppe - and found your letter[4], which is most nice and like yourself - and the two pictures[5], which are astounding! -

But first, as I wired you, let us secure the other head[6] - On no account let it slip through your fingers! -

[p. 2] This is most important - for it begins to be clear that there has been a sort [of] wholesale robbery going on for some time past! - - and not only is every aditional proof most desirable, but one hopes to save as many pictures as may still [be] possible! So get this new head by all means, and send it on here to the hotel - and I will be responsable for the expense - Of course as you know - for I think I told you - I am not acting without the advice of my lawyer - so that's all right -

Now the head you have just sent - the large one - is a study I painted in Chelsea - a little child called "Alice Butt[7]." - charming - quite Italian in type -

I had it, with scores of others, in my studio in Paris -

It has not only been stolen, but it has been painted upon[8]! - that is, cleaned up, as who should say, and put in selling order by the artist of the people[9] who are carrying on this excellent business! "Our Artist" I suppose they call him - kept on the premises, and, I must say, not without a certain sense of respectful appreciation on his part! as I will show you when you come up to town. The little head, stolen and treated in the same way - very much repainted - !!! -

Thursday -

Last night I wired you "too tired to write etc - Your letter[10] came this morning - Of course I was disappointed that the other head is still at a distance from us! - But you might write to Reid[11] and say that if he still has any more Whistlers, you are ready for another purchase now - and then you might perhaps ask has he still that head he showed you? or any other? - - You see my dear Cowan I am so pleased that these things should have come to you - for I feel that with you I have already half won the battle! - All the details of the campaign naturally you shall know - & certainly you [p. 3] will approve - & I need not say you are in the matter as if it were myself - So now do proceed as if I were you! - Of course we cannot be too cautious, for Reid is an awfully slippery customer - Still we must not lose things by over caution - And nothing is more natural than that you should write as I suggest - Mind we are not going to take any steps yet - & then we begin with the head centre in Paris - & Reid is not necessarily implicated -

I am again too tired at the end of the day to write more - for in the midst of all this I am doing beautiful things! -

So do write to me -

& with kindest regards

J McNeill Whistler

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  2-4 July [1901]
Dated from the day of the week and from other letters in this sequence; see #00745. The date was inserted by JW in pencil. It was begun on Tuesday and finished on Thursday, during which time JW received another letter from Cowan (#00747).

2.  John James Cowan
John James Cowan (1846-1936), paper manufacturer and collector [more]. See his letter to JW, 30 June 1901, #00745.

3.  ALS
Written at right-angles to the printed address. The letter is written partly in pencil and partly in black ink.

4.  your letter
See J. J. Cowan to JW, 30 June 1901, #00745.

5.  two pictures
Alice Butt (2) (YMSM 438) and The Bridesmaid (YMSM 487); a sketch of the latter is in #00745. Reid seems to have received works JW claimed were stolen from his studio in Paris before July 1901 (see JW to J. J. Cowan, #00746). Cowan had purchased his two paintings from Reid in April 1900 for £450 and £135 respectively but later became suspicious of the signature. JW also believed that the pictures had been worked on by someone else (J. J. Cowan to JW, #00752).

6.  other head
Alice Butt (1) (YMSM 437). In #00745, Cowan mentioned another head with Reid similar to YMSM 438: 'I have seen another head very similar to the large one - the same model but and pose, but slightly different in treatment &c.' In July 1901, JW attempted to prevent the sale of the picture in London (JW to J. J. Cowan, #00749).

7.  Alice Butt
Alice Butt (b. ca 1880), artist's model [more].

8.  painted upon
Double underlined.

9.  artist of the people
This was not apparently a specific accusation, since JW did not know which artist or dealer to blame.

10.  Your letter

11.  Reid
Alexander Reid (1854-1936), Glasgow dealer [more]. It is by no means certain that Reid was receiving stolen property; it may be that JW was unclear about the running of his own studio.