The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 00756
Date: 19 November 1901
Author: JW
Place: [London]
Recipient: John James Cowan[1]
Place: [Edinburgh]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler C257
Document Type: ALdf[2]

November 19th 1901.

My dear Cowan -

What can you be thinking of. When you look upon your sending me the pictures you had purchased as a rare proof of devotion to me!? "I wonder," you say, "if any other man would have sent them..." Why who would not? Is it not the step of all others that would be taken by the purchaser - in his own interest? -

Is there anything dangerous, reprehensible, or indeed unusual in it? - Why good Heavens! what [p. 2] can all this mean! - Would you propose that there should be some league between the dealer and the Collector that should, in a stealthy way, permit the "Art Patron" to introduce, into his Galleries, unguaranteed, doubtful, and or even spurious work, or works, in short, they fear should meet the painter's eye! - works that are sold in a corner, with anxious look and curious suggestion that it would be well the master should hear nothing of the transaction - ?

So that you, my dear Cowan might be comfortably adulterating your collection, undermining its reputation & lowering its standard while attempting to elude the watchfulness of the only one who could save you!

Is it possible that you could wish to possess a picture that the artist condemns? - A picture that you would fear [p. 3] to submit offer for his inspection? - Do you then buy them not to show them? - to keep them hidden? -

And tell me, has it not been your pride to send everywhere "The Piano,"[3] the "Ice Picture"[4] and the rest? - and now would you be willing to keep, for fear of falling out with your furnisher, canvases that may not bear the light in the same with the same arrogance of hall mark - ?

You insist upon it that you are "The ass," because you have sent submitted to me these last two purchases - Surely Cowan, is this not is one of the few wise acts in the whole comedy? - As a business man do you pretend know that it is a privilege - (which custom accompanies with a fee!) - to obtain the guarantees of genuinenness & "condition" of any the works upon your walls, from the men who painted them - a guarantee which, when, in due course, you bring them to the market, you make much [p. 4] of, there by enhancing the golden value of your treasures "wares of first water"! - How then shall you explain any hesitation. What do Why then do you resent my keeping your gallery clear, what are you going to do, and henceforth, you cannot entertain a commerce of fakement & wild cat risk which alone could explain your would

And [illegible]

As to Reid[5] I am not really pursuing him - indeed the droll part of it is that he is pursuing me!! - But as far as you are concerned, your course is as clear as possible it is easy & becoming - I have pointed it out to you - & for the life of me I cannot see why you have not how you can hesitate to take any other - for your own sake - for mine - and for that of Mr Reid of Glasgow -



Beside whose fair fame there nothing questionable shall find place.

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

2.  ALdf
The paper has a mourning border. This is a draft of #00757.

3.  The Piano,
At the Piano (YMSM 24).

4.  Ice Picture
The Thames in Ice (YMSM 36).

5.  Reid
Alexander Reid (1854-1936), Glasgow dealer [more]. Reid seems to have received works stolen from JW's studio in Paris before July 1901 (see JW to J. J. Cowan, #00746). Cowan had purchased Alice Butt (2) (YMSM 438) and The Bridesmaid (YMSM 487) from him in April 1900 for £450 and £135 respectively but later became suspicious of the signature. JW believed that the pictures had been worked on by someone else (J. J. Cowan to JW, #00752).