System Number: 03172
Date: [c. 2 September 1876]
Recipient: Anna Matilda Whistler
Repository: Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Call Number: FGA Whistler 175
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: MsLc
An Article from the "Academy" a weekly paper.
Sept. 2d. / 76.
Mr Whistler who is about to start for Venice, has lately been employed in decorating the dining room of Mr Leyland's house, Princes Gate, London. the furniture of the room has been designed with special purpose to display a valuable collection of blue & white porcelain arranged upon the walls in a light & graceful frame work of carved wood & Mr Whistler's decoration has accordingly been so planned as to give support to the effect of the china, & at the same time to assure a coherent and independent Scheme of its own. Upon the ceiling which is covered with a uniform ground of gold, divided by light wooden groining. the Artist has painted in deep blue an ornamental design. representing in sufficiently conventi[on]al character the plumage of the Peacock - In the panels from which are suspended a series of glass lamps, he has presented the large eyes of the bird's fan. combined with every variety of curving lines that meet & intersect with a delicate ornamental effect. By the side of these panels are others in which the lighter & softer plumage of the birds breast is represented, & this two fold scheme of ornament is repeated on a smaller scale in the double cove which serves as a cornice to the room. Here the breast plumage takes the appearance of an orderd [sic] design of blue powdering upon the gold ground [p. 2] - but this conventional & purely ornamental character is secured without sacrificing the living suggestion of the bird's feathers. The execution is ordered but by no means mechanical, & there is room beneath the fixed features of the design for a free & varied treatment of details. For a space beneath the cornice, the wall is covered with stamped leather the original pattern of which has been modified & enriched by the introduction of a fair primrose tint into the flowers festoond [sic] upon the deep ground of the gold. This serves to bring the different golds into relation, and carries the eye into the panels beneath, where upon the lighter ground. the same pattern of plumage is repeated. The gold of the door panels & window shutters is similarly treated, and upon the inside of the shutters, so as to occupy the space of the windows at night[,] the Artist has placed full sized representations of the bird itself. The dissected members are as it were here collected, and the life of the design impressed by the images of the living Peacock. -
It will be seen that in this scheme of decoration Mr. Whistler has trodden upon new ground, and has essayed a very interesting experiment in a branch of Art where tradition is too apt to exercise extravagant authority -
Jamie adds -
" my own darling Mother
[p. 3] I must not wait any longer that I may tell you what I have long'd to do, the completion of this famous dining room - - - -
How I have worked! There must still be another week of it, or even two, before I can leave it & say I am content. "It is a noble work, tho' Mother, & one we may be proud of. So very beautiful! & so entirely new, & original, as you can well fancy it would be. for at least that quality is recognized in your son".
Willie has told you of the visit of the Princess Louise to the "Peacock Palace" in Princes Gate. & her delight in the "gorgeous loveliness" of the work. Also the Marquis of Westminster. & Prince and all, & everybody."
I know you will be pleased that this testimony of
the worth, - should be offered after so much labor. therefore I tell you. The mere visits of Princes & Dukes, we well know, is no voucher for the quality of a work of Art, for they are simply curious people. generally better mannered than others about them, but able to look with the same satisfaction upon a bad thing, as a good one. Still they are charming people. & shew real delight in this beautiful room. keep up the buzz of publicity most pleasantly in London Society, & this is well, & I hope good may result. I am tired but well, I am happy to say. -
[p. 4] Good night dearest Mother, it is late, and I must get at my work again tomorrow. -
Your loving son
London. / 76.
[p. 5] "A description of J. A. Whistler's work on the "Peacock Palace" 49. Prince Gate. London."
'Letter to his mother and copied by her for her sister Mrs George E. Palmer.'
1. [c. 2 September 1876]
Dated from the publication of 'Notes and News' (see below).
Copied for AMW by her sister Kate Palmer (see below). This copy reproduces the press cutting 'Notes and News' (see below) with minor variations, including the omission of certain words (see #00009). This letter is quoted in Mumford, Elizabeth, Whistler's Mother: the Life of Anna McNeill Whistler, Boston, (Mass.), 1939, p. 310; and in Weintraub, Stanley, Whistler; a Biography [by] Stanley Weintraub, London, 1974, p. 173.
4. An Article
'Notes and News,' The Academy: A Weekly Review of Literature, Science, and Art, vol. 9, no. 226, 2 September 1876, p. 249.
JW did not leave for Venice until September 1879, when he was commissioned by the Fine Art Society to make twelve etchings. He was planning to travel to Venice from the money received from Leyland for the dining room; see Katherine Lochnan, The Etchings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1984, p. 181; and Margaret F. MacDonald, Palaces in the Night, Whistler in Venice, Aldershot, UK, 2001, pp. 15-17.
In the summer of 1876 JW worked on the decorations of the dining room and staircase house owned by Frederick Richards Leyland (1832-1892), ship-owner and art collector [more], at 49 Prince's Gate, London. The decorations became Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room (YMSM 178); see AMW to JW, 11 July 1876, #06559, and AMW to Emma Mary Harmar Eastwick, 19 July 1876, #12635.
Added in the left margin.
This letter was copied by Catherine ('Kate') Jane Palmer (ca 1812 - d.1877), née McNeill, AMW's sister [more]. It was presented to Charles L. Freer by Emma Palmer in a letter of 23 September 1905. Freer replied: 'The extract from Mr Whistler's own letter, concerning the painting of the Peacock Room, is of deep interest to me. It shall be carefully preserved, and shall remain always with the room as an item of most interesting historical and personal interest' (see Freer to Miss Palmer, 26 September 1905, Freer Archives).