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

the on-line edition

System Number: 07210
Date: 19 December 1892
Author: JW
Place: Paris
Recipient: Edward Guthrie Kennedy[1]
Place: [New York]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler W1198
Document Type: MsLd[2]

110 Rue du Bac - Paris

December 19th 1892

My dear Mr Kennedy

It is too bad that you should drag me from my work, beside which nothing is of importance, in order that I may listen to the tiresome recapitulations of the baffled Bancroft[3]. -

Dear me! if you only knew how precious is every moment, and what future occasions for yourself you are impeding, you would regret indeed that such crass nonsense as "the rights" of this tentative speculator shall have urged you to call me away!

Well! well! - in God's name send him to me! What so simple! what have you to do with Mr Bancroft?

You bought pictures from Mr Cavafy[4] - a very Greek gentleman - who having given £30. apiece for them some years ago, was now unwisely anxious to sell them for only twenty times that price - thus accomplishing the true mission of the London Patron of Art. Also with a view to increasing their bulk of attraction, and making a Jew job lot, he threw in my present!!

It is an excellent one - hugely enjoyed - I[5]

Now mark you how strong a thing is instinct - how beautiful is the mystery of blood! Even as the Negro throws back, and after periods of pale Quadroon, and blonde Octoroon, reappears black and bold as the accursed Ham[6], so here do we find our Greek after ages of intercourse with [p. 2] a more timid "respectable" Nation of shopkeepers, repeating the history of his own people and, according to classic tradition, "bringing his presents to the market"! - "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes![7]" - Most interesting - is'nt [sic] it?

Bon! you then buy these beautiful pictures from our sometime delicate friend Doctor Cavafy, upon my[8] recommendation - thereby outflanking the despoiling though tardy Bancroft, then and by a brilliant movement carrying off his baggage waggons [sic] & bolting with his Quartermaster's department. "Indeed The race is not always to the slow!"

Herein furthermore you not only joyously enthusiastically aid the Gods in their retribution, but as I prophesied, very properly do a good piece of business. In the whole of this transaction

In the whole of this transaction you show yourself again the loyal & sturdy friend I know you to be, and promptly returned me the long absent present gift, rescued at last length from unseemly greed.

Now I enclose my lawyers' lawyers' opinion upon the course for you to take

Frankly I confess I [when?] was wholly unprepared * For your present attitude of uncertainty then, It is clear beyond dispute that if these pictures are to be "given up" by you to any one, that is to say if you feel yourself unable to take the responsibility of their care upon yourself, they should be [p. 3] returned to me, who painted them & through whom you obtained them. Practically there are only two left, "The Balcony[9]" you have sold to Mr Freer[10] so that's all right. The "The Westminster Bridge[11]" then and "Battersea Reach[12]" ought then would then to come to me for two thirds of the money you £650 you paid for them, whereupon I should immediately sally forth and sell them joyously for at their real value of at least £1000 guineas for the one and five or six hundred for the other unless you come to your senses and prefer doing this yourself, to putting the money into the pocket of the expectant anxiously expectant bluffing Bancroft * However[13] I enclose my lawyers[14]' opinion upon the course for you to take in this matter.

One word more remember we are writing history and let it not be said that after much staunchness, in a moment of bewilderment you gave Whistler away to his enemies.

As to Bancroft what are those improper clamourings now that the piece is played and that the curtain has gone down on this moral & amazing drama? His role might have been a noble one as was yours. He had the chance of distinguishing himself as you afterwards did.

When of my own free will I gave him this occasion of acquiring for a small sum the three pictures, and advised him to offer £600. for "The Balcony", "the Westminster Bridge" & "The Battersea Reach", his unpleasant [p. 4] nature was filled with doubts, and in lieu of sympathy I was met with suspicion! why

You tell me yourself that he makes a point of his not having seen the pictures that he was to "buy at my solicitation" - My "solicitation"! This because it was my desire to house my pic poor dear pictures in the home of a friend, a transaction by which I could in no moneyed way profit -

When the complete indecency of the Cavafy business was revealed and it became known that he had thrust in my present to himself in with the other three on the market, then I was glad indeed, secure in the delight that good faith of my friend Bancroft, would take [leave?] never doubting that he would immediately restoringe to me, my misplaced and regretted picture.

"Fair play"! I cried out to him, "fair play my dear Bancroft . - for a song you have your three masterpieces, f + [sic] and yours is the privilege of giving me back my own!" And now came the débacle - "I shall keep them all" he said - and consider myself lucky in making a better bargain than I had expected!" (sic)

The rest is simple - I took from him the chance, that as I had given it him - and that was the end of it -

In the exercise of his own sharpness, as in his friendship he was a failure an absurd failure - He was late with his letter, and his cheque - and we were enabled to go £50 more and wipe up the Greek before him. -

Poor ridiculous John Bancroft! - He meant ill but was unfortunate, like Charles Reade's[15] pirate he has been out-fought! out manoeuvered! and out-sailed! and be hanged to him! Let him tell his story in the Broad ways of New York - there is only one other creature who will sympathize with him - that is the Greek he left behind him -

This document is protected by copyright.


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

2.  MsLd
Written in the hand of Beatrix Whistler (1857-1896), née Beatrice Philip, artist [more], with various amendments made by JW. This is one of two drafts (with #07209) of #09828.

3.  Bancroft
John Chandler Bancroft (1822-1907), politician, diplomat and collector [more].

4.  Mr Cavafy
Dr John Cavafy (ca 1839-1901), physician and collector, son of G. J. Cavafy [more].

5.  It is an excellent one - hugely enjoyed - I
Written in left margin, by JW; most of the additions in this letter are in his hand.

6.  Ham
The second son of Noah, who was sometimes said (by a radical misinterpretation of the Biblical text, Gen. 9.20-25) to be the ancestor of black races.

7.  Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes!
Lat., Beware the Greeks even when they bring gifts!

8.  my
Double underlined.

9.  The Balcony
Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony (YMSM 56).

10.  Mr Freer
Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), industrialist, collector and founder of the Freer Gallery of Art [more].

11.  The Westminster Bridge
The Last of Old Westminster (YMSM 39).

12.  Battersea Reach
Battersea Reach (YMSM 45).

13.  However
'However I enclose ... this matter.' This sentence is removed to this position from p. 2 by means of a line and asterisk; it formerly followed the words 'For your present attitude of uncertainty then,' on p. 2.

14.  lawyers'
See W. Webb's letter of 17 December 1892, #06177.

15.  Charles Reade's
Charles Reade (1814-1884), novelist [more]; his novel Hard Cash, London, 1863, chapter 9, includes an episode involving the destruction of a pirate vessel that was about to attack another ship. It is also possible that the reference is to a rather confusing tale by Reade, The Jilt. - A Yarn. See ; and (accessed 2004.04).