3 August 1902
I feel it no indiscretion to speak of my "convalescence," since you have given it official existence.
May I therefore acknowledge the tender little glow of health induced by reading, as I sat here in the morning sun, the flattering attention paid me by your gentleman of ready wreath and quick biography!
I cannot, as I look at my improving self with daily satisfaction, really believe it all - still it has helped to do me good! and it is with almost sorrow that I must beg you, perhaps, to put back into its pigeon-hole, for later on, this present summary, and replace it with something preparatory - which, doubtless, you have also ready.
This will give you time, moreover, for some correction, - if really it be worth while - but certainly the "Little White Girl," which was not rejected at the Salon of '63, was, I am forced to say, not "inspired by the following lines of Swinburne," for the one simple reason that those lines were only written, in my studio, after the picture was painted. And the writing of them was a rare and graceful tribute from the poet to the painter - a noble recognition of work by the production of a nobler one!
Again, of "the many tales concerning the hanging, at the Academy, of the well-known portrait of the artist's mother, now at the Luxembourg," one is true - let us trust your gentleman may have time to find it out - that I may correct it. I surely may always hereafter rely on the "Morning Post" to see that no vulgar Woking joke reach me!
It is my marvellous privilege then to come back, as who should say, while the air is still warm with appreciation, affection, and regret, and to learn in how little I had offended!
The continuing to wear my own hair and eyebrows, after distinguished confrères and eminent persons had long ceased their habit, has, I gather, clearly given pain. This, I see, is much remarked on. It is even found inconsiderate and unseemly in me, as hinting at affectation.
I might beg you, sir, to find a pretty place for this, that I would make my "apology," containing also promise, in years to come, to lose these outer signs of vexing presumption.
Protesting, with full enjoyment of its unmerited eulogy, against your premature tablet, I ask you again to contradict it, and appeal to your own sense of kind sympathy when I tell you I learn that I have, lurking in London, still "a friend" - though for the life of me I cannot remember his name.
And I have, sir, the honour to be
J. McNeill Whistler.
1. James Nicol Dunn
James Nicol Dunn (1856-1919), editor of the Morning Post from 1897-1905 [more]. See also JW's telegraphed response to the publication of this letter, which Dunn also published (Whistler, James McNeill, [Telegram From the Hague], The Morning Post, 8 August 1902).
Published in the Morning Post (Whistler, James McNeill, 'Latest Bulletin From Mr. Whistler,' The Morning Post, 6 August 1902; GM B.95), and also in the Pall Mall Gazette. Reprinted as part of the Morning Post obituary: 'Death of Mr. Whistler. - Biography and Appreciation,' 18 July 1903; reprinted also in Eddy, Arthur Jerome, Recollections and Impressions of James A. McNeill Whistler, Philadelphia and London, 1903, pp. 282-84.
JW was recovering from serious illness in The Hague, Holland, having fallen ill whilst on a trip with Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), industrialist, collector and founder of the Freer Gallery of Art [more]. The printed letter was prefaced in the Pall Mall Gazette by the paragraph JW to which was responding: 'In its "Art and Artists" column a few days ago the "Morning Post" published a statement respecting Mr. Whistler's recovery from illness: Mr. Whistler is so young in spirit that his friends must have read with surprise the Dutch physician's pronouncement that the present illness is due to "advanced age." In England sixty-seven is not exactly regarded as "advanced age," but even for the gay "butterfly" time does not stand still, and some who are unacquainted with the details of Mr. Whistler's career, though they may know his work well, will be surprised to hear that he was exhibiting at the Academy forty-three years ago. His contributions to the exhibition of 1859 were "Two etchings from Nature," and at intervals during the following fourteen or fifteen years Mr. Whistler was represented at the Academy by a number of works, both paintings and etchings. In 1863 his contributions numbered seven in all, and in 1865 four. Among his Academy pictures of 1865 was the famous "Little White Girl," the painting that attracted so much attention at the Paris exhibition of 1900. This picture - rejected at the Salon of 1863 - was inspired, though the fact seems to have been forgotten of late, by the following lines of Swinburne: "Come snow, come wind or thunder / High up in air, / I watch my face and wonder / At my bright hair," &c., &c.'
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (YMSM 101). The painting was only admitted to the 104th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, Royal Academy, London, 1872 after the intervention of William Boxall (1800-1879), portrait painter, Director of the National Gallery [more].