The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 09768
Date: 23 May 1897
Author: Edward Guthrie Kennedy[1]
Place: Paris
Recipient: [none]
Repository: New York Public Library
Call Number: E. G. Kennedy II/102
Credit Line: Edward Guthrie Kennedy Papers / Manuscripts and Archives Division / The New York Public Library / Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Document Type: AD


PARIS, LE 23 Mai, 1897.

What an extraordinary person Whistler is after all! Notwithstanding that his constant harping against England & everything English, without any discrimination whatever, is very tiresome & boresome, because it is really foolish & stupid, he occasionally flashes out a good thing. Of course, in a restaurant, after we left Boldini[2], who made a dry point[3] of him when asleep after breakfast (3.30 p.m.) and very good too, he said among other things, that he was going into business[4] &c.. What he meant probably he did not exactly know, though I had an inkling, in a way. It was to give an idea of [p. 2] his business capacity. He has business capacity, of a kind, but, as I told him, "You would fail in business in a month & lose all your money."

Of course, this is merely blathers, to come at what he wanted, in regard to a full length profile of Mrs. Whibley[5] which he owed me. Finally, "and dont you like that one," said he. "Certainly" said I, "£1000/-/- worth." "Very well then," said he. A favourite expression is "Very well then." Then I added. "And I will give 500/-/- for the next." Said he "Why 500/-/- for the next full length, so much less?" Said I "Last year I said 1500/-/- for a full length & the Smith & Little Rose[6] (the three), then you said "I suppose £2000/-/- for the four" - meaning two full lengths & the Smith & Little Rose - and I replied "Certainly," but I do not wish to bind you to this. If you have [p. 3] a wish to fulfil your own proposition, I am satisfied." "Did I say that?" "Certainly" - as if the rogue did not remember! "Do you not remember I wrote the whole thing out, also a cheque for 500/-/- to seal the bargain?" Whistler, "Well you know, my dear O'K. that with others it is different, but with others you I have no bother, I just say 'Oh, it is all right,' & bother myself no further". O'K. "I cannot stand flattery, what will you have, Sir?" Whistler - cackling in his peculiar manner & raising his hand deprecatingly "Oh, come now, O'K - !!["]

Talking of Boldini's portrait[7] of Whistler - a painting full length - of himself (Whistler), after criticizing it & saying how raw it is (in the restaurant all this), he also said that it was (p. 4) instructive to notice how others worked. I said that B. must be a rapid workman, his brushwork showed it apparently. Whistler - "Yes, that's it, & there you are, there is nothing more, besides it looks as if I had a new suit of clothes and that they were ironed out for the occasion". This is sound and true criticism, but as I told him, "twenty years will make a vast difference in pulling the Colours together". The portrait is very like Whistler, a far better likeness than his own painting, in which the face is too round & full. Further said W. ["]When I see the things by these other fellows & look at my own, there is a something about them that is much better & more dignified, when I compare them. Do you not think so?" Said I bowing, "It does not require any comparison to form a judgment".

(p. 5) W. cackled. "Now that is really very good O'K. & very nice of you too". He was really more pleased than if he had painted a masterpiece. Curious! What I said I believed and had no notion of flattery.

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1.  Edward Guthrie Kennedy
Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932), dealer with H. Wunderlich and Co., New York [more]. JW called him O'K.

2.  Boldini
Giovanni Boldini (1845-1931), portrait painter and etcher [more].

3.  dry point
G. Boldini, Portrait of Whistler asleep (z247).

4.  going into business
Perhaps an allusion to the Company of the Butterfly, a company founded by JW in April 1897 in order to sell his works direct to the public. He acquired the lease of a shop at 2 Hinde Street, Manchester Square, as premises, and employed Mrs Christine Anderson as manager. However, it was not a success and lasted only from 1898 to 1901.

5.  Mrs. Whibley
Ethel Whibley (1861-1920), née Philip, JW's sister-in-law [more]. The portrait was probably Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian (YMSM 378).

6.  a full length & the Smith & Little Rose
The Little Rose of Lyme Regis (YMSM 449) and The Master Smith of Lyme Regis (YMSM 450).

7.  portrait of Whistler
G. Boldini, Portrait of Whistler (z246).