The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 09828
Date: 19 December 1892
Author: JW
Place: Paris
Recipient: Edward Guthrie Kennedy[1]
Place: New York
Repository: New York Public Library
Call Number: E. G. Kennedy III/165
Credit Line: Edward Guthrie Kennedy Papers / Manuscripts and Archives Division / The New York Public Library / Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Document Type: ALS

110. Rue du Bac. Paris.

Dec. 19. 1892 -

For Mr. Bancroft's[2] inspection -

Dear Mr. Kennedy -

It was too bad of you to drag me away from my work, beside which nothing is of importance, in order that I may listen to the tiresome recapitulations of the baffled Bancroft! -

Dear me! if you only knew how precious is every moment, & 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[3] - 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. a piece 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 the bulk of attraction, & making a Jew job lot, he threw in my present -

Now mark you how strong a thing is instinct - how beautiful is the mystery of blood! - Even as the Negro throws back, & after periods of pale Quadroon, & blonde Octoroon, reappears black & bold as the accursed Ham[5], so here do we find our Greek, after ages of intercourse with a more 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![6]" - Most interesting - isn't it? -

Bon! - You then buy these beautiful pictures from our delicate friend Doctor Cavafy - upon my recommendation - thereby outflanking the tardy Bancroft, & by a brilliant movement, carrying off his baggage waggons [sic] & bolting with his Quartermasters department! - Indeed "the race is not always to the slow"! -

Herein furthermore you not only enthusiastically aid the Gods in their retribution, but, as I prophecied [sic], very properly do a good stroke of business. - In the whole of this transaction you show yourself the loyal & sturdy friend I know you to be, & promptly return me the long absent gift - rescued at length from unseemly greed -

L'incident est clos![7] - and we are all satisfied: you with your purchase, the clearheaded Cavafy with his sale, I myself with the general triumph of the upright, & even this troublous [sic] & metrograbolising Bancroft [p. 2] writes to say that "every thing turns out for the best"!!! -

Your present attitude of uncertainty then, frankly I confess I am wholly unprepared for - However I enclose my Lawyers'[8] opinion upon the case - If you have lost heart or are unable to take responsibility of the care of these pictures, your duty as he points out, and I agree with him, is to return them to me - And here I am reminded that you have sold the "Balcony[9]" - a most delicious complication! - Does our disappointed dilitante [sic] propose that you should hand him over the money, to console him for this picture that he has never owned - never even seen! - stupendous! - If then you have lost heart & are unable to tackle these complications in the care of your pictures, your simple course as Messrs Webb point out, is to return them to me (the two you have left) who painted them - & through whom alone you obtained them. - Nothing would more delight me than dealing with Bancroftian details - "legal" - or other! -

Beside, remember that we are writing history - and let it not be said to your everlasting reproach that after much staunchness, you, in a moment of bewilderment, gave Whistler away to his enemies! -

And this one - such a casual interloper! His very reappearance at this late hour, is a self stultification & damns him - for have we not read his letter, in which he acknowledges God, and protests that his only motive in "responding" to my proposal was "to please" me - & promises that he "will not say a word that should detract from my enjoyment" - Why then does he? - Can we have no faith in him? Are we to be distressed by these improper clamourings now that the piece is played - & the curtain gone down on this moral & amazing drama? -

Mr Bancroft's rôle might have been a noble one - as was your own - He had the chance of distinguishing himself, as you afterwards did -

When of my own free will, I gave him the occasion of acquiring, for a small sum, the three pictures, & advised him to offer £600. for "The Balcony", "the Westminster Bridge[10]" & "the Battersea Reach[11]", his unpleasant nature was filled with doubts, & in lieu of good fellowship & sympathy, I was met with suspicion! - 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 poor dear pictures in the home of a friend - a transaction by which I could in no monied way profit -

When the complete indecency of the Cavafy business was revealed, & it became known that my he had thrust my present to himself in with the other three on the market, then I was glad indeed, secure in the good faith of my friend Bancroft, never dreaming that he would not immediately restore to me my misplaced & regretted picture. - "Fair play"! I cried out to him - [p. 3] "fair play! my dear Bancroft - For a song you have your three masterpieces, & yours also is the privelege [sic] 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 expected!" (sic) .

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

In the exercise of his own sharpness, as in his friendship, he was 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 - Little Charles Reade's[12] pirate, he has been "outfought! out manoeuvered! and out sailed!["] - and be hanged to him!

Let him tell his story in the Broadways of New York - I doubt there is an other creature in this world who shall at all sympathize with his uneasy condition - save one - "the Greek he left behind him"! -

J. McNeill Whistler -

[butterfly signature]

This document is protected by copyright.


[Registered letter:] Recommandée[13]

E G Kennedy Esq
868 Broadway .
New York
Etats Unis.[14]
[postmark:] PARIS / R. DU VIEUX-COLOMBIER / 5E 24 / DEC / 92


1.  Edward Guthrie Kennedy
Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932), dealer with H. Wunderlich and Co., New York [more]. There are two drafts of this letter, #07209 and #07210.

2.  Mr. Bancroft's
John Chandler Bancroft (1822-1907), politician, diplomat and collector [more].

3.  me
Double underlined.

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

5.  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.

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

7.  Lawyers'
George Webb (b. ca 1835), of G. and W. Webb. lawyer [more]; and William Webb (b. ca 1851), of G. and W. Webb, lawyer [more].

8.  l'incident est clos
Fr., the incident is closed.

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

10.  the Westminster Bridge
The Last of Old Westminster (YMSM 39).

11.  Battersea Reach
Battersea Reach (YMSM 45).

12.  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).

13.  Recommandée
Double underlined.

14.  Etats Unis
Double underlined.