The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 10992
Date: [30 April / May 1881][1]
Author: JW
Place: [London]
Recipient: [various]
Repository: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
Call Number: Department of Western Manuscripts, MS Dep. c. 839, fols 68-69
Document Type: PL[2]

'No. 1'[3]


"The Cuckoo," Tuesday, April 12th, 1881.

The exhibition of etchings at the Hanover Gallery has been the occasion of one of those squabbles which amuse everybody - perhaps, including even the quarrellers themselves. Some etchings, exceedingly like Mr Whistler's in manner, but signed "Frank Duveneck," were sent to the Painter-Etchers' Exhibition from Venice. The Painter-Etchers appear to have suspected for a moment that the works were really Mr Whistler's; and, not desiring to be the victims of an easy hoax on the part of that gentleman, three of their members - Dr Seymour Haden, Dr Hamilton, and Mr Legros - went to the Fine Art Society's Gallery, in New Bond-street, and asked one of the assistants there to show them some of Mr Whistler's Venetian plates. From this assistant they learned that Mr Whistler was under an arrangement to exhibit and sell his Venetian etchings only at the Fine Art Society's Gallery; but, even if these Painter-Etchers really believed that "Frank Duveneck" was only another name for James Whistler, this information about the Fine Art Society's arrangement with him need not have shaken that belief, for the nom de plume might easily have been adopted with the concurrence of the society's leading spirits. Nor is it altogether certain that the Painter-Etchers did anything more than compare, for their own satisfaction as connoisseurs, the works of Mr Whistler and Frank Duveneck. The motive of their doing so may have been misunderstood by the Fine Art Society assistant with whom they conferred.

Be that as it may, this assistant thought fit to repeat to Mr Whistler what had passed, and also his own impressions as to the motive of the comparison and the inquiries which the Painter-Etchers had instituted. Whereupon Mr Whistler addressed a letter to Mr Seymour Haden (who is, by the way, his brother-in-law),* [at foot of page '*The italics are mine. - J. A. McN. W.'] of which all that need be here said is that it is extremely characteristic of Mr Whistler. "Is it," he writes, "officially, as the Painter-Etchers' president that you pry about the town? Of what nature, pray, is the necessary duty that has led two medical men and a Slade professor to fail as connoisseurs and blunder as detectives?" Mr Whistler thinks these queries so pertinent, and in such perfect taste, that he has had the letter in which they appear printed, and a copy of it sent to all the members of the Painter-Etchers' Society's Committee. Has Mr Whistler, whose work often commands respect, no judicious friends? If he has, they have surely left town for the Easter holidays.

"The Cuckoo," Saturday, April 30th, 1881.


Some time ago I referred to a storm in an "æsthetic tea-pot" that was brewed and had burst in the Fine Art Society's Gallery, in Bond-street, in re Mr Whistler's Venice etchings. It seems to me that Mr Seymour Haden, Mr Legros, and Mr Hamilton stumbled on an artistic mare's nest, that they rashly suggested that Mr Whistler had been guilty of gross misfeasance in publishing etchings in an assumed name, and that they are now trying to get out of the scrape as best they may. This is, however, simply an opinion formed on perusal of the following documents, which I here present to my readers to judge of.

No. 1. The following paragraph was some time ago sent to me with this letter:-

"If the Editor of "The Cuckoo" should see his way to the publication of the accompanying paragraph as it stands, twenty copies may be sent, for circulation among the Council of the Society of Painter-Etchers, to Mr Piker, newsvendor, Shepherd's Market."

"MR WHISTLER AND THE PAINTER-ETCHERS. - Our explanation of this 'Storm in a Tea-pot' turns out to have been in the main correct.

"It appears that not only were the three gentlemen who went to the Fine Art Society's Gallery to look at Mr Whistler's etchings guiltless of offence, but that the object of their going there was actually less to show that Mr Whistler was than that he was not the author of the etchings which for a moment had puzzled them. For this, indeed, they seem to have given each other - in the presence of the blundering assistant, of course - three very distinct reasons.

"Firstly that, as already stated, Mr Seymour Haden had quite seriously written to Mr Duveneck to buy the etchings. Secondly, that they at once accepted as satisfactory and sufficient the explanation given them of Mr Whistler's obligations to the Fine Art Society; and, thirdly, though this count appears to have somehow slipped altogether out of the indictment - they were one and all of opinion that, taken all round, the Duveneck etchings were the best of the two!!!* [see JW's footnote above]

It is a pity a clever man like Mr Whistler is yet not clever enough to see that while habitual public attacks [p. 2] upon a near relative cannot fail to be, to the majority of people, unpalatable, they are likely to be, when directed against a brother etcher, even suspecte [sic]."

I did not at the time "see my way" to publishing the paragraph "as it stands," but, having subsequently received the following correspondence, I think it only right to give Mr Piker's paragraph publicity, along with the letters subjoined:-

"The Fine Art Society, 148, New Bond Street, W.,
March 18th, 1881.

"My Dear Sir, - Mr Whistler has called upon me respecting your visit here yesterday with Mr Legros and Dr Hamilton, the purport of which had been communicated to him by Mr Brown. He is naturally indignant that, knowing, as you apparently did, that he was under an engagement not to publish for a certain time any etchings of Venice except those issued by us, you should suggest that they were his work, and had been sent in by him under a nom de plume.

"He considers that it is damaging to his reputation in connection with us, and he request me to write and ask you whether you adhere to your opinion or retract it.

"Believe me to remain, yours faithfully,
(Signed) "MARCUS B. HUISH.
"Seymour Haden, Esq."

"38, Hertford-street, Mayfair, W., March 21st, 1881.

"Dear Sir, - I am in receipt of a letter from you, dated the 18th inst., in which you first impute to me an opinion which I have never held, and then call me to account for that opinion.

"To a peremptory letter, so framed, I shall not be misunderstood if I simply decline to plead.

"Meanwhile, that I was not of opinion that the etchings in our hands were by Mr Whistler is conclusively proved by the fact that on the day after their reception I had written to Mr Duveneck to arrange for their purchase!

"Be this, however, as it may, I can have no hesitation on the part both of myself and of the gentlemen engaged with me in a necessary duty in expressing our sincere regret if, by a mistaken representation of our proceedings, Mr Whistler has been led to believe that we had said or implied anything which could give him pain or reflect in any way on his reputation either with you or your directors. -

Faithfully yours,
"M. Huish, Esq."

"Arts Club, Hanover-square.

"Sir, - Mr Huish handed me your letter of the 21st inst., since when I have waited in vain for the true version that I doubted not would follow the 'mistaken representation' you regret I should have received.

"Now I must ask that you will, if possible, without further delay, give me a thorough explanation of your visit to the 'Fine Art Society's' Gallery on Friday evening, the 17th inst. - involving, as it did, a discussion of my private affairs.

"Did you, accompanied by Mr Legros and Dr Hamilton, call at the 'Fine Art Society's' rooms on that date, and ask to see Mr Whistler's etchings?

"Did you there proceed to make a careful and minute examination of these, and then ask Mr Brown if Mr Whistler had done other etchings of Venice? And, upon his answer in the affirmative, did you ask Mr Brown if any of the other plates were large ones, and, notably, whether Mr Whistler had done any other plate of the subject called 'The Riva'?

"Did you ask to see the early states of Mr Whistler's etchings?

"Did you say to Mr Brown, 'Now, is not Mr Whistler under an engagement with the Fine Art Society to publish no Venice etchings for a year?' or words to that effect? And upon Mr Brown's assurance that such was the case, did you request him to go with you to the Hanover Gallery?

"Did you there produce for his inspection three large Venice etchings, and among them the 'Riva' subject?

"Did you then incite Mr Brown to detect in these works the hand of Mr Whistler?

"Did you point out details of execution which, in your opinion, betrayed Mr Whistler's manner?

"Did you say, 'You see these etchings are signed "Frank Duveneck," and I have written to that name and address for their purchase, but I don't believe in the existence of such a person,' or words to that effect?

"If this be not so,
"Why did you take Mr Brown over to the Hanover Gallery?

"Why did you show him Mr Duveneck's Venice etchings?

"Why did you question him about my engagement with the 'Fine Art Society'?

"Is it officially, as the 'Painter-Etchers'' President, that you pry about the town?

"Does the Committee sanction your suggestions? And have you permitted yourself these 'proceedings' with the full knowledge and approval of the 'dozen or more distinguished men seated in serious council,' as described by yourself in the Pall Mall Gazette?

"Of what nature, pray, is the 'necessary duty' that has led two medical men and a Slade Professor to fail as connoisseurs, and blunder as detectives -

"Vat shall de honest man do in my closet?
Dere is no honest man dat shell come in my closet!"

(Signed) "J. A. McN. WHISTLER.

"Tuesday, March 29th.

"Copies of this correspondence will be sent to members of your Committee.
"Seymour Haden, Esq."

To this last characteristic letter Mr Seymour Haden has not as yet vouchsafed any answer, and here the matter rests. As requested, we have sent Mr Piker the copies he requires for distribution.

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  [30 April / May 1881]
After 30 April 1881. Dated from final article published in Cuckoo.

2.  PL
This pamphlet concerns an incident between JW, Francis Seymour Haden (1818-1910), surgeon and etcher, JW's brother-in-law [more], and the newly formed Painter Etchers' Society. In the spring of 1881, the Society held an exhibition at the Hanover Gallery. However, when Frank Duveneck (1848-1919), painter, etcher and art teacher [more], submitted three Venice etchings, Haden (who was President of the Society) suspected that they were in fact by JW. Anxious to compare the etchings with Mr Whistler's Etchings of Venice, 1880 (the first 'Venice Set') (K. 183-189, 191-195). (excat 5), which JW had been printing for the Fine Art Society, Haden, Alphonse Legros (1837-1911), painter, etcher and art teacher [more], and Dr Edward Hamilton (1815 or 1816-1903), doctor of medicine and print collector [more], paid a visit to the Society's gallery. JW was indignant when he heard of the visit, regarding it as an attack on his artistic integrity. A lengthy correspondence ensued. This was eventually published in a pamphlet (Whistler, James McNeill, The Piker Papers. The Painter-Etchers' Society and Mr. Whistler, London, 1881). The pamphlet appeared in several forms; 'Extracts from the Press' refers to the correspondence that was published together with two articles from the Cuckoo (see 'A Storm in an Aesthetic Teacup,' The Cuckoo: The News and Gossip of the Day, 12 April 1881; 'Mr Whistler and the Painter Etchers,' 30 April 1881). See also correspondence between M. B. Huish and F. S. Haden, #01131, #01944; JW to F. S. Haden, #13147; JW to Painter-Etcher's Society, #11632, #13151; F. S. Haden to E. G. Brown, #01943; JW to C. A. Howell, #02878.

3.  'No. 1'
Written by JW. This copy was sent by JW to Elisabeth Lewis (1844-1931), née Eberstadt, wife of G. H. Lewis [more]; see #10969.