The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 11352
Date: 21 June 1886
Author: 'A Country Collector'[1]
Recipient: The Editor, Court and Society Review
Place: [London]
Repository: Library of Congress
Call Number: Manuscript Division, Pennell-Whistler Collection, PWC 14/1304-5
Document Type: PD/Ms[2]

the Court and Society Review
June 24th 1886

From the correspondence elicited by Mr Salaman's article[3], 'Hail President Whistler!' we have selected the following, with which, it will be seen, we publish Mr Salaman's reply.

To the Editor of The Court and Society Review.

Sir, -

Though I cannot pretend to the critical acumen displayed by your contributors under the heading of 'Palette and Brush', still, as an art collector of some years' standing, I think I may say, without any impertinence, that I have a right to express an opinion about painting. Now, sir, a signed article of your last number but one, devoted as it was to extravagant adulation of Mr, [sic] James Whistler, gave me a disagreeable feeling of surprise. That this eccentric and very astute gentlemen should receive such praise from any high-class and independent paper must have also astonished Mr Whistler himself.

I believe the artist has some sort of 'school' or 'following', but so has every other poseur. Permit me to say just a few words about one picture only - 'Harmony in Blue and Gold'[4], No, 298, at the Exhibition of the Society of British Artists in Pall Mall. I am a plain man, sir, and I call this big daub simply a colossal piece of pyramidal impudence.

I have heard that Mr Ruskin[5] once said something rude concerning Mr J. McN. Whistler; that he had, in fact, pitched his paint-pot in the face of the British public, or some such praisephrase - but, 'Gad, sir, this thing is so thin and feeble that I contend [p. 2] there was not much paint wasted on it. I am invited to gaze at an unfinished rubbishy sketch of a young woman, who, if she is not naked, ought to be, for she would then be more decent. The lady has hung the tail of her long robe over the railings of a pier, and the part of her garment that remains to cover her is transparent, like the famous Coan webb, or the robes of Vivien, which 'more expressed than hid her.' For the rest, she holds an immense circular sunshade behind her head, and this forms a sort of aureole of dirty yellow. The parasol is quite the most important part of the damsel's dress. Sir, there is neither colour, nor light, nor texture; there is neither 'value', handling, nor harmony in this 'Blue and Gold' affair by James Whistler. There is but little blue, and certainly there is no gold: if feeble grey is blue, then there is blue; if muddy, sickly, almost loathsome yellow is 'gold', then there is gold; but, even admitting the blue and gold, one fails to notice any particular harmony, the painting is so weak. The figure, I repeat, is more naked than the nude: the colour - what there is of it - is distinctly unpleasant. For my part, sir, I will not believe in Mr Whistler; my daughters have commanded me to admire him: I will not admire him. How can they quietly stare at the ill-painted, sooty-faced young woman in 'blue and gold' passes me. But things are altered now, and my girls gaze with critical calmness and carefully-balanced pince-nez on that which would have sent their grand-mothers almost shrieking from the gallery.

I am, sir, yours obediently,



June 21, 1886.

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1.  A Country Collector

2.  PD/Ms
Typescript copy of an article originally published in the Court and Society Review with ms additions by the Pennells. See also other documents in this sequence: the article by M. C. Salaman, 'Hail President Whistler,' #11351; and letters, 'A British Artist,' 'The Unknown Quantity' and 'Van Eyck' to the Editor, Court and Society Review, #11353, #11354, #11355; M. C. Salaman to the Editor, #11356.

3.  Mr Salaman's article
Malcolm Charles Salaman (1855-1940), art critic and dramatist [more]. See #11351.

4.  'Harmony in Blue and Gold'
Harmony in Blue and Gold (YMSM 197).

5.  Mr Ruskin
John Ruskin (1819-1900), critic, social reformer and artist [more].