The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 11359
Date: [9 July 1886?][1]
Author: Malcolm Charles Salaman[2]
Place: [London]
Recipient: Editor, The Court and Society Review[3]
Place: [London]
Repository: Library of Congress
Call Number: Manuscript Division, Pennell-Whistler Collection, PWC 14/1323-5
Document Type: TLc



The anonymous letter of 'An Impartial Reader'[4] justifies but a brief reply, simply for the reason that his is a type of art-opinion, but little removed in quality from that of "The British Artist[5]' and 'Country Collector[6]' of former letters. He views the question at issue through a lens but little clearer and scarcely less narrow. He repeats the small details of conventionality, without allowing his reasoning sense to grasp the larger generalities which can alone convey the whole truth

'The improvement in the methods and aims of painters' is but slightly interesting in comparison with the fact that we have among us a Master, whose influence is inevitable, and is, I repeat, to be seen not only upon the walls of the Suffolk Street Galleries, but upon the walls of all picture galleries both in London and Paris. And I would wish 'An Impartial Reader', if possible, to understand that the evidence of this influence is not in the 'brush-work' and studio-skill of the pictures which he supposes are proofs of progress, due indeed, as he declares, to [p. 2] French teaching, but in the larger sense of Nature in its pictorial aspect, which the progressive painters, British and French, have learnt and are learning to feel through the example of Mr. Whistler.

'Mediocrity', as Mr. Whistler has said, 'is better taught in France than in England,' and more is the pity, as it acquires a capacity for continuing. 'An Impartial Reader' admits that Mr Whistler is a 'man of genius, though not a great one.' Surely a contradiction in terms - for must not genius always be great? He says also that had Mr Whistler expressed at once 'every subtlety of modelling in correct proportion as well as the general atmospheric appearance, he would, without harm to his art, have given as much more of the material reality of ordinary vision which enables the great man in every art to appeal to the bourgeois as well as to the artist!' This seems to me quite an extraordinary statement. In the first place, it is that subtlety of modelling which is so noteworthy a feature in all Mr. Whistler's great works (does 'An Imperial [sic] Reader' know them at all?), which have established his reputation at home and abroad, from the famous 'White Girl[7]' to the pictures of the present time, which I described last week. But it is just that very subtlety which is a dead letter to the multitude and the conventional painters. Again, no great artist has ever 'appealed to the bourgeoisie.' He has been in no sense understood by the bourgeoisie, though in time he has been accepted by them as an incontrovertible fact for the comprehension of which they are in no way concerned.

[p. 3] 'An Impartial Reader' says that 'the aims and conventions of Mr. Whistler' are 'admirably suited to bring forth its his merits but to conceal his weaknesses'. But how does this astute critic discern the existence of these 'weaknesses' if they are 'concealed?' Surely they must be reflected from the 'Impartial Reader's['] own mind.

For the rest, I may quote an apt reply I once heard called forth by the question, 'What is to be said of all the other painters if Whistler's view of art is the true one?' 'Acknowledge the Master, and then I will find excuses for the rest!'

I am, &c.,


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1.  [9 July 1886?]
This is a response to a letter dated 8 July 1886 (#11358)

2.  Malcolm C. Salaman
Malcolm Charles Salaman (1855-1940), art critic and dramatist [more].

3.  Editor, The Court and Society Review
Several copies were probably made by Salaman at the same time and the typescript is numbered consecutively

4.  letter of 'An Impartial Reader'

5.  The British Artist
Earlier letter in The Court and Society Review, 12 June 1886 (see #11353).

6.  Country Collector
Earlier letter in The Court and Society Review, 21 June 1886 (see #11363).

7.  White Girl
Symphony in White, No. I: The White Girl (YMSM 38).