The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 11360
Date: 10 July 1886
Author: [unknown]
Recipient: Walter Herries Pollock[1]
Place: [London]
Repository: Library of Congress
Call Number: Manuscript Division, Pennell-Whistler Collection, PWC 14/1326-9
Document Type: Ms and TLc

'From papers lent by Mr Salaman'[2]

'The Saturday Review'

July 10, 1886.[3]


On reading certain articles by Mr Malcom C. Salaman[4] in the COURT AND SOCIETY REVIEW and the letters which they have called forth, Mr Whistler might well exclaim "Save me from my friends!" Mr Salaman, in fact, has praised the painter not always wisely and perhaps too well - a course likely to turn more people from the intelligent comprehension of his works than all the unfounded and nonsensical abuse of those who have entered the lists from the other side. Certainly it would be difficult to name amongst living men an artist at once more refined and original than he is; but the very keenness and narrowness of his self-conscious personality prevent his having the large following which Mr Salaman claims for him in an article of the 10th of June, entitled "Hail, President Whistler!" Like Turner[5] - and it is not to the discredit of either - he has has [sic] been a precedent rather than a model. Indeed the direction taken by most of the younger men whose work one sees at the Marlborough Gallery and at Suffolk Street[6] lies parallel and not coincident with Mr Whistler's path. In artistic intelligence, in knowledge of nature and of his own limitations, in pictorial science, in decorative elegance, though he is vastly their superior, he can in no way be counted their master or director. So far as they are at one, as in the pursuit of the aerial envelope in preference to the study of local colour and (p. 2) anatomy, these artists and Mr. Whistler appear to have derived their tendency from common sources; the observation of nature and the traditions of such men as Velasquez, Rembrandt, Constable, Corot[7]. Mr Whistler is only one of the many masters whose example has led artists to look at for themselves and understand both art and nature; but like all who have aimed before everything at attaining a polished style, his work is somewhat monotonous in choice of effect, and wanting in that vivid naturalism which is so charming to youth. He entirely sacrifices anything like Shaksperean[8] [sic] fulness [sic] of matter and emotion to unity of style and equality of treatment. He attempts nothing that is outside the scope of the art, or of his own powers, and in his delicate reticence and refined sense of measure, he is an exquisite artist rather than the "great and mighty master" which Mr. Salaman proclaims him in his article of the 1st of July, "In Whistler's Studio."

Some of the letters to the editor on the subject - add [sic] some of the replies - are very funny and very silly; if they really express the opinions of the writers and of other people there is much excuse for some slight exaggeration on Mr. Salaman's part. The first and longest comes from a "Country Collector[9]", a "plain man", as he calls himself, and one whose wisdom and knowledge of art would have been invaluable to the jury of the Belt and Lawes case[10], who would have thought much more of him than they did of the Academicians. He assumes an air of fine old purple port-wine indignation, and introduces a "Gad, sir" with (p. 3) some sense of fitness in style, though "values" and "pyramidal impudence" are surely too smart and French for his key of language. Of argument there is none - indeed, all the letters are without it. When we mention the words "flagrant trifler," "eccentric," "poseur," "unfinished," "insult to art," "meaningless daubs," "to considerable advantage....upside down," and so on, which occur in all the letters, it is useless to enter on the method of their application, which is only too well known. "A British Artist[11]" is a most needlessly rude person, both to Mr. Whistler, to Mr Salaman, and to his own Society, who, he considers, "have made themselves ridiculous" by his election (he means Mr. Whistler's.) "Better dissolution," he thinks, "than the presidency of such a flagrant trifler in art as Mr Whistler." "The Unknown Quantity[12]," who dates from the Savage Club[13], on the other hand, considers Mr Whistler the best showman in London. One and all these correspondents seem to believe in the meaningless daubing, eccentric trifling, and unfinished haphazard recklessness of Mr. Whistler's work. Perhaps no man is more logical, more careful, more intentional, in all that he does than Mr. Whistler. His system is consistently based on nature and on the true conditions of vision. His manner of enveloping things, hazily and in a somewhat low-toned atmosphere, should not be incomprehensible, least of all to Londoners, who are so often confronted with a similar effect. His use of sharply-accentuated touches and his view of that completeness and balance of qualities which constitutes true finish is also well reasoned, and depends much on that focussing of the interest (p. 4) which is essential to the impressionistic manner of seeing. That he should have made his treatment and his idea of finish favourable to the expression of the truths in which he is interested, as well as capable of slipping elegantly over such points as he has not examined with sympathy, is primarily a notable proof that his temperament is thoroughly artistic, and only secondarily an indication that his gifts are limited. We should never say that he has no sense of form of drawing; yet we cannot agree with Mr Salaman that "he begins immediately with the finish that others attempt to arrive at through many preliminary preparations, and puts on canvas at once the absolute form and colour that is before him." This is a true account of his direct manner of proceeding by the large effect; we should, however, never apply the term "absolute form," but rather absolute personal impression, to the results of his work. He is able to give deliberately, but straight off and in its entirety, a just account of atmospheric appearance; yet, though he has a nice sense of form, he is not always able to attain true construction and right proportion whilst keeping to his intended method of working.

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1.  Walter Herries Pollock
Walter Herries Pollock (1850-1926), journalist, and editor of The Saturday Review from 1883-1894 [more].

2.  'From papers lent by Mr Salaman'
The heading is handwritten.

3.  July 10, 1886.
The remainder of the text is typescript.

4.  Mr Malcom C. Salaman
Malcolm Charles Salaman (1855-1940), art critic and dramatist [more]. The articles concerned were Salaman, Malcolm C., 'Hail President Whistler,' The Court and Society Review, 10 June 1886; and Salaman, Malcolm Charles, 'In Whistler's Studio,' The Court and Society Review, vol. 3, no. 104, 1 July 1886, pp. 588-90.

5.  Turner
Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), painter [more].

6.  Marlborough Gallery and at Suffolk Street
The galleries of the Society of British Artists were in Suffolk Street.

7.  Velasquez, Rembrandt, Constable, Corot
Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660), painter [more]; Rembrandt Harmens van Rijn (1606-1669), painter and etcher [more]; John Constable (1776-1837), English painter; and Camille Corot (1796-1875), painter [more].

8.  Shaksperean
William Shakespeare (1564-1616), playwright [more].

9.  Country Collector
The author of a letter published in The Court and Society Review, 21 June 1886, #11352.

10.  Belt and Lawes case
Belt v. Lawes of 1882 was a libel case between Richard Claude Belt (ca 1854 - d.1920), sculptor [more], and Sir Charles Lawes-Wittewronge (1843-1911), sculptor. The defendant was accused of passing off work done by others as his own and after the longest case in British history, lasting forty-three days and involving eighty-two witnesses, the plaintiff won the case (see Dean, Joseph, Hatred, Ridicule or Contempt: A Book of Libel Cases, London, 1953). The trial is also mentioned in #11361.

11.  British Artist
The author of a letter published in The Court and Society Review, 12 June 1886, #11353. JW was President of the Society of British Artists.

12.  The Unknown Quantity
The author of a letter published in The Court and Society Review, 23 June 1886, #11354.

13.  Savage Club
Private gentleman's club.