The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 11362
Date: 22 July 1886
Author: Edward William Godwin[1]
Place: [London]
Recipient: Editor, The Court and Society Review[2]
Place: [London]
Repository: Library of Congress
Call Number: Manuscript Division, Pennell-Whistler Collection, PWC 14/1336-7
Document Type: Ms and TLc

'Paper lent by Mr Salaman[3].'
'The Court and Society Review'

To the Editor of the Court and Society Review.

July 22. 1886[4].

What is a 'MASTER'?


That there should be now raging in the columns of a Society journal a word battle over the painter Whistler à propos of his election as President of the Institute of British Artists, is in itself evidence that the influence of this craftsman or master is acknowledged as a reality even by those who would like to persuade themselves - for they are without argument to persuade others - that the man who painted the Sarasate[5] and created the peacock-room[6] is not a master chief or Anax[7] in the realm of art.

In reading the correspondence I have been impressed with the, I will not say deficient logic, for of that there is none, but rather with the singular misunderstanding of one word which it has exhibited. The word Master to some folk as to children carries with it rather the sense of personal control than the sense of subject knowledge. The 'master' is the man who knows, and in every craft it is this knowledge or wisdom that compels the personal following - disciple, pupil, apprentice. These may or may not come within the master's direct personal control, but their belief and veneration are there.

The correspondence shows a certain set of people who, because Whistler has asserted his individuality, and declines to 'leave it with the porter at the gate', have already, with infantine instinct, begun to dread the ferule, and are fearing to hear the phrase, palmam qui meruit ferat[8].

(p. 2) Mr Whistler's physical prowess, remembered in many fields may have contributed to this. The long bamboo he bears may seem a symbol of something more than elegance, and this folk unable to distinguish art, and therefore unable to recognise mastership in art, dread merely the President as a tutor, perchance anticipating that his anger may be roused. This is a pity, because all this diverts attention from the real issue that J. McN. Whistler is a consummate craftsman, able to do at once the noblest portraiture and the highest decoration the modern world has seen - e.g. the peacock room, which is a poem and a series of pictures, though never, for an inch of space, failing in its unity or entangling a link of the chain of beauty the great artist forged for the house in Prince's Gate. Had the 'Mother', the 'Carlyle', the 'Sarasate'[9] never been painted; had the gems of water-colour drawings and the treasures of etchings been all destroyed; had we forgotten the varied delicacy of those exhibition rooms in Piccadilly and Bond Street[10] this man has created for our joy, we should still know him to be a master so long as wall or ceiling or shutter remained of the marvellous peacock decoration.


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1.  Edward William Godwin
Edward William Godwin (1833-1886), architect and designer [more].

2.  Editor, The Court and Society Review
This is a response to a series of letters to The Court and Society Review.

3.  Paper lent by Mr Salaman
Handwritten. This letter is one of a series of typescript copies with manuscript corrections, sent, probably by Malcolm Charles Salaman (1855-1940), art critic and dramatist [more] , to Joseph Pennell (1860-1926) and his wife Elizabeth Robins Pennell (1855-1936), née Robins, JW's biographers.

4.  July 22. 1886
The rest of the text is typescript.

5.  the Sarasate
Pablo de Sarasate y Navascues (1844-1908), violinist [more], was the subject of Arrangement in Black: Portrait of Señor Pablo de Sarasate (YMSM 315).

6.  peacock-room
Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room (YMSM 178).

7.  Anax
Lat., dragonfly. JW's monogram was a butterfly.

8.  palmam qui meruit ferat
Lat., honour goes to him who deserves it.

9.  Sarasate
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (YMSM 101), Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle (YMSM 137) and Arrangement in Black: Portrait of Señor Pablo de Sarasate (YMSM 315).

10.  exhibition rooms in Piccadilly and Bond Street
JW's one-man exhibitions included Mr Whistler's Etchings, The Fine Art Society, London, 1883, 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884, and 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Second Series, Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1886.