UNIVERSITY of GLASGOW

The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 11364
Date: 2 August 1886
Author: [unknown][1]
Recipient: Editor, The Court and Society Review[2]
Place: [London]
Repository: Library of Congress
Call Number: Manuscript Division, Pennell-Whistler Collection, PWC 14/1343-6
Document Type: Ms and TLc


From paper lent by Mr. Salaman[3].
The Court and Society Review
Correspondence

To the Editor of the Court and Society Review

August 5. 1886[4].

WHISTLER AND HIS CRITICS

Sir,

I have from time to time been much diverted by the hot and hostile comments evoked by my letter in your REVIEW of June 24[5], and I have observed with curiosity the rancour, the evident irritation inspiring the attacks upon my harmless remarks. My assailants have taken the buttons off their foils, which is hardly fair - else, why am I, according to a Mr. Malcolm C. Salaman, a 'provoked and prurient provincial'. I admire the alliteration, of course - the more so as I am myself no professed writer, nor have I at my command anything better than plain English expressions; but I am unable to fathom the meaning or application of this sentence. And this Mr. Salaman, further, assumes that I was not aware that the precious 'Harmony'[6] was unfinished. Why, sir, I characterised it as 'an unfinished rubbishy sketch;' and to call it 'a work in progress' does not seem to me to mend matters. Living artists are accustomed to finish their work for exhibition.

But, sir, you would never have heard of me again, if it had not been for the appearance of a letter in your column last week, which calls aloud for comment, and I confess (with some shame) that the arrogance of Mr Stott (of Oldham)[7] has induced me to beg from you a portion of that space which usually sparkles (p. 2) with the scintillating wit and sound criticism of your metropolitan young gentleman.

After some scathing sarcasm directed at my unlucky self, the young painter of those mournful children 'kissing' in a dreary[8] ring goes on to quote some of the 'maxims' of the 'young artists of to-day' - that is, of Mr Stott (of Oldham) and his friends. These, it appears, are to be decisive. Here is one of them: 'Art is for artists[9], just as music is for musicians'. Why, that monstrous proposition is here! Religion, then, is for priests, and plays are for playwrights alone, and houses and palaces are built only for their architects to dwell in. Now, what follows is a little too bad. The purchaser or collector (de me fabula narratur[10]) may, we are informed, 'put down his guineas,' but, if I am to understand Mr Stott, cannot buy the picture, but only the material part of it - the canvas, &c. The picture still belongs to him who made it though the material possession of it has gone out of his hands. 'Art', then, 'is for artists' in the sense that the artist only her [sic] enjoyment of production, he alone the appreciation of the finished work, he alone the purchaser's money, and, to crown all, the artist alone is to have the spiritual possession of the picture, as distinguished from the 'material' possession of the putter-down of guineas. Surely the artist gets too much fun out of this arrangement? And the purchaser - nothing. Poor purchaser!

After this, I am to be 'modest'. I shall take example by Mr Stott's retiring humility and striking good taste in lecturing a man presumably much older than himself, in assuming this person to be devoid of judgment, and dictating to him as to what happens when he 'puts' down his guineas.'

I am offered 'consolation' at the end of this letter, but in such obscure sentences, that, being unable to understand them, I cannot avail myself of the proffered comfort.

No, Mr. Stott; art is for the world. Most sane painters are glad to be paid, and to see the last of their picture. 'Let it go hang', they say, which is, indeed, its natural destination. Art is for the world - not so much for the artists.

For myself, I should venture to point out a course to my young friend. He would do well to provide himself with a lordly pleasure-house in some remote region, where he may furnish himself with a gallery hung entirely with his own works, and there he might spend a long life of ecstasy in the contemplation of cheerful productions like 'Kiss in the Ring.'

Sir, I shall continue to 'put down my guineas' in return for genuine and cheerful work, not 'bedabbled with names' never hitherto applied to paintings, such, for example, as that 'Harmony in Blue and Gold' which has raised all this pother, and brought upon me the cheap sneer of Mr. Salaman and the queer homily, delivered ex cathedrâ, of (p. 4) this young Mr. Stott (of Oldham).

I am, Sir, &c.,

A COUNTRY COLLECTOR.

August 2, 1886.


This document is protected by copyright.


Notes:

1.  [unknown]
The letter is signed only 'A Country Collector'.

2.  Editor, The Court and Society Review
The Court and Society Review had published a series of letters relating to JW and the SBA.

3.  From paper lent by Mr. Salaman
This is one of a series of letters copied by Malcolm Charles Salaman (1855-1940), art critic and dramatist [more], and sent to Joseph Pennell (1860-1926) and his wife Elizabeth Robins Pennell (1855-1936), née Robins, JW's biographers. The top three lines are hand written.

4.  August 5. 1886
The remainder of the text is typescript.

5.  my letter in your REVIEW of June 24
'A Country Collector' to the Editor, The Court and Society Review, 24 June 1886, #11352.

6.  'Harmony'
JW gave musical titles such as 'Nocturne' and 'Harmony' to his paintings and exhibitions to emphasize their abstract and harmonic qualities.

7.  Mr Stott (of Oldham)
William Stott of Oldham (1857-1900), genre and landscape painter [more]. His letter is Stott, William, 'Whistler and His Critics,' The Court and Society Review, vol. 3, no. 108, 29 July 1886, p. 678.

8.  children 'kissing' in a dreary ring
W. Stott of Oldham, Kissing in a ring (z197).

9.  Art is for artists
'Art for Art's Sake' was one of the basic tenets of the Aesthetic Movement.

10.  de me fabula narratur
Lat., they tell me the story.