A Further Proposition
THE notion that I paint flesh lower in tone than it is in nature, is entirely based upon the popular superstition as to what flesh really is - when seen on canvas; for the people never look at nature with any sense of its pictorial appearance - for which reason, by the way, they also never look at a picture with any sense of nature, but, unconsciously from habit, with reference to what they have seen in other pictures.
Now, in the usual "pictures of the year" there is but one flesh, that shall do service under all circumstances, whether the person painted be in the soft light of the room or out in the glare of the open. The one aim of the unsuspecting painter is to make his man "stand out" from the frame - never doubting that, on the contrary, he should really, and in truth absolutely does, stand within the frame - and at a depth behind it equal to the distance at which [p. 2] the painter sees his model. The frame is, indeed, the window through which the painter looks at his model, and nothing could be more offensively inartistic than this brutal attempt to thrust the model on the hither-side of this window!
Yet this is the false condition of things to which all have become accustomed, and in the stupendous effort to bring it about, exaggeration has been exhausted - and the traditional means of the incompetent can no further go.
Lights have been heightened until the white of the tube alone remains - shadows have been deepened until black alone is left. Scarcely a feature stays in its place, so fierce is its intention of "firmly" coming forth; and in the midst of this unseemly struggle for prominence, the gentle truth has but a sorry chance, falling flat and flavourless, and without force.
Whereas, could the people be induced to turn their eyes but for a moment, with the fresh power of comparison, upon their fellow-creatures as they pass in the gallery, they might be made dimly to perceive (though I doubt it, so blind is their belief in the bad,[)] [p. 3] how little they resemble the impudent images on the walls! how "quiet" in colour they are! how "grey!" how "low in tone." And then it might be explained to their riveted intelligence how they had mistaken meretriciousness for mastery, and by what mean methods the imposture had been practised upon them.
1. [1 July 1886]
Date of first publication. A note in the right margin referring to 'Art Journal, 1887' is to its later publication.
Whistler, James McNeill, 'A Further Proposition,' from 'In Whistler's Studio,' by Malcolm C. Salaman, The Court and Society Review, vol. 3, no. 104, 1 July 1888, pp. 588-90, republished in Whistler, James McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, London, 1890, pp. 177-79, and Thorp, Nigel (Editor), Whistler on Art: Selected Letters and Writings 1849-1903 of James McNeill Whistler, Manchester, 1994, and Washington, 1995, no. 36, pp. 104-05. See Getscher, Robert H., and Paul G. Marks, James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent. Two Annotated Bibliographies, New York and London, 1986, A. 20.
4. beau ... mouvement
Fr., beautiful of course, but not 'in the swim'!