UNIVERSITY of GLASGOW

The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 13829
Date: 5 December 1902
Author: Rosalind Birnie Philip[1]
Place: London
Recipient: Charles Lang Freer[2]
Place: [Detroit]
Repository: Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Call Number: FGA Philip
Credit Line: Charles Lang Freer Papers, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: Gift of the Estate of Charles Lang Freer
Document Type: TLc


74 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea,

December 5th, 1902.

Dear Mr. Freer:

I delayed answering your kind letter and hurried to bring the slippers to a satisfactory conclusion. But it is in sorrow I now write for the shoemaker behaved in a base manner and has sent the slippers home a spectacle of ugliness, not only making them a bad shape but soiling the needlework and we are all agreed that they are not worth sending to you. Mrs. Whibley[3] came up yesterday and was very disgusted with them and said that it was her first effort and it would be her last! So we will say no more about them but the ruins shall be kept and perhaps some day when you are again in London they may be shown as monuments of industry.

We are still here and I know you will be pleased to hear that Mr. Whistler's health is much improved. He is able to work again but great care has still to be taken of him and only one and a half hour's painting is allowed daily.

There is to be an exhibition of old table silver at the Fine Art Society and Mr. Whistler has lent some of his. It opens tomorrow and yesterday afternoon Mrs. Whibley and I went to arrange it in its case. I must tell you first that Mr. Whistler suggested the case should be lined with white table linen. Mr. Huish[4] agreed but on going back to his Society, he listened to the words of wisdom from a certain Mr. Macquoid[5], who was arranging the show for them and also loaning silver himself. He considered white made silver look "tinny" and the cases should be lined a rich red.

Mr. Whistler had another inspiration and the blue and white table was sent to Mr. Huish to be placed in the case to relieve the white a little and as being characteristic of himself. This it seems was another cause of offense to the Macquoid, so that by the time we arrived to arrange the silver, everyone, except Mr. Brown[6], was in a state of disapproval.

The room was full of showcases lined with watered morine of a pickled cabbage red (I hope you know this color), and most of the silver was fine but rather florid, more for the curiosity shop than the dining table.

The Macquoid was in full force, a blind eye, an eyeglass and cord in the good one, a fur-lined coat and objectionable voice. The case we were to arrange was large and in a most unpromising condition, lined with white paper and having two wooden shleves supported by hideous black iron brackets. Mrs. Whibley began operations ignoring the Macquoid, who evidently expected a pair of incapable hens who would be reduced at last to beg some of (p. 2) his morine lining. The brackets were taken out and wooden supports nailed on and the whole case lined with fine white striped linen serviettes[7] with the butterfly beautifully embroidered in the corner. The shelves were covered with serviettes and the silver placed on them. The effect was beautiful and the square folds on the serviettes reminded me of the table cloth in Leonardo da Vinci's picture of the Lord's Supper.

By this time the Macquoid, who had gone out not able to stand the situation any longer, returned. He was more objectionable then ever and great on not getting his periods of silver mixed, for of course we sacrificed periods to appearance! We also had several sets of things and we heard him saying that he had no duplicates there. We had brought 4 blue and white plates and before knowing the Macquoid and hearing the objection to the china, hesitated about putting them in the case. But when everything was ready and the Macquoid's back was turned, Mrs. Whibley instructed the man to put four little tacks on the top shelf, the table was on the bottom one, the plates were then put in place and the case closed!! The hens then retired into the back room to tea, exhausted but triumphant.

But I am ashamed at the length of this letter so will close. I must not forget however, to say that Mr. Whistler highly approved of your letter to Mrs. Bell[8].

With affectionate messages from us all,
Yours very sincerely,

Rosalind Birnie Philip


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Notes:

1.  Rosalind Birnie Philip
Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), JW's sister-in-law [more].

2.  Charles Lang Freer
Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), industrialist, collector and founder of the Freer Gallery of Art [more].

3.  Mrs. Whibley
Ethel Whibley (1861-1920), née Philip, JW's sister-in-law [more].

4.  Mr. Huish
Marcus Bourne Huish (1843 - d.1921), barrister, writer and art dealer, Director of the Fine Art Society [more].

5.  Mr. Macquoid
Thomas Robert Macquoid (1820-1912), guest curator for the Fine Art Society [more].

6.  Mr. Brown
Ernest George Brown (1853 or 1854-1915), assistant manager at the Fine Art Society [more].

7.  serviettes
Some survive in the Whistler collection in the Hunterian Art Gallery, where they are displayed with JW's silver.

8.  Mrs. Bell
Nancy Regina Emily Bell (1844-1933), née Meugens, writer, wife of Arthur Bell [more]. The letter referred to is from Freer to Bell, 14 October 1902, #01535.