The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Documents associated with: art theory
Record 11 of 27

System Number: 01047
Date: 27 November 1878
Author: Charles Egg[1]
Place: London
Recipient: JW
Place: [London]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler E35
Document Type: ALS



Nov 27: 78

Dr Sir

I have always found your pictures to my taste: defending them amongst my few friends &c, but this last attack upon you is almost too much. I sent you a line[3] this morning, but the few following ideas have occured [sic] to me since [heading?] to Mr Ruskin's charge[4] - as they strike me

To throw the pot of paint &c

Now this is cruel, hard, selfish, meaning everything that is offensive, and meant [p. 2] to be disastrous to the person affected[.] Why it is said: why the form of inventive brain that essays one step out of a beaten hack, is ever thus fleeced of its value and stuck all over with barbed arrows, can be understood, as wounded self elected authority can always be understood.

Admitting Art in painting exists in its grand and noblest form and music too, so far as we know, but who shall analiyze [sic] my brain to say how I comprehend one or the other

That in the exquisite chord of music I do not comprehend a colour: that a nice adjustment of colour upon canvas does not produce like harmonies in my brain I say they do! - but - and here I must be firm - I cannot look upon two [p. 3] such harmonies at once, neither can I listen to two melodies at once, each must be apart centered alone. Then leave me with it. That such studies should appeal to all is impossible: has every one an equal appreciation of sky & cloud. The fire appeals to the many mostly on account of its [warmth?]. If another man elects to spend half a life painting a coal or cabbage leaf: let him do it. I too can appreciate the coal and cabbage leaf - but must I be confined to this: between the cabbage leaf and the Heavens there is space[,] paint me that. for many can paint the cabbage leaf well enough. Shall the man with his brain full of the harmonies of colour and sound not paint as his instincts direct him. To tell such a man to paint only forms, his to tell him to reconstruct himself. I see an artist can paint mist, to me mist is form, so I appreciate the work. I saw a picture[5] in the Grosvenor Gallery of Thames Water & dipping lights - and when I saw it I heard the clacking of the water upon the sides of a steamboat, the sounds and crunching of the paddle wheels, and yet I am told such work is not understood - wonderful

Yours very truly

Charles [John?] Egg

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  Charles Egg
Charles Egg, possible an employee of Walter and James Hall and Co., silk merchants.

2.  'Egg'
Written in upper left-hand corner of sheet in another hand, in pencil.

3.  a line
See C. Egg to JW, #01046.

4.  Mr Ruskin's charge
A reference to JW's libel case against John Ruskin (1819-1900), critic, social reformer and artist [more], of which JW had just heard the outcome. The case was in response to Ruskin's criticism of JW's works, especially Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (YMSM 170), in his periodical Fors Clavigera. On 2 July 1877 he accused JW of 'flinging a pot of paint in the public's face' in a review of the 1st Summer Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1877. See Ruskin, John, 'Letter the Seventy-ninth' Fors Clavigera, 2 July 1877, pp. 181-213. The trial took place at the Queen's Bench of the High Court over two days on 25-26 November 1878. The judge found in favour of JW but awarded him only token damages of one farthing.

5.  picture
Perhaps a reference to Nocturne in Blue and Silver (YMSM 113) or Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge (YMSM 140), two of the other works exhibited by JW at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877.