The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 00011
Date: [27 April 1889][1]
Author: JW
Place: [London]
Recipient: Editor, The Academy[2]
Place: [London]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler A11
Document Type: MsLc[3]


The Royal Society[5] of British Artists and their defaced Signboard

To the Editor of the Academy.


I trust that you will see fit to publish, in its entirety, the following correspondence; for it seems to me proper that in your journal, one of the recognized art organs of the country, should be recorded the details of an incident in which the element of grave offence is, not unnaturally, quite missed by the daily papers in their indignation at the insignificance of the object to which public attention has so unw unwarrantably been drawn - a "Notice Board"! - the common sign of commerce!

Now, however slight might be the value of the work in question, destroyed, it is surely of startling interest to know that work may be destroyed, or worse still, defaced and tampered with at the present moment, in full London, with the joyous approval of the major part of the popular press.

I leave to your comment the fact that, in this instance the act is committed, with the tacit consent of a body of gentlemen officially styled "artists", at the instigation of their President as he[6] unblushingly acknowledges, and I will here distinctly state (and this, though in principle irrelevant, for what becomes of the soul of a "Diocesan Member of the Council of Clapham" is artistically a matter of small moment, is I now see, the only evidence that will at present be at all considered or even understood) that the "notice board of the Royal Society of British Artists" did not "bear on a red ground, in letters of gold, the title of the Society" - and that "to this Mr Whistler during his Presidency" did not "add with his own hand a decorative device a lion and a butterfly".

The "notice board" was of the familiar blue enamel, well known in Metropolitan use, with white lettering, announcing that the Exhibition of the Incorporated Society of British Artists was held below, and that for the sum of one shilling the public might enter.

I myself mixed the "red ground", and myself placed, "in letters of gold the," new "title" upon it - in proper relation to the decorative scheme of the whole design, of which it formed naturally an all important feature. The date was that of the Society's Royal grant, and in commemoration of its [p. 2, pasted to foot of p. 1] new birth. With the offending Butterfly it has now been effaced in one clean sweep of independence, while the Lion, "not so badly drawn," was differently dealt with - it was found not "necessary to do anything more than restore it in permanent colour, and that," with a bottle of Brunswick black, "has accordingly been done" - and, as Mr Bayliss adds, with absolute truth, and, in the pride of achievement, "the notice board was no longer the actual work of Mr Whistler"!

I am, Sir,
Very faithfully yours,

J McNeill. Whistler

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  [27 April 1889]
Date of publication in The Academy.

2.  Editor, The Academy
Also published in Whistler, James McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, London, 1890, p. 226.

3.  MsLc
Written by Charles James Whistler Hanson (1870-1935), engineer, son of JW and Louisa Fanny Hanson [more], and signed by JW.

4.  1.
Written top right, circled.

5.  The Royal Society ... Signboard
Sentence double underlined.

6.  he
Wyke Bayliss (1835-1906), painter and architect [more].