The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 11358
Date: 8 July 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 14/1320-3
Document Type: TLc

'Paper lent by Mr Salaman[3]
The Court and Society Review.'

July 8th, 1886


Sir, -

I have read with interest the articles and cor[r]espondence on Mr. Whistler[5] and his work which have lately appeared in the COURT AND SOCIETY REVIEW. From these it would appear that it is impossible to separate Mr. Whistler's name from exaggeration - from injudicious praise or from ignorant and unreasoning detraction. Surely Mr Salaman overrates Mr. Whistler's influence upon the Suffolk Street Exhibitions. The British Artists[6] have slowly and from some time past begun to improve the quality of their show, and Mr. Whistler's election was itself only a manifestation of a spirit of liberal comprehension of the arts which had been long operative. To think otherwise would be to do an injustice to many of the old memb[e]rs and exhi[b]itors, whose work, far as it is in the van of progress, is yet by no means directly indebted to Mr. Whistler's example.

It is perhaps permissible to mention a few out of many. Messrs F. Ellis, Leslie Thompson, G. F. Munn, and R. J. Gordon[7] have striven, as their work in Suffolk Street for years back can witness, to render natural beauty by methods as legitimate and as personal as those of Mr. Whistler. It would be impossible to deny the widespread but indirect influence which that gentleman has exercised on the character and temper of English artists, by (p. 2) the example of his courage in doing only what he can do well and artistically, and in leaving alone such qualities as he could have attained with mechanical labour but at the cost of some of the real merits of his work. The fact remains, however, that the late improvement in the methods and aims of painters has been due to French teaching and to a return to the practices of the earlier schools, and it is better that this more troublesome, slower, and less 'stylish' education should continue, than that artists should adopt, ready-made, the aims and conventions of Mr Whistler which, it must be confessed, are not only admirably suited to bring forth his merits, but to conceal his weaknesses. Everyone, however, has neither the same gifts nor the same defects, and each man should find for himself a view of nature and a style of treatment calculated to do the best for both.

It is of course quite right, and it shows the artist in him, that Mr. Whistler should work to realise a broad atmospheric impression; that he should take advantage of nature's practice on some occasions, and should veil rather than reveal; that he should lay in his effect directly, and should refuse to patch and botch at mistakes in drawing or construction, and so perhaps disturb the sketchy spontaneity, the artistic comple[t]eness, and the general truth of his effect. But his baggage, though well appointed, is scanty - very trifling compared with the kit of that Velasquez[8], with whom Mr Salaman seems inclined to compare him. Mr. Whistler might have set out better provided; he has taken the route of the great man, but he takes as few of their qualities along with him as he may. Had he been able, as they (p. 3) were, to express premier coup[9] every subtlety of modelling in correct proportion as well as the general atmospheric appearance, he would, without harm to his art, have given as much more of the material reality of ordinary vision which enables the great man in every art to appeal to the bourgeois as well as to the artist. As it is he is a man of genius, though not a great one, were it only for the admirable artistic intuition with which he adjusts his whole scheme, to the scope of his powers, and the sense of fitness which enables him to convert into beauties the very excuses of his faults. For surely no one would wish to see a whole school of young men deftly 'sugaring' proportion[10], and that not in an original way, especially when, as would be too often the case, these material and measurable realities which they were learning to ignore might be all that they could feel or see in nature. I hope, sir, that one need not be called 'ribald' who would confine Mr Whistler's statue to its own particular niche in the temple of Fame, and would object to its being allowed, like Mr Anstey's idol[11], to take the offerings and break the noses of every other image in the place. We in this 'distressful' country are just recovering from a severe overdose of Ruskinism[12]; is it good medical practice on Mr Salaman's part to wish us to take another of Whistlerism on the top of it? Nominally the man is left as he was when a strong drug and its antidote have fought it out in his inside, but in fact he suffers from being made the battle-ground or rival over-(p. 4)doses. It appears better policy to nourish the weakened constitution by small and safe doses of simple remedies.

I am, sir, yours faithfully,


This document is protected by copyright.


1.  [unknown]
The letter is signed 'An impartial reader', who, judging from the content, may have been a member of the Society of British Artists (SBA).

2.  Editor, The Court and Society Review
The letter may have been written to Philip Stewart Robinson (1847-1902), journalist, naturalist and author [more]. The Court and Society Review, a London-based periodical, published under this title between 1 October 1885 – 6 June 1888.

3.  Paper lent by Mr Salaman
Malcolm Charles Salaman (1855-1940), art critic and dramatist [more] (see below). The heading was written in an unknown hand.

The remainder of the text is a typescript copy.

5.  articles and cor[r]espondence on Mr. Whistler
Salaman, Malcolm Charles, 'In Whistler's Studio,' The Court and Society Review, vol. 3, no. 104, 1 July 1886, pp. 588-90.

6.  British Artists
JW was elected President of the SBA in June 1886 and took office in December. Many critics commented on the improvement in quality and hanging of exhibitions.

7.  F. Ellis, Leslie Thompson, G. F. Munn, and R. J. Gordon
Frederick Standridge Ellis (1830-1901), author, publisher and book-seller [more]; Leslie Thomson (1851-1929), coastal and landscape painter [more]; George Frederick Munn (1852-1907), painter and sculptor [more]; and Robert James Gordon (fl. 1871-1893), genre painter [more].

8.  Velasquez
Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660), painter [more].

9.  premier coup
Fr., first stroke or first attempt.

10.  'sugaring' proportion
The writer appears to be suggesting that JW's drawing of the human figure was not based on academic training and that his painterly brushwork concealed a lack of knowledge of anatomy.

11.  Mr Anstey's idol
Thomas Anstey Guthrie (1856-1934), pseudonym 'F. Anstey', writer [more], who wrote A Fallen Idol, London, 1886. He is also famous for Vice-Versa, London, 1882.

12.  Ruskinism
John Ruskin (1819-1900), critic, social reformer and artist [more].