The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Documents associated with: oil painting, completion
Record 3 of 5

System Number: 11571
Date: [24 March 1897][1]
Author: JW
Place: [London]
Recipient: Charles Lang Freer[2]
Place: [Detroit]
Repository: Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Call Number: FGA Whistler 38
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: ALS[3]

Shall I begin by saying to you, my dear Mr Freer, that your little "Blue & Gold Girl[4]" is doing her very best to look lovely for you? - Perhaps it were well - and so you shall be assured that though steamer after steamer leaves me in apparently ungracious silence, it is that only of the pen! -

I write to you many letters on your canvas! - and one of these days, you will, by degrees, [p. 2] read them all, as you sit before your picture -

And in them you will find, I hope, dimly conveyed, my warm feeling of affectionate appreciation for the friendship that has shown itself to me, in my forlorn destruction[5] - as it had done before, in our happiness, to both of us - And in the work, perhaps will you of your refined sympathy and perception, discover the pleasure and interest taken in the perfecting of it, by the other one who, with me, liked you - and delighted in the kind and courteous attention paid, on your travels, to her pretty fancy and expressed wish -

She loved the wonderful bird[6] you sent with such happy care from the distant land! -

And when she went - alone, because I was unfit to go too - the strange wild dainty creature stood uplifted on the topmost perch, and sang and sang - as it had never sung before! - A song of the Sun - and of joy - and of my despair! - Loud and ringing clear from the skies! - and louder! Peal after peal - until it became a marvel the tiny beast, torn by such glorious voice, should live!

And suddenly it was made known to me that in this mysterious magpie waif from beyond the temples of India, the spirit of my beautiful Lady had lingered on its way - and the song was her song of love - and courage - and command that [p. 3] the work, in which she had taken her part, should be complete - and so was her farewell! -

I have kept her house - in its freshness and rare beauty - as she had made it - and, from time to time, I go to miss her in it -

And, in my wanderings, I may come - who knows? to you - as we both had meant to do!

J McNeill Whistler

This document is protected by copyright.


Charles L. Freer. Esq
33. Ferry Avenue
U. S. A.
[postmark:] [LONDON ... 24 MAR 97]

'Very important letter'

[postmark on verso:] NEW YORK / APR 1
[postmark on verso:] SYRACUSE & C [...] / [...] / APR / 2 / [97]


1.  [24 March 1897]
Dated from the postmark in Merrill's transcription (see below).

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

3.  ALS
Written on deep bordered mourning paper. There are copied versions of this letter in Glasgow University Library (#01513, #03189) which feature slight variations in the text when compared to this letter. The letter was published in Merrill, Linda, With Kindest Regards. The Correspondence of Charles Lang Freer and James McNeill Whistler, 1890-1903, Washington and London, 1995, no. 29, pp. 113-15.

4.  Blue & Gold Girl
Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Little Blue Girl (YMSM 421).

5.  forlorn destruction
JW was in mourning for his wife Beatrix Whistler (1857-1896), née Beatrice Philip, artist [more], who died on 10 May 1896.

6.  wonderful bird
The Whistlers had a number of birds in their large garden at 110 rue du Bac including a white parrot and a mocking bird. Freer sent two Shama Merle songbirds from Calcutta, which he described as 'beauties and real songsters', see C. L. Freer to B. Whistler, 18 March 1895, #01511. They and Beatrix are depicted in Beatrice Whistler looking at her birds (M.1398).