The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Documents associated with: sculpture
Record 18 of 26

System Number: 04668
Date: [15 September 1896][1]
Author: JW
Place: Calais
Recipient: Rosalind Birnie Philip[2]
Place: Paris
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler P308
Document Type: ALS[3]

'Sept 15. 1896.'

Hotel Meurice - Calais

My dear Major -

So far every thing has been more or less absurd!

I left London on Saturday, meaning to stop here and look about before committing myself further - But as I came off the boat, or rather while occupied with my baggage in the station, I met Gilbert[4] the sculptor! -

Strange rather - for you know I was talking [p. 2] of him only the other day - à propos of Teddie[5] -

So I got into the train with him - and after curious misadventures through preoccupation with Teddie's future - (of which more hereafter -) I found myself late at night at Étaples - Excellent Inn - excellent bed - excellent table - 6 francs a day! -

But the place was dull it seemed to me this morning - and afterwards I was so pestered with the [untiring?] attentions of a British Artist[6] who had recognised me, that I finally made a bolt of it! - the Briton pursuing me to the railway with the tact of his countrymen - and to my ungrateful amusement insisting upon carrying one of my hats! -

Here I am then back again in Calais - in the midst of wind and rain & general depression -

Under these circumstances I shall not send for Constant[7] until [I am] more clear in my plans - When I shall simply wire -

Meanwhile I enclose the Hubert[8] blue paper -

Perhaps Bunnie[9] would go with you to Ratier's[10] - you should give him the writ, and say that it was not served upon me personally as I was and still am[11] absent - So that I beg he will inform the judge (Monsieur le juge, or Magistrat) that I could not possibly be present at court, and insist upon putting off the matter for a couple of months or more - Say also why we have been [p. 3] away[12] all this time - and that I will write to Hubert telling him that the matter is in the hands of my lawyers - & that they will send for him - Tell Ratier to exact from him a fully detailed bill from him - and say to Ratier that he is to dwell upon the reason of my having been unable to attend to any business for some time past - and that this impatience on his part is poor policy as by it he will lose my custom - also it is inexcusable inasmuch as he knows his money was safe enough -

After all you need not trouble to say all this to Ratier - only let him see that we are indignant - & tell him to put every thing off - as he did with [Depetiteville?] -

You might take this occasion to give him the hundred francs for the marble man[13] - & beg him to pay the creature for me -

I will let you know more tomorrow


J McN W -

PS[14] Now Major why did you not answer my telegram this morning? You know nothing is more trying to me than this useless uncertainty!!! -

Do Major always answer the General!

This document is protected by copyright.


'Sept. 15th 1896.'

Mademoiselle Birnie-Philip -
aux soins de
Monsieur J McNeill Whistler -
110. Rue du Bac -
[postmark:] CALAIS / PAS DE CALAIS / 15 / SEPT / [96]


1.  15 September 1896
The postmark confirms the date written in pencil at the top right of the letter and bottom left of the envelope by R. B. Philip.

2.  Rosalind Birnie Philip
Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), JW's sister-in-law [more]. JW called her the 'Major' and himself the 'General'.

3.  ALS
This letter was written in pencil. The stationery has a deep mourning border.

4.  Gilbert
Alfred Gilbert (1854-1934), sculptor [more].

5.  Teddie
Edward Godwin (b. 1876), son of Beatrix and E. W. Godwin; JW's step-son [more]. JW wanted to arrange for him to study sculpture.

6.  British Artist
JW had resigned as President of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1888. This reference may be specific or general.

7.  Constant
T. C. J. Constant, JW's servant and valet [more].

8.  Hubert
Hubert, a lawyer in Paris.

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

10.  Ratier's
Antoine ('Antony') Ratier (b. 1851), lawyer and politician [more]. He represented JW in his dispute with Sir William Eden (1849-1915), painter and collector [more], over possession of Brown and Gold: Portrait of Lady Eden (YMSM 408). This started on 14 February 1894, when, with the picture seemingly nearing completion, Eden sent JW a 'Valentine', a cheque for 100 guineas. JW thought this inadequate, and said that the work was incomplete and he was dissatisfied with it. He refused to hand over the portrait, on the grounds that it was the artist's right to withhold a picture in such circumstances. When Eden instituted legal proceedings in November 1894 in order to retrieve the portrait, JW returned all monies that had been paid to him. The Eden v Whistler trial opened at the Civil Tribunal on 26 February 1895. The verdict on 13 March went against JW, who appealed to the Cour de Cassation. The appeal opened on 17 November 1897, and on 2 December JW won his case and was permitted to keep the picture provided that he did not 'make use of it, public or private'. JW published his account of the affair: Whistler, James McNeill, Eden versus Whistler: The Baronet and the Butterfly. A Valentine with a Verdict, Paris and New York, 1899 [GM, A.24]. In a final appeal in April 1900 Eden was ordered to pay all expenses.

11.  still am
Double underlined.

12.  away
JW's wife Beatrix had died in May 1896.

13.  marble man
Not identified. Probably a tradesman involved in alterations to the house at 110 rue du Bac.

14.  PS
'PS' and 'Why' are triple underlined. The postscript was written in the margin of p. 1, at right angles to the main text.