The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Documents associated with: health (JW)
Record 135 of 172

System Number: 00741
Date: 18 February 1901
Author: JW
Place: Ajaccio
Recipient: John James Cowan[1]
Place: [London]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler C242
Document Type: ALS


My dear Cowan -

Think of me here in Napoleon's Island[2]! -

That seems as it should be! doesn't it! Really though I am more or less snow bound in the place and feel rather like the great prisoner of St. Helena[3] - where the Briton behaved badly[4] - as it is "his nature to"! - (Dr Watts[5] - and Lord Roseberry[6] -)

Ridiculous though the popular notion of climate! - It was thought that I might more rapidly rid myself of any remaining effects of our old friend the influenza, and more wisely, in the "soft air of the Mediterranean," than by taking cough mixture during the winter months in Paris or London -

And so I have been, since the middle of December, pottering about from shore to shore, running risks unknown even in the black fogs of Bloomsbury, and catching common little colds that are in no way worth the journey! and .. freezing! -

I have tried Lavery's Tangiers! Hard, and sham in the glare! and wretched in the hotel, driven for shelter by the icy wind! - - Then Algiers! - deadly! and filled with rain & blizzards! - Marseilles! - Landed in three feet of snow - and passed a couple of weeks in front of my fire, with distinguished doctor! - He however was really delightful and well worth the distance! - and most satisfactory - for he said there was nothing whatever the matter with me! - I was to trouble about nothing - and sit about in the sun of sheltered Ajaccio[7] until it should be warm enough for me to go back to my work, of which, meanwhile, I was not to concern my thoughts! That an unexpected rest of a month, or so, is excellent for all men! even though unaccustomed to its dulness! - And that no wise man should catch colds in trains going North - And here I am - literally trapped! in this absurd fraud of southern sky! - and my only revenge is in saying - what cannot be told too often - that: there is nothing Southern but the South!! - and Jamaica, or [p. 2] the Barbadoes [sic] - certainly - or Florida - perhaps - but for warmth in winter, otherwise, better St Petersburg or the studio in Paris or even Fitzroy Square. - -

And now, as I dare not stand for a moment, in this vile uncertainty of "Mistral"[8], or "Tra Montana", and have not been able to touch brush or needle, in the streets, without catching cold - and you know how enraging this must be, for I always see beautiful things every where - and bring some of them back with me - well then as I may not work, until I get again into the safer winter of the old places, I have been thinking of arranging an exhibition[9] for this spring, if I can, of the pastels, water colour drawings and perhaps panels - and I want you to lend me yours - I have written to Freer[10] in Detroit, who is going to send me his - together with beautiful proofs from his collection of etchings - lithographs etc - -

You see these things have not been seen in France - and indeed, the figures - the pastel nude & draped figures have not been seen properly anywhere! and would be, I think much appreciated in Paris - Of course there is plenty of time, and these things will not be wanted until the end of April or so - But you might send me a list of what you have with a word of description - And tell me of anyone else you know who has any of these drawings and panels of mine - that they may contribute - There is also Mr. McCulloch[11] of Edinborough [sic] is there not?, who has a remarkable collection of the etchings & drypoints? - You might kindly ask him to help me in this - and perhaps he would be so very courteously amiable in the matter, as to send me a list of his proofs -

Write to 8. Fitzroy Street[12], for I may get out of here - and in any case your letter would be forwarded immediately -

And all the best wishes of this great new Century to Mrs. Cowan[13] and yourself - and with kindest regards to all
Always affectionately

J McNeill Whistler

Feb. 18. 1901.

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1.  John James Cowan
John James Cowan (1846-1936), paper manufacturer and collector [more].

2.  Napoleon's Island
JW was in Corsica, birthplace of Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821), Emperor of France [more].

3.  prisoner of St Helena
Napoleon died in exile on the island of St Helena on 5 May 1821.

4.  behaved badly
Probably a reference to Sir Hudson Lowe (1769-1844), British general and governor of St Helena from 1816-21, during Napoleon's incarceration there. Lowe was widely criticised for his officious and unyielding treatment of Napoleon.

5.  Dr Watts
Dr Isaac Watts (1674-1748), hymnwriter [more].

6.  Lord Roseberry
Archibald Philip Primrose (1847-1929), MP, 5th Earl of Roseberry [more].

7.  Ajaccio
Capital of Corsica.

8.  exhibition
Société Internationale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1901. JW did not have a one-man exhibition on his return.

9.  'Mistral'
A dry but cold northwest wind which blows down the Rhône Valley, at times with considerable force. 'Tra Montana,' It., from the mountains.

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

11.  Mr. McCulloch
George McCulloch (d. 1915), landscape painter [more].

12.  8. Fitzroy Street
JW's London studio from February 1896-1900.

13.  Mrs. Cowan
Sophy Cowan (b. ca 1850), née Gillespie, wife of J. J. Cowan [more].