The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Record 16 of 46

System Number: 00263
Date: 19 September 1886
Author: Wyke Bayliss[1]
Place: London
Recipient: Walter Dowdeswell[2]
Place: [London]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler B38
Document Type: ALS

7 North Road
Clapham Park

Sept 19. 86

Dear Mr Walter Dowdeswell

My reference to caligraphy [sic] was only an illustration, by the reductio ad absurdum, of what I conceive to be the drift of your argument when you say "however high the aim of the picture, however pathetic, or noble, or grand the idea, if it is painted badly throw it behind the fire" -

Of course it all turns on the meaning we attach to words such as "Art" "poetry" "painting" & the like -

You may take "Art" as the comprehensive term, and [p. 2] painting, poetry, sculpture &c & as the various modes of expression: the poet, painter, sculptor & musician all being artists, or you may take poetry as the universal term, & take painting, versification, sculpture, music &c &c as the various modes of expression - perhaps we differed in our use of some of the terms we used - I took art as the generic term, and I think that you must have taken "poetry"

Now just look at the following table & see if I am not justified in the comparison

[p. 3]

The POET embodies his idea in a The PAINTER embodies his idea in a
POEM which may be a picture PICTURE which may be a poem.
he uses RHYMES & WORDS. he uses FORM & COLOUR
the words may be uncouth, ex gr[3] "Ef you take a sword & drawer it And go stick a fellow threw Gov'nment's not to answer fur it God'll send the bill to you"! these may be illdrawn as for instance the glorious mosaics of St Mark's, or the sculptures of "Chartres" -
but the sublime con- ception of individual responsibility remains & it is true poetry, a real poem but the sublime conception of faith & adoration remains and it is true art, a real picture
To question the choice of words is minor criticism To question the ac- curacy of drawing is minor criticism -
To make the caligraphy [sic] or spelling the final test is absurdly missing the "higher life" - To make the brush- work or manipulation the final test is absurdly missing the higher life -


[p. 4] I have written a great deal upon the subject and have now a volume nearly ready for the press: May I ask you to read a few pages of the "Higher Life in Art[4] -" I think you have a copy of the book - please read particularly the chapter "Art for Art's Sake" page 38. If you would glance through the argument that leads up to it you would see my position all the more clearly - Please note particularly the passages I put in italics. I do [p. 5] not like to ask you to read too much - but if you see my argument & and do not mind the trouble of following it, you will find it developed further on pages 45 to 57 - and again in the chapters on Dualism in Art & the Alter Ego,

I would almost stake my whole argument on one single passage on page 148 "if a painter cannot paint love, he has no right to paint a woman with a baby at her breast"- you see my idea of the "Higher [p. 6] life["] goes in a different direction to that which you claim - It may exist & be expressed with a stammering tongue by the poet, or with imperfect execution by the painter - A man may be a splendid painter, & never reach it - he may be more than a painter, he may be a grainer & never reach it - I should like to see a symphony in buff[5] [p. 7] or a discord in a bottle green & claret that expressed love - or even Faith or Hope the lesser of the three -[6]

When shall we have another chat - I am always at home in an evening -

Ever yours faithfully

Wyke Bayliss

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  Wyke Bayliss
Wyke Bayliss (1835-1906), painter and architect [more]. It is interesting that Dowdeswell sent this letter on to JW, although presumably it was meant to be private.

2.  Walter Dowdeswell
Charles William Dowdeswell (1832-1915), art dealer [more].

3.  ex gr
Lat.: exemplo gratia (usually abbreviated to e. g.)

4.  Higher Life in Art
W. Bayliss, The Higher Life in Art, with a Chapter of Hobgoblins by Great Masters, London, 1879.

5.  symphony in buff
A jibe at the titles of JW's paintings.

6.  the lesser of the three
'And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity, '1 Cor. 13.13.