The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Documents associated with: collecting, porcelain
Record 3 of 9

System Number: 09393
Date: [1864/1865][1]
Author: JW
Place: [London]
Recipient: Dante Gabriel Rossetti[2]
Place: [London]
Repository: University Libraries, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA
Document Type: ALS

Dear Rossetti -

Will you lend me one of your Chinese blue and white rugs[3] - The same that you once before lent me - I just want it for my picture - I think it used to be on one of the stands[4] in the China room[5] -

The little servant that takes this can bring it back with her and will take great care of it -


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1.  [1864/1865]
Dated from the period of JW's closest friendship with Rossetti, when they were neighbours in Chelsea. Rossetti leased 16 Cheyne Walk on 16 October 1862, letting rooms to W. M. Rossetti, and (briefly) Meredith and Swinburne (see Doughty, Oswald and John Robert Wahl, Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 4 vols., Oxford, 1965-67, vol. 2, pp. 464, 544). It was at this period that JW was collecting Oriental artefacts and using them as props in his pictures (see note below).

2.  Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), artist and poet [more]. Rossetti collected exotic objects from all over the world. For instance, he offered Ford Madox Brown 'an African carved stool' in 1865 (see Doughty and Wahl, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 577, no. 648).

3.  rugs
Rossetti also collected Oriental artefacts, including rugs, porcelain and musical instruments. It is possible that his blue rug was the one used in JW's La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine (YMSM 50), which was begun in the winter of 1863-1864. Since JW was borrowing the rug for the second time, the request could date from his reworking of the picture in October 1864 or, as is perhaps more likely, in March 1865. There is also a pale blue carpet in Symphony in White, No. 3 (YMSM 61), which was under way by August 1865 and touched up for exhibition in 1867. A white carpet with blue pattern appears in Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' (YMSM 80) and may have originally been included in Annabel Lee (YMSM 79). There also appears to be a purplish-blue patterned rug in the foreground of Harmony in Flesh Colour and Red (YMSM 91). JW was working on these paintings during the late 1860s.

4.  stands
It was customary to display valuable rugs on stands, rather than on the floor or wall.

5.  China room
Like JW, Rossetti developed an enthusiasm for blue and white china. It was displayed prominently in his house, but it is not clear what JW meant by a 'china room'. By November 1864 Rossetti had a substantial collection and on 12 November he wrote from Paris to Frances Mary Lavinia Rossetti (1800-1886), née Polidori [more], 'I have bought very little - only four Japanese books, [...] I went to [William's] Japanese shop, but found that all the costumes were being snapped up by a French artist, Tissot, who it seems is doing three Japanese pictures, which the mistress of the shop described to me as the three wonders of the world, evidently in her opinion throwing Whistler into the shade. She told me, with a great deal of laughing, about Whistler's consternation at my collection of china.' (Doughty and Wahl, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 527, no. 563). JW's concern was to some extent justified, since Rossetti soon incorporated oriental motifs and accessories into his paintings. For the central figure in The Beloved, begun in the early summer of 1863, Rossetti added 'a Japanese lady's dress' in March 1865, and he also painted a Chinese Prunus pattern on the tiled background of The Blue Bower (see Surtees, Virginia, The Diaries of George Price Boyce, Norfolk, 1980, p. 42, diary entry, 2 May 1865; D. G. Rossetti, The Beloved (z67) and D. G. Rossetti, The Blue Bower (z68).