The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Documents associated with: White House, lease
Record 33 of 44

System Number: 04059
Date: 23 May 1878
Author: JW
Place: London
Recipient: Metropolitan Board of Works[1]
Place: [London]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler M330
Document Type: ALdS

96. Cheyne Walk - Chelsea.

May 23. 1878.

To the Metropolitan Board of Works,

Gentlemen -

I am, I must say astounded at getting from you a reply such as that of your letter of the 20th inst - to my most rightful request -

I tell you that I have complied with all your requisitions, not only as far as custom requires, but absolutely, as far as lies in my power -

The panels and mouldings are in their places - The façade in every detail coincides with the amended façade approved by the Board - the builder's work is terminated, and it is monstrous [p. 2] that I should be kept in the street until in his turn some chosen artist sculptor shall in his turn, have filled these panels with the bas reliefs the Board insist upon, - and their wishes I have already undertaken to fully carry out so soon as is practicable in matters so entirely artistic as these decorations.

The question between me and the fate of being turned into the street, is one of hours almost -

The question of completing works of art, like the decorations proposed, may be one of weeks or even months, during which time, if subjected to the tyranny threatened in your letter, I shall be without a house or Studio in which to carry on my work -

In proportion as you estimate the importance of the and beauty of the decorations you insist upon, so must you recognise the necessity of these being executed by a sculptor of distinction. -

One must of course wait the time of such men as Mr Boëhm[2] Mr Leighton[3] or Mr Watts[4] - unless indeed the Board elects to elect after all elects to stultify itself by accepting any kind of work that could be done by the nearest stonecutter in a couple of hours. -

And now I have to tell you reluctantly but finally that I am advised that your witholding [sic] the lease, inflicting upon me as it does, a damage for which no amount of money can ever compensate, is an abuse of power and a proceeding whose wanton cruelty and unexampled vexatiousness, no court of law would countenance - and I hold you from this date answerable for all the injury you are inflicting upon me -

I again formally demand that my lease be sent to me in the course of today -

The bearer waits for your answer -

I have the honor to be, Gentlemen
Your obedient servant

J A McNeill Whistler -

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1.  Metropolitan Board of Works
This is a draft of the letter of the same date (#04060). On 14 August 1877 JW ordered plans for a new house and studio, the White House, in Tite Street, from Edward William Godwin (1833-1886), architect and designer [more] (#12335). The Metropolitan Board of Works objected to the simplicity of the facade designed by Godwin. They withheld the lease until additional, expensive, decorative details were added. JW moved into the White House in June 1878, but outstanding accounts, including those of Benjamin Ebenezer Nightingale (b. 1838), builder [more], and Edward William Godwin (1833-1886), architect and designer [more], contributed to his bankruptcy in May 1879.

2.  Mr Boëhm
Joseph Edgar Boehm (1834-1890), sculptor [more].

3.  Mr Leighton
Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), painter and sculptor [more].

4.  Mr Watts
George Frederick Watts (1817-1904), painter and sculptor [more].