Arthur Jerome Eddy.

Recollections and impressions of James A. McNeill Whistler online

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mattered not to him that he had spent and lost days,
and weeks, and months of precious time, nor did
it matter to him that his sitters had exhausted them-
selves with numerous and long- seances.

Childless, his paintings were his children, and to
part with one was like the parting of mother and

In these days, when the selling of pictures has
become an essential part of the art of painting, it is
difficult for people to comprehend the attitude of a
man who really did not like to sell.

"What are pictures painted for, if not to sell?"
asks the spirit of the age.

It does not seem quite so obvious that poems are
written to sell and that music is composed to sell.
Even the "practical man" feels that poems and
music ought to be made for something more than
to sell, and if they are not, they will be the worst
for the narrow end in view ; but paintings and
sculpture, they are commercial products to be dealt
in accordingly.

When Whistler did part with a picture he had no
faculty for getting a high price. His prices were
very uncertain. To one person he might ask a
round sum, to another small, — just as the mood
seized him, the price having no particular relation
to the painting.

He never could see why paintings should be sold,


OF JAMES A. McNeill whistler

like cloth, by the square yard ; why a large picture
should necessarily bring more than a small. To him
perfection was perfection, whether large or small.

What justifiable reason is there for the commer-
cial schedule of so much for a head, so much for
a half-length, so much for a full-length portrait ?

The one may, but does by no means necessarily,
take a little more time ; but, then, a painter does
not value his work by the day.

A perfect thing is a perfect thing, whether large
or small, Whistler would frequently say. In the
matter of prices he was obliged to yield somewhat
to custom, and ask more for large pictures than for
small, but he did so reluctantly and intermittently,
with the natural result that dealers, who screen pic-
tures as the plasterer does his gravel, could do
nothing with him.

Of late years, with a demand far beyond any pos-
sible supply, his prices advanced ; but where a
Degas, for instance, would sell for five, ten, or fifteen
thousand dollars, a Whistler of incomparably greater
beauty would sell for a third or a fifth the amount, —
proof of what the co-operation of the dealer can do.

Some years ago he showed a visitor several heads
of Italian children, each about ten or twelve, by
sixteen or eighteen inches in size. With them was
a three-quarter length of one of the children. They
were all superb bits of portraiture, and akin to the
" Little Rose, Lyme Regis," in the Boston Museum
of Fine Arts.

18 273


The visitor was eager to get one or more of the
pictures. After considerable pressure, he said :

"I think they ought to be worth six hundred guineas
each ; don't you ?"

"And the large one ?" said the visitor.

"Oh, the same. That is no more important than the

"Very well. May I have all four ?' '

" Dear me ! You don't want them all ?"

" If you will let me have them."

< ' But — ' ' and then the struggle began, ' ' I must look them
over ; they are not quite finished."

" But, surely, these two are finished."

"Yes, I might let those go by-and-bye, but not now."

"Will you send them to me?"

' ' Yes, certainly, after I have gone over them again.

" I will leave a check."

' ' God bless me, no ! You must not do that. It will be
time enough to send a check after you receive the little pic-

Needless to say, the pictures were never received.
They had just been finished, and he could not bring
himself to part with them. It was not a matter of
money at all, — likely as not he sold them later for
less, — but it was always next to impossible to get
him to part with recent work. If he happened to
have on hand a picture five or ten years old, pos-
sibly that could be bought and taken away, but
anything in which he was interested at the time
he would not let go.

In 1894 he exhibited three small marines, which
he had painted off-shore while the boatman steadied




The was < > get one or more of the

picti rable pressure, he said :

be worth six hundred guineas

, ii:,',nrtant than the

— " -■ ■■•,•-1.^— •^ft'

, they arc not quite finished."
■ liut, surely, these two are finished."
' ' Yes, I might let those go by-and-bye, but not now. ' '
"Will you send them to me ?"

"Yes, certainly, after I have gone over them again."
• ' I will leave a check. ' '

' ' God bless me, no ! You must not do that. It will be
time enough to send a check after you receive the little pic-

Needless to say. the pictures were never received.
They had just been finished, and he could not bring
himself to part with them. It was not a matter of
money them later for

less,— b unpossible to get

him to , work. If he happened to

have on nanti a picture five or ten years old, pos-
sibly that could be bought and taken away, but
anything in which he was interested at the time
he would not let go.

In 1894 he exhibited three small marines, which
he had painted off-shore while the boatman steadied

^ RI3:<51 jIMYJ ,3gOJl 3JTTU



OF JAMES A. McNeill whistler

his boat They were fresh and crisp, — so good that
a great painter of marines said of them in the exhi-
bition, "They over-topped everything about them."

Two were sold, and he showed the third to an American
who came to the studio. The caller said at once he would
be only too glad to take it at the price named ; the matter
was apparently closed, and the buyer sailed for home, leaving
a friend to get the picture.

A day or two after. Whistler stood looking long and earn-
estly at the little marine, saying half to himself :

" It is good, isn't it ?"

Then he took the canvas out of the frame, and said :

" I think it needs touching up a little."

Another pause, then :

" Do you know, I beHeve I won't let this go just yet. I
want to go over it once more. You know, I can send your
friend something else next winter, — something that he may
like better. And if he doesn't Hke it, why, he can return

" But, Mr. Whistler, he wants this little marine. There is
not much to do upon it, is there ?' '

<• No — o ; but, then, you see "

" Well, why not give it the last touches now, and let him
have it. If you do not send him this, I am afraid he will
never have one of your pictures.

" Oh, yes, he will ; next winter "

"But next winter others will come in when we are not
here, and buy from you whatever you have.

• ' Well, we will see. ' '

And only persistent urgings, day after day, even
after a draft on London had been forced upon him,
induced him to ship the painting.

At no time was there any question of price or



money involved ; he simply did not wish to part
with the last of his three marines.

It was not until about 1890, and after, that Whist-
ler's paintings began to sell at anything like their
real worth. To his credit be it said, his work was
never " popular."

By his independence, his seeming defiance of all
conventional and academic notions in his art, his
eccentricities, and his lack of commercial instincts
he managed, at a very early period in his career, to
alienate, —

Painters, and

the three factors upon which commercial success

" A millionaire — one who was getting up an art-
gallery — went to Whistler's studio and glanced cas-
ually at the pictures.

" * How much for the lot ?' he asked, with the
confidence of one who owns gold mines.

" 'Your millions,' said Whistler.


" ' My posthumous prices.' And the painter
added, ' Good-morning.' "


OF JAMES A. McNeill whistler

The School of Carmen — In Search of Health —
Chelsea once more — TJie End.

To please Madame Carmen Rossi, who as a child
had been one of his best models, Whistler con-
sented in 1897 to criticise the work of such students
as might attend her school. As a result Carmen's
atelier was for the time being the most distinguished
in Paris, and it was not uncommon to see carriages
with coachmen and footmen in livery before the
door on the days that Whistler was expected.

As he passed about among the pupils he seldom
praised and was never enthusiastic. He would
sometimes stand many minutes before a canvas that
merited his attention and would suggest changes
and improvements ; and now and then he took a
brush and made the alterations himself, remarking,
if the student were a young woman, " Now you have
a Whistler all to your charming self"

The story is told that once he stopped before a
very brilliant canvas, and exclaimed, " Hideous !
hideous !" The student said, somewhat proudly,
that she had taken private lessons from Bouguereau,
and he blandly inquired, " Bouguereau, Bouguereau,
— who is Bouguereau?"



A pupil has printed some reminiscences of those
days : ^

" Usually Mr. Whistler came once a week to criticise us,
and on those days the class, numbering anywhere from fif-
teen to forty, had been instructed to adopt a certain respect-
ful mode of bearing on the arrival of the master ; so, when
the concierge threw wide the door and formally announced,
• Monsieur Whistler,' every student had risen to return his
ceremonious salutation. Vividly I recall the scene : a man
of not much more than medium stature, but so slight as to
give the impression, when standing apart from others, of
being much taller ; dressed entirely in black, even to the
suede gloves ; every garment immaculate in fit and condi-
tion ; a little red rosette of the Legion of Honor of France
forming the only spot of color about him until a faint flush
rose to his cheek as he greeted the class with kindly smile.

"Then, as massier (or monitor, in charge of the class), he
passed me his long, black, fur-lined coat and tall, straight-
brimmed hat, — those well-known targets for the caricaturist,
— and began his criticism by inspecting every drawing and
weighing its merits — if any there were, as only too rarely
happened — before uttering a word. This silent inspection
finished, Mr. Whistler usually asked for a palette, — preferably
mine, because it was patterned after his own, and made him
^feel at home,' as he expressed it, — and then, without re-
moving his gloves, painted a few strokes here and there on
some of the pupils' work. Even in the matter of a palette
he evinced marked sentiment. A carelessly kept one was,
above all, his particular abhorrence, and generally elicited
some such remark as the following : ' My friends, have you
noticed the way in which a musician cares for his violin —
how beautiful it is ? how well kept ? how tenderly handled ?
Your palette is your instrument, its colors the notes, and
upon it you play your symphonies.'

' E. S. Crawford, in The Reader, September, 1903.


OF JAMES A. McNeill whistler

"As an instructor he was courteous to each pupil, but
naturally most interested in those who followed his precepts
closest. Sometimes he jested at the expense of a luckless
pupil. I remember an amusing instance. Smoking was pro-
hibited on the days for criticism, since our master believed it
clouded the ateher and in some degree obscured a view of
the model. One day, upon entering, Mr. Whistler noticed
an Englishman, much addicted to his huge cigars, who con-
tinued puffing away contentedly during the 'criticism.' Mr.
Whistler turned quickly, asking me why his wishes were not
enforced ; but before I could frame a reply he had addressed
our British friend, saying, ' Er — my dear sir, I know you do
not smoke to show disrespect to my request that the students
should refrain from smoking on the days I come to them, nor
would you desire to infringe upon the rules of the atelier —
but — er — it seems to me — er — that when you are painting —
er — you might possibly become so absorbed in your work as
to — er — well — let your cigar go out.' I often remarked a
whimsical affectation of Mr. Whistler in his manner of speech
with different pupils in his class, — we were a diverse lot from
many lands, Americans and English predominating. If criti-
cising an American, for instance, Mr. Whistler's choice of
language, and in some cases his accent, would become mark-
edly English in form ; while in addressing an Englishman
he would adopt the Yankee drawl, sometimes adding a touch
of local slang. I subsequently learned that these were his
customary tactics, even in society, but in class criticism he
always addressed us in French. ' '

His methods of teaching were original. He laid
little stress on drawing. He hated and despised
academic treatment. He wanted the pupil to paint.
A few careful charcoal strokes on the canvas as a
guide, the rest to be drawn in with brush and color.
And he preached simplicity, — as few tones as pos-



sible, as low as possible. But it is painful to record
that the endeavors of a certain proportion of the
class to attempt the achievements of the master in
this respect resulted in a unique crop of posters.
The constant theme of his discourse was " mix-
tures." He advised a pupil to get first on his
palette a correct and sufficient mixture of each tone
required for his picture. Often he would give a
long criticism without so much as glancing at the
canvas, — a criticism on the mixtures he found on the
pupil's palette ; and he himself would work indefi-
nitely at the colors, and all the while talking, till
it appeared to him to be satisfactory. "And then,",
says an enthusiastic young artist, " when he did
take up some of the color and transfer it to the
canvas, why, it would just sing."

"One day on entering the class-room he discovered that
a red background had been arranged behind the model. He
was horrified, and directed the students to put up something
duller in tone.

"Then he scraped out the red paint on a pupil's canvas
and proceeded to mix and lay on a new background. Some-
how the red would show through, and he found it difficult to
satisfy himself with the effect he produced. He mixed and
studied and scraped, working laboriously, surrounded by a
group of admiring students. Finally, he remarked :

" ' I suppose you know what I'm trying to do ?'

" 'Oh, yes, sir,' they chorused.

"'Well, it's more than I know myself,' he grimly
replied. ' '

It is to be hoped that his epigrammatic utterances
which hung on the walls of the Carmen Rossi


OF JAMES A. McNeill whistler

school have been preserved, for they would be val-
uable additions to the "Propositions" and "Ten
o'clock" already published.

With none of the instincts of the teacher, he in
time lost interest in the school. After a year or
two his visits became infrequent, and upon leaving
Paris his connection ceased.

The studio in Notre Dame des Champs and the
home on the Rue du Bac were closed a few years
after the death of Mrs. Whistler, and he made his
home once more in Chelsea, at 74 Cheyne Walk,
with frequent excursions to the Continent.

In the winter of 1901 he was at Ajaccio, and he
wrote to a friend : " You will be surprised at this
present address. But it's all right, — " Napoleon and
I, you know."

In another letter to the same friend, speaking of
a public official with whom he had some legal
transactions, he remarks: "Say that I know how
devotedly kind he has been in his care of me, but
the care of the state overwhelms him. You can-
not serve the republic . . . and Whistler."

For many years his heart had troubled him, and
towards the last the warnings came more frequently
and persistently. The year before his death he was
quite ill at The Hague, and one of the London
papers printed the following of a semi-obituary
flavor :

" Mr. Whistler is so young in spirit that his friends



must have read with surprise the Dutch physician's
pronouncement that the present illness is due to
'advanced age.' In England sixty-seven is not ex-
actly regarded as * advanced age ;' but even for the
gay ' butterfly' time does not stand still, and some
who are unacquainted with the details of Mr.
Whistler's career, though they may know his work
well, will be surprised to hear that he was exhibit-
ing at the Academy forty-three years ago. His
contributions to the exhibition of 1859 were 'Two
Etchings from Nature,' and at intervals during the
following fourteen or fifteen years Mr. Whistler was
represented at the Academy by a number of
works, both paintings and etchings. In 1863 his
contributions numbered seven in all, and in 1865
four. Among his Academy pictures of 1 865 was the
famous ' Little White Girl,' ' the painting that at-
tracted so much attention at the Paris Exhibition of
1900. This picture — rejected at the Salon of 1863 —
was inspired, though the fact seems to have been for-
gotten of late, by the following lines of Swinburne :

" ' Come snow, come wind or thunder
High up in air,
I watch my face and wonder
At my bright hair, etc., etc' "

The item called forth the following characteristic
correction, dated from The Hague :

" Sir : I feel it no indiscretion to speak of my ' convales-
cence' since you have given it official existence.

^ See page 185.



must 1 ise the Dutch physician's

pro sent illness is due to

1 sixty-seven is not ex-
but even for the
■' and some
a tiic s of Mr.

.aougii tiiey may kuuw his work
urprised to hear that he was exhi^ "'
c Academy forty- thrt^ '^ ■

/uuons to the exhibition o. . -
i.iv.. wgs from Nature,' and at interva.. „„.ing the
following fourteen or fifteen years Mr. Whistler was
represented at the Academy by a number of
works, both paintings and etchings. In 1863 his
contributions numbered seven in all, and in 1865
four. Among his Academy pictures of 1 865 was the
famous ' Little White Girl,' ^ the painting that at-
tracted so much attention at the Paris Exhibition of
1900. This picturr Salon of 1863 —

was inspired, though tl for-

late, by the follow; iburne :

come wind or thunder

•lir ,
i .V. face and wonder

At my iJiiL;at hair, etc., etc' "

The item called forth the following characteristic
correction, dated from The Hague :

" Sir : I feel it no indiscretion to speak of my ' convales-

* See page 185.

OF JAMES A. McNeill whistler

"May I therefore acknowledge the tender little glow of
health induced by reading, as I sat here in the morning sun,
the flattering attention paid me by your gentleman of ready
wreath and quick biography.

' ' I cannot, as I look at my improving self with daily satis-
faction, really believe it all ; still it has helped to do me
good. And it is with almost sorrow that I must beg you,
perhaps, to put back into its pigeon-hole, for later on, this
present summary, and replace it with something preparatory
— which, doubtless, you have also ready.

"This will give you time, moreover, for some correction,
— if really it be worth while. But certainly the ' Little White
Girl,' which was not rejected at the Salon of '63, was, I am
forced to say, not • inspired by the following lines of Swin-
burne, ' for the one simple reason that those lines were only
written, in my studio, after the picture was painted. And
the writing of them was a rare and graceful tribute from the
poet to the painter — a noble recognition of one work by the
production of a nobler one.

"Again, of 'the many tales concerning the hanging, at
the Academy, of the well-known portrait of the artist's
mother, now at the Luxembourg,' one is true — let us trust
your gentleman may have time to find it out — that I may
correct it. I surely may always hereafter rely on the Morn-
ing Post to see that no vulgar Woking joke reach me.

" It is my marvellous privilege, then, to come back, as who
should say, while the air is still warm with appreciation,
affection, and regret, and to learn in how little I had

"The continuing to wear my own hair and eyebrows,
after distinguished confreres and eminent persons had long
ceased their habit, has, I gather, clearly given pain. This,
I see, is much remarked on. It is even found inconsiderate
and unseemly in me, as hinting at affectation.

" I might beg you, sir, to find a pretty place for this, that
I would make my 'apology,' containing also promise, in



years to come, to lose these outer signs of vexing presump-

" Protesting, with full enjoyment of its unmerited eulogy,
against your premature tablet, I ask you again to contradict
it, and appeal to your own sense of kind sympathy when I
tell you I learn that I have, lurking in London, still 'a
friend' — though for the life of me 1 cannot remember his

' ' And I have, sir, the honor to be

"J. McNeill Whistler."

In the spring of 1903, only a few months before
his death, three of his pictures were withdrawn from
the annual exhibition of the Society of American
Artists in New York. They had not been sent in
by him, but loaned by the owner upon the under-
standing they would be given the prominence which
he thought Whistler's work deserved.

In the absence of the owner in Europe the whole
matter was left in charge of a member of the society,
— a well-known artist, — who, when he saw where
the committee had placed the little pictures, promptly
withdrew them, and notified the owner of his action,
which was approved.

Whistler learned of the matter, and wrote the fol-
lowing letter :

"Dear Mr. L : I have just learned with distress

that my canvases have been a trouble and a cause of thought
to the gentlemen of the hanging committee.

"Pray present to them my compliments and my deep

' ' I fear also that this is not the first time of simple and
good-natured intrusion, — 'looking in,' as who should say,


OF JAMES A. McNeill whistler

with beaming fellowship and crass camaraderie upon the
highly-finished table and well-seated guests, — to be kindly
and swiftly shuffled into some further respectable place, that
all be well and hospitality endure.

" Promise, then, for me, that I have learned and that this
'shall not occur again.' And, above all, do not allow a
matter of colossal importance to ever interfere with the after-
noon habit of peace and good will and the leaf of the mint
so pleasantly associated with this society.

' ' I could not be other than much affected by your warm

and immediate demonstration, but I should never forgive

myself were the consequences of lasting vexation to your

distinguished confreres, and, beheve me, dear Mr. L ,

very sincerely,

"J. McNeill Whistler.

" London, April 7, 1903."

To the end he worked with indefatigable energy,
save only those days and hours when he was com-
pelled by exhaustion or by the physicians to rest.

Work was a tonic to him, and, while painting, the
rebellious organs of his body were submissive to his

He would forget himself when, brush in hand, he
stood before a canvas.

During the spring of 1903 he had been far from
well. Into May he worked, but not regularly nor
for long at a time. In June he was quite ill, and
his friends were apprehensive ; but in the early part
of July he began to gain, so that he took long drives
and planned resuming his work.

On the afternoon of July 16 he was out for a
drive and in the best of spirits, with plans for the



future that even a younger man could not hope to

Art, the ever-youthful mistress of his life, urged
him on. Should he confess before her the ravages
of years? In dauntless enthusiasm, in boundless
ambition, in spirit unsubdued he was still young. He
struggled to his feet and for the last time stood be-
fore the canvas, — the magic mirror from which he,
wizzard-like, had evoked so many beautiful images ;
he thought of the things he yet would do, of lines
that would charm for all time, of colors that would
play like the iridescent hues upon the surface of the
shimmering sea, of the wraith-like images of people
which lurked in the depths of the canvas awaiting
the touch of his wand to step forth in all their stately
dignity and beauty.

And the soul of the master was filled with

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Online LibraryArthur Jerome EddyRecollections and impressions of James A. McNeill Whistler → online text (page 17 of 18)