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James McNeill Whistler collection

Creator:
James McNeill Whistler, 1834-1903  Search this
Names:
Company of the Butterfly  Search this
Royal Academy of Arts (Great Britain)  Search this
Salon (Exhibition : Paris, France)  Search this
Salon des refusés  Search this
World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893  Search this
Anderson, Christine  Search this
Beck, J. W.  Search this
Boehm, Joseph Edgar, Sir, 1834-1890  Search this
Bronson, Katharine de Kay, 1834-1901  Search this
Burnett, Frances Hodgson, 1849-1924  Search this
Burnett, Swan M. (Swan Moses), 1847-1906  Search this
Ford, Sheridan, d. 1922  Search this
Lee, George Washington Custis, 1832-1913  Search this
Lee, Robert E. (Robert Edward), 1807-1870  Search this
Leighton of Stretton, Frederic Leighton, Baron, 1830-1896  Search this
Lucas, George A., 1824-1909  Search this
Pollitt, Herbert Charles Jerome, 1871-1942  Search this
Wilde, Oscar, 1854-1900  Search this
Extent:
0.2 Linear feet
Type:
Collection descriptions
Archival materials
Postcards
Pamphlets
Date:
1863-1906, circa 1940
Summary:
The collection measures 0.2 linear feet and provides scattered documentation of the career of American-born British-based painter and etcher James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) through 39 items from Whistler to various recipients, including 25 letters, 9 telegraphs, 3 invitations, one thank you card and a postcard. The collection also contains 4 letters from others, 7 catalogs of Whistler exhibitions, a note from the back of Whistler's painting The Beach at Selsey Bill, and a 1906 copy of Wilde v. Whistler: being an acromonious correspondence on art between Oscar Wilde and James A. McNeill Whistler, a pamphlet containing letters originally published in London newspapers between 1885 and 1890.
Scope and Content Note:
The collection measures 0.2 linear feet and provides scattered documentation of the career of American-born British-based painter and etcher James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) through 39 items from Whistler to various recipients, including 25 letters, 9 telegraphs, 3 invitations, one thank you card and a postcard. The collection also contains 4 letters from others, 7 catalogs of Whistler exhibitions, a note from the back of Whistler's painting The Beach at Selsey Bill, and a 1906 copy of Wilde v. Whistler: being an acromonious correspondence on art between Oscar Wilde and James A. McNeill Whistler, a pamphlet containing letters originally published in London newspapers between 1885 and 1890.

The Whistler letters found here touch on some important events in Whistler's career. One letter to George Lucas, an American art dealer in Paris, discusses his plans to send Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl to the Paris Salon of 1863. Rejected by the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1862, the painting was also refused by the Paris Salon but shown ultimately in the landmark exhibition at the Salon des Refusés.

Also found are a circa 1879 letter to the eldest son of Robert E. Lee, General George Washington Custis Lee, with whom Whistler had been a cadet at West Point, recommending sculptor Joseph Boehm for an equestrian statue for memorializing Lee and expressing Whistler's veneration for the Confederate general; a circa 1880 letter from Whistler, written during his 14 months in Venice, to Katharine de Kay Bronson, who presided over the expatriate community there; 2 circa 1892-1893 letters documenting Whistler's determination to pursue Sheridan Ford through the courts in response to Ford's publication of a contraband version of Whistler's book The Gentle Art of Making Enemies; and a circa 1897 letter to J. W. Beck, sent in response to Beck's request on behalf of the Royal Academy that he exhibit with the British contingent at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In the letter Whistler insults Sir Frederic Leighton, the Royal Academy's president, retaliating against previous slights including having his paintings hung well above eye-level, or "skied".

Although few, if any, records survive about the creation of The Company of the Butterfly, a syndicate established in 1897 for selling Whistler's work, the collection contains one letter from Christine Anderson, the secretary of the Company, to one of it's first clients, Herbert Charles Pollitt.

The collection also contains an 1883 invitation from Whistler to Dr. Swan Burnett and his wife, children's author Frances Hodgson Burnett, to view etchings and drypoints and a note written by Whistler and signed with the butterfly, taken from the back of the painting Beach at Selsey Bill (1865).

Seven catalogs dating from 1892-1910 and circa 1940 document Whistler exhibitions in London and the United States.

Seven of the Whistler items are signed with his butterfly signature and all letters sent after his wife's death in May 1896 are on mourning stationary.
Arrangement:
The collection is arranged as 1 series:

Series 1: James McNeill Whistler Collection, 1863-1906, circa 1940 (Box 1; 0.2 linear ft.)
Biographical Note:
London-based painter and etcher, James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) was born in Lowell, Massachusetts and lived in St. Petersburg and London as a child before returning to the United States on the death of his father in 1849. After a failed attempt at a military career at West Point from 1851-1853, he worked as a draftsman for the Coast Survey from 1854-1855 where he received technical instruction in etching. Whistler then left for Paris and remained an expatriot for the rest of his life, living alternately in Paris and London. He studied briefly in Paris at the Ecole Impériale, but was influenced more heavily by his own studies of the great masters and his contemporaries, including Henri Fantin-Latour, Charles Baudelaire, Gustave Courbet, and Edouard Manet.

Whistler's reputation as an etcher was firmly established with the 1858 publication of his group of "French Set" etchings. Shortly thereafter he settled in London and began work on his first major painting At the Piano (1859). His paintings, such as Symphony in White No. 1 The White Girl, (1862; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) and later portraits such as Arrangement in Black and Grey No. 1: The Artist's Mother (1871; Musée d'Orsay, Paris), won him international acclaim. His style was not easily defined although he was influenced by Realism and Impressionism and by Japanese art styles, which can be seen in his "Nocturne" landscapes, exhibited in 1877 at the Grovesnor Gallery in London, and influenced the development of his "butterfly signature" in the 1860s.

When art critic John Ruskin wrote a scathing review of the "Nocturnes" exhibition, Whistler sued for libel and won, although the resulting legal fees drove him into bankruptcy. He spent 14 months in Venice on a commission for the Fine Art Society and produced a succession of etchings and pastels that were subsequently exhibited in 1883 and helped to stabilize his financial situation.

In 1885 Whistler, famous for his witty and flamboyant personality, published his Ten O'Clock Lecture which espoused his belief in "art for arts sake," and asserted his refusal to ascribe narratives or morality to his art. Whistler's "Ten O'Clock" drew a response from Oscar Wilde and a public discourse between the two men followed in the London newspapers. It was later published in the pamphlet Wilde v. Whistler: being an acrimonious correspondence on art between Oscar Wilde and James A. McNeill Whistler.

In 1890 Whistler published The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, a collection of his best letters and witticisms. The book had originally been the idea of American journalist Sheridan Ford, to whom Whistler had advanced money which he then withdrew with the intent of completing the project alone. When Ford retaliated with a contraband edition of the book, Whistler pursued him through the courts and Ford was tried in Belgium in 1891.

Toward the end of his life Whistler focused increasingly on etching, drypoint and lithography, in addition to interior decoration such as the Peacock Room for Frederick Leyland's London residence begun in 1876. A happy marriage to Beatrix Godwin in 1888 ended in her death in May 1896. By the time of his death in London in 1903, Whistler was regarded as major artist of international renown.
Related Material:
The Archives holds several collections relating to James McNeill Whistler including the Katherine Prince collection relating to James McNeill Whistler, 1835- 1892; Edward Guthrie Kennedy papers concerning James McNeill Whistler in the New York Public Library, 1850-1902 and Selected papers concerning James McNeill Whistler in the New York Public Library, 1830-1950 (available on microfilm only, reel N25; originals reside at the New York Public Library); and James McNeill Whistler collection in the University of Glasgow, Special Collections, circa 1830-1963 (available on microfilm only, reels 4600-4611 and 4683-4699; originals reside in the Glasgow University Library, Dept. of Special Collections).
Provenance:
The collection was compiled from a series of accessions donated between 1959 and 2003. Most of the items in the collection were given to the Archives of American Art by Charles Feinberg in 1959. The pamphlet Wilde v. Whistler was donated by Mrs. Lois Field in 1964 and an invitation to Dr. and Mrs. Burnett was donated by Martha Fleischman in 2003.
Restrictions:
Use of original papers requires an appointment.
Rights:
The James McNeill Whistler collection is owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.
Topic:
Painting, American  Search this
Art dealers -- France -- Paris  Search this
Painters  Search this
Etchers  Search this
Genre/Form:
Postcards
Pamphlets
Citation:
James McNeill Whistler collection, 1863-1906, circa 1940. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Identifier:
AAA.whisjame2
See more items in:
James McNeill Whistler collection
Archival Repository:
Archives of American Art
EDAN-URL:
ead_collection:sova-aaa-whisjame2
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