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Title: Whistler Stories
Author: Seitz, Don C. (Don Carlos), 1862-1935 [Compiler]
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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From a sketch from life by Rajon. Courtesy of Frederick Keppel.]











Following the example set by Homer when he "smote his bloomin' lyre,"
as cited by Mr. Kipling, who went "an' took what he'd admire," I have
gleaned the vast volume of Whistler literature and helped myself in
making this compilation. Some few of the anecdotes are first-hand.
Others were garnered by Mr. Ford in the original version of _The
Gentle Art of Making Enemies_. The rest have been published many
times, perhaps. But it seemed desirable to put the tales together
without the distraction of other matter. So here they are.

Cos Cob, CONN., _July, 1913_.


The studios of Chelsea are full of Whistler anecdotes. One tells of a
female model to whom he owed some fifteen shillings for sittings. She
was a Philistine of the Philistines who knew nothing of her patron's
fame and was in no way impressed with his work. One day she told
another artist that she had been sitting to a little Frenchman called
Whistler, who jumped about his studio and was always complaining that
people were swindling him, and that he was making very little money.
The artist suggested that if she could get any piece of painting out
of Whistler's studio he would give her ten pounds for it. Although
skeptical, the model decided to tell her "little Frenchman" of this
too generous offer, and selected one of the biggest and finest works
in the studio. "What did he say?" asked the artist who had made the
offer, when the model appeared in a state of great excitement and
looking almost as if she had come second best out of a scrimmage. "He
said, 'Ten pounds--Good heavens!--ten pounds!' and he got so
mad--well, that's how I came in here like this."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. W.P. Frith, R.A., following the custom of artists, talked to a
model one day to keep her expression animated. He asked the girl to
whom she had been sitting of late, and received the answer:

"Mr. Whistler."

"And did he talk to you?"

"Yes, sir."

"What did he say?"

"He asked me who I'd been sitting to, same as you do; and I told him
I'd been sitting to Mr. Cope, sir."

"Well, what else?"

"He asked me who I'd been sitting to before that, and I said Mr.

"And what next?"

"He asked me who I'd been sitting to before that, and I said I'd been
sitting to you, sir."

"What did he say then?"

"He said, 'What a d----d crew!'"

       *       *       *       *       *

Whistler once came very near painting a portrait of Disraeli. He had
the commission; he even went down to the country where Disraeli was;
but the great man did not manage to get into the mood. Whistler
departed disappointed, and shortly afterward took place a meeting in
Whitehall which was the occasion of a well-known story: Disraeli put
his arm in Whistler's for a little way on the street, bringing from
the artist the exclamation, "If only my creditors could see!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Whistler's ideas, the reverse of commercial, not infrequently placed
him in want. He pawned his portrait of his mother, by many considered
the best of his productions.

Miss Marion Peck, a niece of Ferdinand Peck, United States
Commissioner to the Paris Exposition, wanted her portrait done by
Whistler. She sat for him nineteen times. Further, she requested, as
the picture was nearing completion, that extra pains be taken with its
finishing. Also, she inquired if it could, without danger of injury,
be shipped.

"Why?" asked Whistler.

"Because I wish to send it to my home in Chicago," explained Miss

Whistler threw down his brush, overturned the easel, and ran around
the studio like a madman. "What!" he shrieked. "Send a Whistler to
Chicago! Allow one of my paintings to enter Hog Town! Never!"

Miss Peck didn't get the painting.

       *       *       *       *       *

Once he met what seemed to be a crushing retort. He had scornfully
called Balaam's ass the first great critic, and the inference was
plain until a writer in _Vanity Fair_ called his attention to the fact
that the ass was right.

Whistler acknowledged the point. But the acknowledgment terminates in
a way that is delicious. "I fancy you will admit that this is the only
ass on record who ever did 'see the Angel of the Lord,' and that we
are past the age of miracles."

Even in defeat he was triumphant.

       *       *       *       *       *

Whistler found that Mortimer Menpes, once his very dear friend,
sketched in Chelsea. "How dare you sketch in my Chelsea?" he
indignantly demanded.

A vigorous attack on Mr. Menpes then followed in the press. One of the
first articles began in this style, Menpes, of course, being an
Australian: "I can only liken him to his native kangaroo--a robber by
birth--born with a pocket!" "He is the claimant of lemon yellow"--a
color to which Mr. Whistler deemed he had the sole right; and when he
thought he had pulverized him in the press (it was soon after the
Parnell Commission, when Pigott, the informer, had committed suicide
in Spain), Whistler one evening thrust this pleasant note into Mr.
Menpes's letter-box, scrawled on a half-sheet of paper, with the
well-known butterfly cipher attached:

"You will blow your brains out, of course. Pigott has shown you what
to do under the circumstances, and you know the way to Spain.

Speaking at a meeting held to complete the details of a movement for
the erection of a memorial to Whistler, Lord Redesdale gave a
remarkable account of the artist's methods of work. "One day when he
was to begin a portrait of a lady," said Lord Redesdale, "the painter
took up his position at one end of the room, with his sitter and
canvas at the other. For a long time he stood looking at her, holding
in his hand a huge brush as a man would use to whitewash a house.
Suddenly he ran forward and smashed the brush full of color upon the
canvas. Then he ran back, and forty or fifty times he repeated this.
At the end of that time there stood out on the canvas a space which
exactly indicated the figure and the expression of his sitter."

This portrait was to have belonged to Lord Redesdale, but through
circumstances nothing less than tragic it never came into his
possession. There were bailiffs in the house when it was finished.
This was no novelty to Whistler. He only laughed, and, laughing, made
a circuit of his studio with a palette-knife, deliberately destroying
all the pictures exposed there. The portrait of the lady was among

       *       *       *       *       *

Moncure D. Conway in his autobiography relates this:

"At a dinner given to W.J. Stillman, at which Whistler (a Confederate)
related with satisfaction his fisticuffs with a Yankee on shipboard,
William Rossetti remarked: 'I must say, Whistler, that your conduct
was scandalous.' Stillman and myself were silent. Dante Gabriel
Rossetti promptly wrote:

  "'There is a young artist called Whistler,
    Who in every respect is a bristler;
         A tube of white lead
         Or a punch on the head
    Come equally handy to Whistler.'"

On one occasion a woman said to Whistler:

"I just came up from the country this morning along the Thames, and
there was an exquisite haze in the atmosphere which reminded me so
much of some of your little things. It was really a perfect series of

"Yes, madam," responded Whistler, gravely. "Nature is creeping up."

       *       *       *       *       *

Richard A. Canfield, who sat for the portrait now called "His
Reverence," though Canfield was something quite unclerical, recites:

"After I had my first sitting on New Year's Day, 1903, I saw Whistler
every day until the day I sailed for New York, which was on May 16th.
He was not able to work, however, on all those days. In fact, there
were days at a time when he could do nothing but lie on a couch and
talk, as only Whistler could talk, about those things which interested
him. It was mostly of art and artists that he conversed, but now and
again he would revert to his younger days at home, to the greatness to
which the republic had attained, and to his years at West Point.

"In spite of all that has been said of him, I know that James McNeill
Whistler was one of the intensest Americans who ever lived. He was
not what you call an enthusiastic man, but when he reverted to the old
days at the Military Academy his enthusiasm was infectious. I think he
was really prouder of the years he spent there--three, I think they
were--than any other years of his life. He never tired of telling of
the splendid men and soldiers his classmates turned out to be, and he
has often said to me that the American army officer trained at West
Point was the finest specimen of manhood and of honor in the world.

"It was in this way that I spent every afternoon with Whistler from
New Year's until May 15th, the day before I sailed. When he was able
to work I would sit as I was told, and then he would paint, sometimes
an hour, sometimes three. At other times he would lie on the couch and
ask me to sit by and talk to him. On the morning of the day of the
last sitting he sent me a note asking me to take luncheon with him,
and Adding that he felt quite himself and up to plenty of work.

"So I went around to his studio, and he painted until well into the
late afternoon. When he was done he said that with a touch or two here
and there the picture might be considered finished. Then he added:

"'You are going home to-morrow, to my home as well as yours, and you
won't be coming back till the autumn. I've just been thinking that
maybe you had better take the picture along with you. His Reverence
will do very well as he is, and maybe there won't be any work in me
when you come back. I believe I would rather like to think of you
having this clerical gentleman in your collection, for I have a notion
that it's the best work I have done.'

"Whistler had never talked that way before, and I have since thought
that he was thinking that the end was not far away. I told him, more
to get the notion, if he had it, out of his mind than anything else,
that I would not think of taking the picture, and that if he didn't
put on one of those finishing touches until I got back, so much the
better, for then I could see him work. That seemed to bring him back
to himself, and he said:

"'So be it, your Reverence. Now we'll say _au revoir_ in a couple of
mint-juleps.' He sent for the materials, made the cups, and, just as
the sun was setting, we drank to each other and the homeland, and I
was off to catch a train for Liverpool and the steamer. So it was that
Whistler and his last subject parted."

       *       *       *       *       *

A group of American and English artists were discussing the manifold
perfections of the late Lord Leighton, president of the Royal Academy.

"Exquisite musician--played the violin like a professional," said one.

"One of the best-dressed men in London," said another.

"Danced divinely," remarked the third.

"Ever read his essays?" asked a fourth. "In my opinion they're the
best of the kind ever written."

Whistler, who had remained silent, tapped the last speaker on the

"Painted, too, didn't he?" he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

A patron of art asked Whistler to tell him where a friend lived on a
certain street in London, to which the artist replied:

"I can't tell you, but I know how you can find it. Just you ring up
houses until you come across a caretaker who talks in B flat, and
there you are."

       *       *       *       *       *

A friend of Whistler's saw him on the street in London a few years ago
talking to a very ragged little newsboy. As he approached to speak to
the artist he noticed that the boy was as dirty a specimen of the
London "newsy" as he had ever encountered--he seemed smeared all
over--literally covered with dirt.

Whistler had just asked him a question, and the boy answered:

"Yes, sir; I've been selling papers three years."

"How old are you?" inquired Whistler.

"Seven, sir."

"Oh, you must be more than that."

"No, sir, I ain't."

Then, turning to his friend, who had overheard the conversation,
Whistler said: "I don't think he could get that dirty in seven years;
do you?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Benrimo, the dramatist, who wrote "The Yellow Jacket," relates that
when he was a young writer, fresh from the breezy atmosphere of San
Francisco, he visited London. Coming out of the Burlington Gallery one
day, he saw a little man mincing toward him, carrying a cane held
before him as he walked, whom he recognized as Whistler. With Western
audacity he stopped the pedestrian, introduced himself, and broke into
an elaborate outburst of acclamation for the works of the master, who
"ate it up," as the saying goes.

Waving his wand gently toward the famous gallery, Whistler queried:

"Been in there?"

"Oh, yes."

"See anything worth while?"

"Some splendid things, magnificent examples--"

"I'm sorry you ever approved of me," observed the master,
majestically, and on he went, leaving Benrimo withered under his

       *       *       *       *       *

Whistler had a French poodle of which he was extravagantly fond. This
poodle was seized with an affection of the throat, and Whistler had
the audacity to send for the great throat specialist, Mackenzie. Sir
Morell, when he saw that he had been called to treat a dog, didn't
like it much, it was plain. But he said nothing. He prescribed,
pocketed a big fee, and drove away. The next day he sent posthaste for
Whistler. And Whistler, thinking he was summoned on some matter
connected with his beloved dog, dropped his work and rushed like the
wind to Mackenzie's. On his arrival Sir Morell said, gravely: "How do
you do, Mr. Whistler? I wanted to see you about having my front door

       *       *       *       *       *

Whistler used to tell this story about Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his
later years. The great Pre-Raphaelite had invited the painter of
nocturnes and harmonies to dine with him at his house in Chelsea, and
when Whistler arrived he was shown into a reception-room. Seating
himself, he was soon disturbed by a noise which appeared to be made by
a rat or a mouse in the wainscoting of the room. This surmise was
wrong, as he found the noise was in the center of the apartment.
Stooping, to his amazement he saw Rossetti lying at full length under
the table.

"Why, what on earth are you doing there, Rossetti?" exclaimed

"Don't speak to me! Don't speak to me!" cried Rossetti. "That fool
Morris"--meaning the famous William--"has sent to say he can't dine
here to-night, and I'm so mad I'm gnawing the leg of the table."

       *       *       *       *       *

One of the affectations of Whistler was his apparent failure to
recognize persons with whom he had been on the most friendly terms. An
American artist once met the impressionist in Venice, where they spent
several months together painting, and he was invited to call on
Whistler if he should go to Paris. The painter remembered the
invitation. The door of the Paris studio was opened by Whistler
himself. A cold stare was the only reply to the visitor's effusive

"Why, Mr. Whistler," cried the painter, "you surely haven't forgotten
those days in Venice when you borrowed my colors and we painted

"I never saw you before in all my life," replied Whistler, and slammed
the door.

This habit of forgetting persons, or pretending to do so, for nobody
ever knew when the lapses of recognition were due to intention or
absent-mindedness, often tempted other artists to play pranks upon
him. He was a man who resented a joke at his own expense, except on a
few occasions, and this trait was often turned to good account.

He was at Naples soon after the incident just related had gained wide
circulation. A conspiracy was entered into whereby the Whistler
worshipers there were to be unaware of his presence. He tried to play
billiards with a company of young artists. They met his advance with a
stony glare.

"Oh, I say," persisted he, "I think I know something of that game. I'd
like to play."

A consultation was held, and the artists shook their heads, inquiring
of one another, "Who is he?" Whistler retired crestfallen, and a roar
of laughter which rang through the room added to his discomfiture.

"Oh, well," he said, pulling nervously at his mustache, and his tone
was petulant, "I don't care."

       *       *       *       *       *

Whistler had a great penchant for white hats, kept all those he had
ever worn, and had a large collection. The flat-brimmed tall hat was a
whim of his late years, imported from France, _via_ the head of
William M. Chase.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Chase has contributed largely to the budget of Whistler anecdotes.
One day when the two men were painting together in Whistler's studio
in London, a wealthy woman visited them with the demand, which she had
made many times before, that Whistler return to her a picture by
himself which he had borrowed several years before to place on
exhibition. The suave voice of Whistler was heard in argument, and he
finally induced his patron to depart without the work of art.

When she had gone he returned to his work, muttering something about
the absurdity of some persons who believed that because they had paid
two hundred pounds for a picture they thought they thereby owned it.

"Besides," he said, "there is absolutely nothing else in her house to
compare with it, and it would be out of place."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Chase," said Whistler one day, "how-is it now in America? Do you find
there, as you do in London, that in houses filled with beautiful
pictures and superb statuary, and other objects of artistic merit,
there is invariably some damned little thing on the mantel that gives
the whole thing away?" Mr. Chase replied, sadly: "It is even so, but
you must remember, Whistler, that there are such things as birthdays.
People are not always responsible."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Chase came up for discussion once at a little party, and
Whistler's sister observed, "Mr. Chase amuses James, doesn't he,
James?" James, tapping his finger-tips together lightly: "Not often,
not often."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I'm going over to London," said he once to Chase, "and there I shall
have a hansom made. It shall have a white body, yellow wheels, and
I'll have it lined with canary-colored satin. I'll petition the city
to let me carry one lamp on it, and on the lamp there will be a white
plume. I shall then be the only one."

He gave Mr. Chase some pretty hard digs. He said to him one time in
the heat of a discussion on some technical point: "Chase, I am not
arguing with you. I am telling you."

       *       *       *       *       *

Reproved by Mr. Chase for antagonizing his friends, Whistler retorted:

"It is commonplace, not to say vulgar, to quarrel with your enemies.
Quarrel with your friends! That's the thing to do. Now be good!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"The good Lord made one serious mistake," he rasped to Chase, in


"When he made Dutchmen."

       *       *       *       *       *

When he had finished his portrait of Mr. Chase he stood off and
admired the work. "Beautiful! Beautiful!" was his comment. Chase, who
had irked under the queer companionship, retorted, "At least there's
nothing mean or modest about you!"

"Nothing mean and modest," he corrected. "I like that better! Nothing
mean _and_ modest! What a splendid epitaph that would make for me!
Stop a moment! I must put that down!"

       *       *       *       *       *

During the Chase sittings, the creditors were always calling. Whistler
divined their several missions with much nicety by the tone of the
raps on the door.

A loud, business-like bang brought, out this comment:

"Psst! That's one and ten."

Later came another, not quite so vehement.

"Two and six," said Whistler. "Psst!"

"What on earth do you mean?" asked Chase.

"One pound ten shillings; two pounds six shillings! Vulgar tradesmen
with their bills, Colonel. They want payment. Oh, well!"

A gentle knock soon followed.

"Dear me," said Whistler, "that must be all of twenty! Poor fellow! I
really must do something for him. So sorry I'm not in."

       *       *       *       *       *

Riding one day in a hansom with Mr. Chase, Whistler's eye caught the
fruit and vegetable display in a greengrocer's shop. Making the cabby
maneuver the vehicle to various viewpoints, he finally observed:
"Isn't it beautiful? I believe I'll have that crate of oranges moved
over there--against that background of green. Yes, that's better!" And
he settled back contentedly!

A kindly friend told him of a pleasant spot near London for an
artistic sojourn. "I'm sure you'll like it," he added,

"My dear fellow," replied Whistler, "the very fact that you like it is
proof that it's nothing for me."

He went, however, and liked the place, but on the way some of his
canvases went astray. He made such a fuss that the station-master
asked Mr. Chase who was his companion: "Who is that quarrelsome little
man? He's really most disagreeable."

"Whistler, the celebrated artist," Mr. Chase replied.

At that the man approached Whistler and respectfully remarked:

"I'm very sorry about your canvases. Are they valuable?"

"Not yet!" screeched Whistler. "Not yet!"

"I only know of two painters in the world," said a newly introduced
feminine enthusiast to Whistler, "yourself and Velasquez."

"Why," answered Whistler, in dulcet tones, "why drag in Velasquez?"

Mr. Chase once asked him if he really said this seriously.

"No, of course not," he replied. "You don't suppose I couple myself
with Velasquez, do you? I simply wanted to take her down."

       *       *       *       *       *

Sir John E. Millais, walking through the Grosvenor Gallery with
Archibald Stuart Wortley, stopped longer than usual before the
shadowy, graceful portrait of a lady, "an arrangement in gray, rose,
and silver," and then broke out: "It's damned clever! It's a damned
sight too clever!"

This was his verdict on Whistler's portrait of Lady Meux. Millais
contended that Whistler "never learned the grammar of his art," that
"his drawing is as faulty as it can be," and that "he thought nothing"
of depicting "a woman all out of proportion, with impossible legs and

       *       *       *       *       *

In 1874 there was a suggestion that Whistler's portrait of Carlyle
should be bought for the National Gallery. Sir George Scharf, then
curator of that institution, came to Mr. Graves's show-rooms in Pall
Mall to take a look at it.

When Mr. Graves produced the painting he observed, icily:

"Well, and has painting come to this?"

"I told Mr. Graves," said Whistler, "that he should have said,' No, it

It was nearly twenty years after when Glasgow finally bought the
masterpiece. Indeed, Whistler had little market for his works until

He often found, as he said, "a long face and a short account at the
bank." Complaining to Sidney Starr one day of the sums earned by a
certain eminent "R.A.," while he received little or nothing, Starr
reminded him that R.A.'s painted to please the public and so reaped
their reward.

"I don't think they do," demurred Whistler; "I think they paint as
well as they can."

Of Alma-Tadema's work he observed, "My only objection to Tadema's
pictures is that they are unfinished."

Starr spoke approvingly of the promising work of some of the younger
artists. "They are all tarred with the same brush," said Whistler.
"They are of the schools!" Of one particular rising star Whistler
remarked: "He's clever, but there's something common in everything he
does. So what's the use of it?"

Starr indicated a distinguishing difference between the work of a
certain R.A. and another. "Well," he replied, "it's a nasty

       *       *       *       *       *

M.H. Spielmann, the art-critic, spoke of "Ten o'Clock " as "smart but
misleading." Whistler retorted, "If the lecture had not seemed
misleading to him, it surely would not have been worth uttering at

       *       *       *       *       *

Walter Sickert, then a pupil of Whistler's, praised Lord Leighton's
"Harvest Moon" in an article on the Manchester Art Treasure
Exhibition. Whistler telegraphed him at Hampstead:

"The Harvest Moon rises at Hampstead and the cocks of Chelsea crow!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Apropos of his spats with Sickert he remarked, "Yes, we are always
forgiving Walter."

Another pupil, foreseeing the end of Whistler as president of the
Royal Society of British Artists, resigned some months before the
time. "The early rat," said Whistler, grimly, "the first to leave the
sinking ship."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the Fine Art Society's gallery one day he spoke to a knighted R.A.
"Who was that?" Starr asked.

"Really, now, I forget," was the reply. "But whoever it was it's some
one of no importance, you know, no importance whatever."

       *       *       *       *       *

At an exhibition of Doré's pictures Whistler asked an attendant if a
certain academician's large religious picture was not on view.

"No," said the man; "it's much lower down!"

"Impossible!" replied Whistler, gleefully.

Sidney Starr relates that Whistler was asked one year to "hang" the
exhibits in the Walker Art Gallery at Liverpool. In the center of one
wall he placed Luke Fildes's "Doctor," and surrounded it with all the
pictures he could find of dying people, convalescents, still-life
medicine bottles, and the like. This caused comment. "But," said
Whistler, "I told them I wished to emphasize that particular school."

"And what did you put on the opposite wall?" Starr asked.

"Oh, Leighton's--I really forget what it was."

"But that is different, you know," said Starr.

"No," rejoined Whistler; "it's really the same thing!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Having seen a picture of Starr's in Liverpool, which he amiably,
termed "a picture among paint," he observed to him on the occasion of
their first meeting: "Paint things exactly as they are. I always do.
Young men think they should paint like this or that painter. Be quite
simple; no fussy foolishness, you know; and don't try to be what they
call 'strong.' When a picture 'smells of paint,'" he said slowly,
"it's what they call 'strong.'"

       *       *       *       *       *

Riding once with Starr to dine at the Café Royal, Whistler leaned
forward in the hansom and looked at the green park in the dusk, fresh
and sweet after the rain; at the long line of light reflected,
shimmering, in the wet Piccadilly pavement, and said:

"Starr, I have not dined, as you know, so you need not think I say
this in anything but a cold and careful spirit: it is better to live
on bread and cheese and paint beautiful things than to live like Dives
and paint pot-boilers. But a painter really should not have to worry
about--'various,' you know. Poverty may induce industry, but it does
not produce the fine flower of painting. The test is not poverty; it's
money. Give a painter money and see what he'll do. If he does not
paint, his work is well lost to the world. If I had had, say, three
thousand pounds a year, what beautiful things I could have done!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Before the portrait of little Miss Alexander went to the Grosvenor
Gallery, Tom Taylor, the art-critic of the _Times_, called at the
studio to see it. "Ah, yes--'um," he remarked, and added that an
upright line in the paneling of the wall was wrong and that the
picture would be better without it, adding, "Of course, it's a matter
of taste."

To which Whistler rejoined: "I thought that perhaps for once you were
going to get away without having said anything foolish; but remember,
so you may not make the mistake again, it's not a matter of taste at
all; it is a matter of knowledge. Good-by!"

       *       *       *       *       *

To a critic who remarked, "Your picture is not up to your mark; it is
not good this time," Whistler replied: "You shouldn't say it is not
good. You should say you do not like it, and then, you know, you're
perfectly safe. Now come and have something you do like--have some

       *       *       *       *       *

Stopped at an exhibition by an attendant who wished to check his cane,
Whistler laughed: "Oh, no, my little man; I keep this for the

His troubles with the Royal Society of British Artists bred a round of
biting remarks. When he and his following went out he said,
consolingly: "Pish! It is very simple. The artists retired. The
British remained!"

Another shot at the same subject:

"No longer can it be said that the right man is in the wrong place!"

       *       *       *       *       *

When an adverse vote ended his leadership of the Royal Society,
Whistler said, philosophically, "Now I understand the feelings of all
those who, since the world began, have tried to save their

       *       *       *       *       *

Commenting on B.R. Haydon's autobiography, Whistler said: "Yes;
Haydon, it seems, went into his studio, locked the door, and before
beginning to work prayed God to enable him to paint for the glory of
England. Then, seizing a large brush full of bitumen, he attacked his
huge canvas, and, of course--God fled."

       *       *       *       *       *

Starr once asked Whistler if the southern exposure of the room in
which he was working troubled him.

"Yes, it does," he answered. "But Ruskin lives in the North, you know,
and a southern exposure troubled him, rather, eh?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Much that was characteristic of the artist's wit and temper came out
during the famous libel suit he brought against Ruskin. The most
amusing feature of it was the exhibition in court of some of the
"nocturnes" and "arrangements" which were the subject of the suit. The
jury of respectable citizens, whose knowledge of art was probably
limited, was expected to pass judgment on these paintings. Whistler's
counsel held up one of the pictures.

"Here, gentlemen," he said, "is one of the works which have been

"Pardon me," interposed Mr. Ruskin's lawyer; "you have that picture
upside down."

"No such thing!"

"Oh, but it is so!" continued Ruskin's counsel. "I remember it in the
Grosvenor Gallery, where it was hung the other way about."

The altercation ended in the correctness of view of Ruskin's lawyer
being sustained. This error of counsel helped to produce the
celebrated farthing verdict. Ever after Whistler wore the farthing on
his watch-chain.

       *       *       *       *       *

The suit had its origin in Ruskin's comment upon the "Nocturne in
Black and Gold," described as "a distant view of Cremorne Garden, with
a falling rocket and other fireworks." The picture is now the property
of Mrs. Samuel Untermyer, of New York. On the opening of the Grosvenor
Gallery, in 1877, Ruskin wrote in _Fors Clavigera_: "The ill-educated
conceit of the artist nearly approached the aspect of wilful
imposture. I have seen and heard much of cockney impudence before now,
but never expected to have a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for
flinging a pot of paint in the public's face."

When Whistler was being examined during the trial, Sir John Holker,
the Attorney-General, asked, "How long did it take you to knock off
that 'Nocturne'?"

"I beg your pardon?" said the witness.

Sir John apologized for his flippancy, and Whistler replied: "About a
day. I may have put a few touches to it the next day."

"For two days' labor you ask two hundred guineas?"

"No, I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime!"

Then the "Nocturne in Blue and Silver," a moonlight view of Battersea
Bridge, was submitted to the jury. Baron Huddleston, the presiding
justice, asked Mr. Whistler to explain it.

"Which part of the picture is the bridge?" he queried. "Do you say
this is a correct representation?"

"I did not intend it to be a correct portrait of the bridge."

"Are the figures on the top intended for people?"

"They are just what you like."

"Is that a barge beneath?"

"Yes," replied the witness, sarcastically. "I am much encouraged at
your perceiving that! My whole scheme was only to bring out a certain
harmony of color."

"What is that gold-colored mark on the side, like a cascade?"

"That is a firework."

"Do you think now," said the Attorney-General, insinuatingly, "you
could make me see the beauty of that picture?"

"No," said Whistler, after closely scrutinizing his questioner's face.
"Do you know, I fear it would be as hopeless as for the musician to
pour his notes into a deaf man's ear."

"What is that structure in the middle?" asked the irritated attorney.
"Is it a telescope or a fire-escape? Is it like Battersea Bridge? What
are the figures at the top? If they are horses and carts, how in the
name of fortune are they to get off?"

       *       *       *       *       *

A friend who was in court when the farthing damages verdict was
brought in relates that Whistler looked puzzled for a moment; then his
face cleared. "That's a verdict for me, is it not?" he asked; and when
his counsel said, "Yes, nominally," Whistler replied, "Well, I suppose
a verdict is a verdict." Then he said, "It's a great triumph; tell
everybody it's a great triumph." When the listener dissented, he
condensed all his concentrated scorn of Philistine view into a
sentence: "My dear S., you are just fit to serve on a British jury."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Whistler _vs._ Ruskin" cost the latter so much more than the farthing
verdict that his friends sent out a circular soliciting funds in these

"Whistler _vs._ Ruskin. Mr. Ruskin's costs.

"A considerable opinion prevailing that a lifelong, honest endeavor on
the part of Mr. Ruskin to further the cause of Art should not be
crowned by his being cast in costs to the amount of several hundreds
of pounds, the Fine Art Society has agreed to set on foot a
subscription to defray his expenses arising out of the late action of
Whistler _vs._ Ruskin.

"Persons willing to co-operate will oblige by communicating with the
Society, 148, New Bond Street, London."

Mr. Whistler received scant sympathy, the tone of the comment being
well noted by this excerpt from the London _Standard_ of November
30th, 1878:

"Of course, Mr. Whistler has costs to pay too, and the amount he is to
receive from Mr. Ruskin (one farthing), even if economically expended,
will hardly go far to satisfy the claims of his legal advisers. But he
has only to paint, or, as we believe he expresses it, 'knock off,'
three or four 'symphonies' or 'harmonies'--or perhaps he might try his
hand at a Set of Quadrilles in Peacock Blue?--and a week's labor will
set all square."

Arthur Lumley, a New York illustrator, met Whistler once at a costume
ball at George H. Boughton's house in London. The artist appeared as
Hamlet, but in anything but a melancholy mood. Next morning's papers
related that the sheriff had sold the effects in the White House the
day of the ball to satisfy the claims of his creditors!

       *       *       *       *       *

Isaac N. Ford, when correspondent of the New York _Tribune_ in London,
went with Frederick MacMonnies, the sculptor, to visit Whistler, who
brought out a number of portraits for show. One was that of a woman,
full figure.

"What do you think of her?" he asked.

The sculptor gave "a side glance and looked down."

"Since you force me to speak,", he finally blurted out, "I must tell
you that one leg is longer than the other."

Instead of the expected outburst, Whistler scrutinized the portrait
from several points, and then observed quietly:

"You are quite right. I had not observed the fault, and I shall
correct it in the morning."

"What an eye for a line a sculptor has!" he said to Ford later.

       *       *       *       *       *

He quarreled regularly with his brother-in-law, Sir F. Seymour Haden,
the famous etcher.

"A brother-in-law is not a connection calling for sentiment," he once

Haden came into a gallery on one occasion and, seeing Whistler, who
was there in company with Justice Day, left abruptly.

"I see! Dropped in for his morning bitters," observed Whistler,

       *       *       *       *       *

Once in conversation Whistler said: "Yes, I have many friends, and am
grateful to them; but those whom I most love are my enemies--not in a
Biblical sense, oh, no, but because they keep one always busy, always
up to the mark, either fighting them or proving them idiots."

       *       *       *       *       *

Whistler was very particular about the spelling of his rather long and
complicated group of names. Careless people made the "Mc" "Mac," and
others left the extra "l" off "McNeill." To one of the latter
offenders he wrote:

"McNeill, by the way, should have two l's.' I use them both, and in
the midst of things cannot well do without them!"

       *       *       *       *       *

When Tom Taylor, the critic, died, a friend asked Whistler why he
looked so glum.

"Me?" said Whistler. "Who else has such cause to mourn? Tommy's dead.
I'm lonesome. They are all dying. I have hardly a warm personal enemy

       *       *       *       *       *

While a draughtsman in the Coast Survey from November, 1854, to
February, 1855, he boarded at the northeast corner of E and 12th
Streets, Washington. He is remembered as being usually late for
breakfast and always making sketches on the walls. To the
remonstrating landlord he replied:

"Now, now, never mind! I'll not charge you anything for the

       *       *       *       *       *

Among those with whom Whistler quarreled most joyously were the two
Moores, the illustrious George and his less famous brother, Augustus.
Both took Sir William Eden's side in the celebrated "Baronet _vs_.
Butterfly" case, where Whistler was nonsuited in a French court of
law. Augustus edited a sprightly but none too reputable weekly in
London, called the _Hawk_, a series of unpalatable references in which
so aroused Whistler that, meeting Moore in the Drury Lane Theater on
the first night of "A Million of Money," he struck the editor across
the face with his cane. A scrimmage followed, which contemporary
history closed with the artist on the floor. Whistler's own account of
the unseemly fracas was thuswise:

"I started out to cane the fellow with as little emotion as I would
prepare to kill a rat. I did cane him to the satisfaction of my many
friends and his many enemies, and that was the end of it."

Moore wrote: "I am sorry, but I have had to slap Mr. Whistler. My
Irish blood got the better of me, and before I knew it the
shriveled-up little monkey was knocked over and kicking about the

Whistler vigorously controverted this version as a "barefaced
falsehood." He added: "I am sure he never touched me. I don't know
why, for he is a much bigger man than I. My idea is that he was
thoroughly cowed by the moral force of my attack. I had to turn him
round in order to get at him. Then I cut him again and again as hard
as I could, hissing out 'Hawk!' with each stroke. Oh, you can take my
word for it, everything was done in the cleanest and most correct
fashion possible. I always like to do things cleanly."

       *       *       *       *       *

The clash with George Moore came to a head with the challenge to fight
a duel. In his own version of the event given in the London
_Chronicle_ of March 29th, 1895, Mr. Moore laid his troubles to his
efforts to aid the artist. Learning that Sir William Eden wished his
wife's portrait painted, he "undertook a journey to Paris in the depth
of winter, had two shocking passages across the Channel, and spent
twenty-five pounds on Mr. Whistler's business." It was arranged, he
thought, that Whistler was to receive one hundred pounds for a "small
sketch." When the "sketch" materialized it was "small" indeed. The
Baronet and Mr. Moore expected a little more area of canvas. "The
picture in question," remarked Mr. Moore, "is only twelve inches long
by six high. The figure of Lady Eden is represented sitting on a sofa;
the face is about half an inch in length, about the size of a
sixpence, and the features are barely indicated."

But to the duel: In Paris, after the controversy arose, Mr. Moore told
an interviewer he did not think the sketch was worth more than one
hundred pounds. To this Whistler made a furious reply in the _Pall
Mall Gazette_, alleging that Moore had "acquired a spurious reputation
as an art-critic" by praising his pictures. Moore's reply in the
journal produced this response, sent from the Hotel Chatham under date
of March 12th, 1895:

"Mr. Whistler begs to acknowledge Mr. Moore's letter of March 11.

"If, in it, the literary incarnation of the 'eccentric' person, on the
curbstone, is supposed to represent Mr. Moore at the present moment,
Mr. Whistler thinks the likeness exaggerated--as it is absurd to
suppose that Mr. Moore can really imagine that any one admires him in
his late role before Interviewer, or in that of the Expert in the
Council Chamber.

"If, however, Mr. Moore means in his parable to indicate Mr. Whistler,
the latter is willing to accept Mr. Moore's circuitous and coarse
attempt to convey a gross insult--and, upon the whole, will perhaps
think the better of him for an intention to make himself at last

"In such case Mr. Whistler will ask a friend to meet any gentleman Mr.
Moore may appoint to represent him; and, awaiting a reply, has the
honor to remain Mr. Moore's," etc.

To which Mr. Moore replied:

"Mr. Moore begs to acknowledge the receipt of Mr. Whistler's letter of
the 12th inst. In Mr. Moore's opinion Mr. Whistler's conduct grows
daily more absurd."

"I hoped," explained Mr. Moore, "that Mr. Whistler's friends would
intervene and persuade him of the strangeness of his action and the
interpretation it would receive in England. But four days later I was
flattered by the following communication:

"PARIS, _le 15 Mars, 1895._


"A la réception de votre lettre (lettre d'ailleurs rendue publique
dans la _Pall Mall Gazette_), M. Whistler nous a prié de vous demander
soit une rétractation, soit une réparation par les armes.

"Nous vous prions donc de vouloir bien nous mettre en rapport avec
deux de vos amis.


122 Rue de la Pompe.
Carrière-sous-Passy, Seine-et-Oise."

Mr. Moore's interlocutor asked him if there was any fear of losing his
interesting personality on account of Mr. Whistler's challenge.

To this Mr. Moore said:

"There are three most excellent reasons why I should not fight a duel
with Mr. Whistler, as Mr. Whistler well knows. First, only under the
very gravest circumstances, if under any at all, would an Englishman
accept a challenge to a duel. The duel has been relegated to the
realms of comic opera. As for inviting me to proceed to Belgium for
the purpose of fighting him, he might as well ask me to strip myself
naked and paint my face and stick feathers in my hair--dress myself as
a Redskin, in fact, and walk down St. James's Street flourishing a
tomahawk. Second, supposing I were a Frenchman, Mr. Whistler is
sixty-five years of age, and it is against the custom of dueling for
any one to accept a challenge from so old a gentleman. Moreover, Mr.
Whistler is, unhappily, very short-sighted, and would be unable to see
me at twenty paces. Third, the grounds of the quarrel are so
infinitely trivial that, were we both Frenchmen, it is doubtful if any
seconds would take upon themselves the responsibility of an armed

"I have praised Mr. Whistler's pictures that he painted
five-and-twenty years ago as much as it is possible to praise works of
art. I hold the same opinions about them still. I only wish Mr.
Whistler would apply himself to his art instead of wasting his time in
quarreling with his friends."

The outcome of the Eden suit kept Whistler in ill-humor for a long
time, while Moore continued to be a special object of aversion. The
two avoided each other. But, as some philosopher has said, if you
remain long in Paris you will meet all your friends and all your
enemies. So it fell out that the two foregathered at the same atelier
one Sunday afternoon. They nearly collided in entering, but Moore was
the first inside. The hostess heard sounds from the hall something
between china-breaking and the stamping of hoofs. She went out, to
find James in a mighty rage.

"Dear me!" said the lady, "what is the matter, dear master?"

"Whistler won't come in! Whistler won't stay under the same roof with
that wild Irishman!"

Moore, in the inside, remarked in his sweetly modulated voice:

"Why drag in Whistler?"

This play on his best _mot_, "Why drag in Velasquez?" was too much,
and in screaming wrath the painter fled, leaving Moore in full

       *       *       *       *       *

An American millionaire, to whom wealth had come rather quickly from
Western mines, called at the Paris studio with the idea of capturing
something for his gallery. He glanced casually at the paintings on the
walls, and then queried:

"How much for the lot?"

"Four millions," said Whistler.


"My posthumous prices! Good morning!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Dante Gabriel Rossetti once showed Whistler a sketch and asked his
opinion of its merits.

"It has good points, Rossetti," said Whistler. "Go ahead with it by
all means."

Later he inquired how it was getting along. "All right," answered
Rossetti, cheerfully. "I've ordered a stunning frame for it."

In due time the canvas appeared at Rossetti's house in Cheyne Walk,
beautifully framed.

"You've done nothing to it since I saw it, have you?" said Whistler.

"No-o," replied Rossetti, "but I've written a sonnet on the subject,
if you'd like to hear it."

He recited some lines of peculiar tenderness.

"Rossetti," said Whistler, as the recitation ended, "take out the
picture and frame the sonnet."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Scotch once raised a fund by subscription to buy the portrait of
Carlyle, at a price of five hundred guineas, fixed by the painter.
When the sum was nearly complete, he learned that the subscription
paper contained a clause disclaiming any indorsement of his theory of
art. He telegraphed to the committee:

"The price of 'Carlyle' has advanced to one thousand guineas. Dinna ye
hear the bagpipes?"

       *       *       *       *       *

A dilettante collector in London, after much angling, induced Whistler
to view his variegated collection. As the several objects passed in
review they provoked only a sober "H'm, h'm," that might have meant
anything or nothing. When there was no more to see, the host paused
for an aggregate opinion and got this:

"My dear sir, there's really no excuse for it, no excuse for it at

To a lady who complained that the frequent sittings commanded for
painting her portrait compelled her to sacrifice much personal
convenience, Whistler replied: "But, my dear lady, that is nothing in
comparison with the sacrifice I have to make on your account. Just
look: since I have been painting your portrait I have not had time to
attend to my correspondence."

There was a mountain of unopened letters on his desk.

       *       *       *       *       *

Frederick Wedmore, the patient cataloguer of Whistler's etchings, once
appeared in print as saying that he had "no wish to understand
Whistler's works." He wrote "understate," but the wretched compositor
undid him. Whistler's response to the explanation was: "Yes, the
mistake is indeed inexcusable, since not only I, but even the
compositor, might have known that with Mr. Wedmore and his like it is
always a question of understating and never of understanding

In his _Memories and Impressions_ Ford Madox Hueffer relates that
Madox Brown, going to a tea-party at the White House at Chelsea, was
met in the hall by Mrs. Whistler, who begged him to go to the
poulterer's and purchase a pound of butter. The bread was cut, but
there was nothing in the house to put upon it. There was no money in
the house, the poulterer had cut off his credit, and Mrs. Whistler
said she dared not send her husband, for he would certainly punch the
tradesman's head!

"To think of 'Arry [meaning Harry Quilter, the critic, with whom he
fiercely quarreled] living in the temple I erected!" he said. "He has
no use for it--doesn't know what to do with it. If he had any feeling
for the sympathy of things he would come to me and say: 'Here's your
house, Whistler; take it; you know its meaning, I don't. Take it and
live in it.' But no, he hasn't sense enough to see that. He
obstinately stays there in the way, while I am living in this absurd
fashion, next door to myself."

       *       *       *       *       *

After the "secession" from the Royal Society, Whistler strolled into
the gallery one evening with some friends. A group of admirers were
gushing before a Leighton canvas.

"Quite exquisite!"

"A gem--really a gem!"

"Yes," said Whistler. "Like a diamond in the sty."

When elected president of the Society of British Artists, Whistler
naturally felt exultant. "Carr," he said, jokingly, to Conryns Carr,
the dramatist, "you haven't congratulated me yet."

"No," was the retort. "I'm waiting till the correspondence begins!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The Society did not possess a Royal Charter until Mr. Whistler became
president. With some help from the Prince of Wales this was procured.
When the Prince paid his first visit to the gallery, Whistler was
there to welcome him.

"I'm sure," said the Prince at the door, "I never heard of this place,
Mr. Whistler, until you brought it to my notice. What is its history?"

"It has none, your Highness," was the neat rejoinder. "Its history
dates from to-day!"

When Whistler left the White House, at Chelsea, he put this legend
over the door:

"'Unless the Lord build the house, their labor is but vain that build
it.' E.W. Godwin, P.S.A., built this one."

       *       *       *       *       *

Justin McCarthy, the journalist and historian of _Our Own Times_,
stayed away from the Whistler dinner at the Criterion because his
friend Mortimer Menpes had been slighted. He met Whistler a few
evenings later at a dinner to Christie Murray. As they came together
Whistler remarked darkly:

"You're a bold man and a philanthropist; but remember, _Damien died_!"

And he had, just before, among the lepers of Molokai! Rather rough on
the claimant of Lemon Yellow!

       *       *       *       *       *

The Fine Art Society once billed Whistler for incidentals to one of
his exhibitions, and thoughtfully included a pair of stockings worn by
an attendant named Cox.

"I shall pay for nothing of Cox's," said the artist, indignantly.
"Neither his socks, nor his 'ose, nor anything that is his."

       *       *       *       *       *

One of his proofs, sold by Sotheby's in 1888--that of an early
etching--brought a good price, not on its merits, but for this line by
the artist, written on the margin: "Legs not by me, but a fatuous
addition by a general practitioner."

The "legs" were by Dr. Seymour Haden, Whistler's eminent

       *       *       *       *       *

The eccentric relationship between Whistler and that self-destroyed
genius, Oscar Wilde, has been much portrayed. A characteristic meeting
was thus described by a correspondent of the London _Literary World_:

"Whistler and Wilde were to be the lions at a literary reception.
Unfortunately, the lions came too early, when the few previous
arrivals were altogether too insignificant to be introduced to them.
So they had to talk to each other. It was on a very warm Sunday
afternoon in the season, and Whistler, by the by, was wearing a white
'duck' waistcoat and trousers, and a fabulously long frock-coat, made,
I think, of black alpaca, and carrying a brass-tipped stick about four
feet long in his right hand, and a wonderful new paint-box, of which
he was proud, under his left arm. Neither of the lions took any notice
of what the other said. Finally, Wilde, who had spent the previous
summer in America, began: 'Jimmy, this time last year, when I was in
New York, all we men were carrying fans. It should be done here.'
Instead of replying, Whistler observed that he had just returned from
Paris, and that he always came by the Dieppe route, because it gave
you so much longer for painting sea effects. Whether Oscar thought he
was going to have an opportunity of scoring or what, he was tempted to
break through the contempt with which-he had treated Whistler's other
remarks. 'And how many did you paint in four hours, Jimmy?' he asked,
with his most magnificent air of patronage. 'I'm not sure,' said the
irrepressible Jimmy, quite gravely, 'but I think four or five

       *       *       *       *       *

A London visitor at the Lambs Club recounted a new version of the
notable enmity which followed the friendship that had existed between
Whistler and Wilde. The latter one day asked the artist's opinion upon
a poem which he had written, presenting a copy to be read. Whistler
read it and was handing it back without comment.

"Well," queried Wilde, "do you perceive any worth?"

"It's worth its weight in gold," replied Whistler.

The poem was written on the very thinnest tissue-paper, weighing
practically nothing. The coolness between the two men is said to have
dated from that moment.

       *       *       *       *       *

Walking up to Du Maurier and Wilde at the time the former was
portraying the Postlethwaites in _Punch_, Whistler asked, whimsically,
"I say, which of you invented the other, eh?"

       *       *       *       *       *

When Oscar Wilde was married, this Whistler telegram met him at the
door of St. James's Church, Sussex Gardens:

"Fear I may not be able to reach you in time for ceremony--don't

       *       *       *       *       *

"Heaven!" said Oscar once, when the two were together at
Forbes-Robertson's and a pert flash fell from the artist's lips. "I
wish I had said that!"

"Never mind, dear Oscar--you will," retorted Whistler.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Lady Archibald Campbell sat for her portrait Lord Archibald was
quite uncomfortable at the idea, and made certain that it was a
condescension, not a commission. The painting was duly completed,
received its due of scathing criticism, and became famous. At this the
lady, meeting the artist, remarked:

"I hear my portrait has been exhibited everywhere and become famous."

"Sh-sh-sh!" he said. "So it has, my dear Lady Archibald, but every
discretion has been exercised that Lord Archibald could desire. Your
name is not mentioned. The portrait is known as 'The Yellow

       *       *       *       *       *

Carlyle told Whistler he liked his portrait because the painter had
given him "clean linen." Watts had made his collar green in a previous

       *       *       *       *       *

Sitting wearied Carlyle. One day as he left the studio he met little
Miss Alexander tripping in for her turn, and asked her name.

"I am Miss Alexander," she said, "and I am going to have my portrait

"Puir lassie, puir lassie," murmured the old philosopher, pityingly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Whistler's interest was aroused when the Cyclopeans were building the
Savoy Hotel. "Hurry!" he said. "Where are my things? I must catch that
now, for it will never again be so beautiful."

       *       *       *       *       *

His model once asked him:

"Where were you born?"

"I never was born, my child; I came from on high."

The model retorted:

"Now that shows how easily we deceive ourselves in this world, for I
should say you came from below!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Invited once to dine with some eminences, the dinner-hour found him
busy with his brush and engrossed in his subject. A friend who was to
accompany him to the feast urged that it was frightfully late. "Don't
you think you had better stop?" he asked.

"Stop?" shrieked Whistler. "Stop when everything is going so
beautifully? Go and stuff myself with food when I can paint like this?
Never! Never! Besides, they won't do anything until I get there. They
never do."

       *       *       *       *       *

Whistler was in a London shop one day when a customer came in who
mistook him for a clerk.

"I say, this 'at doesn't fit!"

"Neither does your coat," observed the painter, after eying him

       *       *       *       *       *

A young woman student protested under criticism, "Mr. Whistler, is
there any reason why I shouldn't paint things as I see them?"

"Well, really, there is no statute against it; but the dreadful moment
will be when you see things as you painted them!"

"Britain's Realm," by John Brett, R.A., now in the National Gallery at
Millbank, made a stir when first exhibited at the Academy. It shows
the sea. Whistler walked into a wave of adulation one day during the
exhibition, and, affecting to "knock" with his knuckles, said
sardonically: "Ha! Ha! Tin! If you threw a stone on to this it would
make a rumbling noise!"

       *       *       *       *       *

His early price for the use of one of his lithographs by a magazine
was ten guineas. Later he charged twenty, either sum being petty
enough. To one editor who tendered ten pounds he wrote:

"Guineas, M. le Rédacteur; guineas, not pounds!"

       *       *       *       *       *

At a reception one evening in Prince's Hall he was introduced to
Henrietta Rae, whose painting "Psyche Before the Throne of Venus" had
made her notable. She had been described to him in advance as rather
weighty in figure.

"I don't think you're a bit too fat," was his encouraging greeting.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Why have you withered people and stung them all your life?" asked a

"My dear," he said, "I will tell you a secret. Early in life I made
the discovery that I was charming; and if one is delightful, one has
to thrust the world away to keep from being bored to death."

       *       *       *       *       *

During the Boxer troubles, when Pekin was under siege to rescue the
legations, he remarked:

"Dear! dear! I hope they will save the palace. All the Englishmen in
the world are not worth one blue china vase."

One evening at Pennell's Miss Annulet Andrews mentioned attending the
Royal Society soirée the evening before.

"Poor thing!" he said. "Poor, misguided child! Did you come all the
way to London to consort with such--well, what shall we call them?
Why, there isn't a fellow among them who had his h's five years ago!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"You should be grateful to me," said Whistler to Leyland, after he had
painted the Peacock Room in the latter's house. "I have made you
famous. My work will live when you are forgotten. Still, perchance in
the dim ages to come you may be remembered as the proprietor of the
Peacock Room."

       *       *       *       *       *

Whistler's butterfly was the moth of the silkworm borrowed from
Hokusai. Otto H. Bacher thought the addition of a sting to the
signature came from this incident at Venice: In 1880 he found a
scorpion and impaled it on his etching needle. As the little creature
writhed and struck, Whistler exclaimed: "Look at the beggar now! See
him strike! Isn't he fine? Look at him! Look at him now! See how hard
he hits! That's right--that's the way! Hit hard! And do you see the
poison that comes out when he strikes? Isn't he superb?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Referring long after to his retirement from West Point, where he had
been a cadet for three years, the artist explained his fall by saying:
"If silicon had been a gas, I should have been a soldier!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He was always proud of his West Point cadetship. "West Point is
America," he would say. Julian Alden Weir, son of Whistler's
instructor at the Academy, once dining with him in London, chanced to
remark that football had been introduced at the school. "Good God!"
cried Whistler. "A West Point cadet to be rolled in the mud by a
Harvard junior!"

       *       *       *       *       *

When a student at the Point he had the habit of combing his long hair
in class with his fingers, which brought this frequent command from
Lieutenant Caleb Huse:

"Mr. Whistler, go to your room and comb your hair!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Examined on history at West Point, he failed to recall the date of the
battle of Buena Vista. "Suppose," said the exasperated instructor,
"you were to go out to dinner and the company began to talk of the
Mexican War, and you, a West Point man, were asked the date of the
battle; what would you do?"

"Do?" was the reply. "Why, I should refuse to associate with people
who could talk of such things at dinner!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He disliked the work of the riding class at West Point, and one day
wished to exchange his heavy horse for a lighter animal. The dragoon
in charge called out: "Oh, don't swap, don't you swap! Yours is a

"A war-horse!" exclaimed the little cadet. "That settles it. I
certainly don't want him!"

"Yes, you do, sir," insisted the dragoon. "He's a war-horse, I tell
you, for he'd rather die than run!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Of course you don't know what fear is," observed Mortimer Menpes.

"Ah, yes, I do!" Whistler answered. "I should hate, for example, to be
standing opposite a man who was a better shot than I, far away out in
the forest, in the bleak, cold, early morning. Fancy me, the master,
standing out in the open as a target to be shot at. Pshaw! It would be
foolish and inartistic. I never mind calling a man out; but I always
have the sense to know he is not likely to come."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Howard Mansfield relates that while in London in the summer of
1900 with Mr. Whistler, reference was one day made to West Point. He
broke at once into enthusiastic praise of that institution, declaring
that there was no finer institution in the world, and adding that next
to it came the Naval Academy at Annapolis. Then he went on to say:
"What was it which really saved you in your late deplorable war with
the politest nation of Europe but the bearing of your naval gentlemen?
After the affair in that sea--what's its name?--off the island of
Cuba, when dear old Admiral Cervera was fished up like a dollop of
cotton out of an ink-pot and was received on one of your ships with
all the honors due to his rank, the officers all saluting and the crew
manning the yards, as it were--only they haven't any yards now--but
lined up in quite the proper way--why, it was splendid, just

       *       *       *       *       *

Dining one night at a house where there were a number of his pictures
about the room, he could give attention to nothing but his own work.
When he left he begged that one painting be sent to his studio to be
revarnished. The unsuspecting hostess complied. Once delivered, she
could not get it back. Finally she wrote: "I can live no longer
without my beautiful picture, and I am sending to have it taken away."

"Isn't it appalling?" he cried to Menpes. "Just think of it! Ten years
ago this woman bought my picture for a ridiculously small sum, a mere
bagatelle, a few pounds; she has had the privilege of living with this
masterpiece for ten whole years, and now she has the presumption to
ask for it back again. Pshaw! The thing's unspeakable!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"What a series of accidents!" was his comment on a row of Turners at
the National Gallery.

       *       *       *       *       *

On another occasion, when he arrived at his host's house two hours
after the time set for dining, he found the meal well under way. "How
extraordinary!" he exclaimed to the amazed company.

"Really, I should think you could have waited a bit. Why, you're just
like a lot of pigs with your eating!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Sir John E. Millais said to Whistler one day: "Jimmy, why don't you
paint more pictures? Put out more canvases!"

"I know better," was the shrewd reply. "The fool!" he muttered, as he
entered his studio. "He spreads himself on canvas on every possible
occasion, and, do you know, he called me Jimmy! Mind you, I don't know
the fellow well at all."

       *       *       *       *       *

His "Nocturne in Blue and Gold, Valparaiso," was in the Hill
collection at Brighton. Whistler made Mr. Hill a visit which he thus
described: "I was shown into the galleries, and, of course, took a
chair and sat looking at my beautiful 'Nocturne'; then, as there was
nothing else to do, I went to sleep."

In this state Mr. Hill found him!

This sleeping habit was common with him when the company or the
goings-on failed to interest him. On one occasion his sweet snore
alarmed his neighbor, who nudged him and whispered:

"I say, Whistler, you must not sleep here!"

"Leave me alone!" commanded the artist, crossly. "I've said all I
wanted to. I've no interest at all in what you and your friends have
to say."

       *       *       *       *       *

He once slumbered through a dinner where Edwin A. Abbey was a
fellow-guest. The next morning he blandly asked Mr. Chase:

"What did Abbey have to say last night? Anything worth while?"

When Dan Smith was at the beginning of his career as an illustrator he
was employed by an important lithographing house. One day, while
making a large picture of Antony and Cleopatra in the barge scene,
which was to be used by Kyrle Bellew and Mrs. James Brown Potter as a
poster for their joint starring tour, Whistler, accompanied by a
friend, visited the studio:

Whistler examined, with evident interest and approval, the canvas upon
which the youthful artist was at work, holding his glass to his eyes;
then, looking quizzically over it, remarked to his friend, "What a
mercantile wretch it is!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Whistler presented a copy of his edition of _The Gentle Art of Making
Enemies_ to "Theodore Watts, the Worldling."

Asked why he started the unlucky school in the Latin Quarter, he

"It was for Carmen Rossi [long his model], poor little Carmen, who is
a mere child and has no money, and is saddled with the usual Italian
burden of a large, disreputable family--banditti brothers, a trifling
husband, and all the rest of it."

"Carmen" was then thirty years old; weight, one hundred and ninety
pounds. But she once had been his child-model.

       *       *       *       *       *

A Scotch student in the class had worked out the face of an old
peasant woman illuminated by a candle. "How beautifully you have
painted the candle!" Whistler commended. "Good morning, gentlemen!"

       *       *       *       *       *

One day, when the pupils had been sketching from life, he came upon
the work of one which, if it contained all of the truth, did not
contain all of the beautiful.

After gazing at it for some time Whistler observed to the student:

"Ah, well! You can hardly expect me to teach you morals." And he
walked away.

       *       *       *       *       *

A carelessly kept palette was an abhorrence to the painter. He would
inspect those used by his class, and on the discovery of untidiness
uttered a reproof like this: "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!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The colloquies with the class were spirited, sarcastic, interesting.
Here is a characteristic one:

_Question:_ "Do you know what I mean when I say tone, value, light,
shade, quality, movement, construction, etc.?"

_Chorus:_ "Oh, yes, Mr. Whistler!"

_Mr. Whistler:_ "I'm glad, for it's more than I do myself!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He objected to smoking in the atelier, partly because it obscured the
light and partly because of its obfuscating qualities. In Paris a big
Englishman clouded the class-room with a copious discharge of smoke.
"My dear sir," said Whistler, gently, "I know you do not smoke to show
disrespect for my request that students 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--let your cigar go out!"

Visiting Earl Stetson Crawford in his studio at Paris, he noted on the
wall a photographic copy of the Nicholson portrait of himself.

"Is that the best you have of me?" he asked. "Not that it is not very
beautiful and artistic and so on--but I say, come now, you don't think
it quite does me justice, do you?"

       *       *       *       *       *

When the class was formed, so runs the tale, Whistler inquired of each
pupil with whom he had studied before.

"With Julian," said one.

"Couldn't have done better, sir," Whistler answered.

"With Chase," replied another.

"Couldn't have done better, sir."

"With Mowbray," answered a third.

"Couldn't have done better, sir," and so on.

He approached a student slightly deaf, who stammered in reply, "I beg

"Couldn't have done better, sir," responded Whistler, placidly,
passing on to the next.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It suffices not, Messieurs," he once observed to the class, "that a
life spent among pictures makes a painter, else the policeman in the
National Gallery might assert himself."

       *       *       *       *       *

A pupil told him proudly she had studied with Bouguereau.

"Bouguereau! Bouguereau! Who is Bouguereau?"

       *       *       *       *       *

One young lady in the class offended him. She received a polite note,
signed with a neat butterfly, requesting her not to attend further.
"It was worth being expelled to get the note," she said. Whistler
heard of the comment.

"Well, they'll all have a note some day," he observed. His retirement
soon followed.

       *       *       *       *       *

H. Villiers Barnett, editor of the _Continental Weekly_, when in the
employ of the _Magazine of Art_ visited the Dowdeswell Gallery at a
press view of the Venice pastels. He alone of the critics developed
some interest, and soon found himself alone with Whistler.

"I beg your pardon," said the latter, "but do you represent a
religious journal?"

"No," Barnett replied, jokingly, "mine is an out-and-out sporting

"Oh," said Whistler, "that accounts for it."

"Accounts for what?"

"Well, you see," said Whistler, with an exquisite sneer, "I have been
watching you gentlemen of the press all morning. You are the only one
in the whole lot who seems to find anything here worth looking at, and
you have been taking such very serious interest that I was certain you
must be representing some church paper."

"Mr. Whistler," retorted Barnett, "make your mind easy. There is
nothing ecclesiastical about me nor the publication I have the honor
to represent; but all the same, for you this is the day of judgment!"

"I wish you good morning," rejoined the painter, pertly.

       *       *       *       *       *

His "artistic" make-up of flat-brimmed hat, lemon-colored vest, curls,
eyeglass, and beribboned cane sometimes upset the cockney crowd.
R.A.M. Stevenson, cousin of Robert Louis, was working in his studio
one day when the bell rang violently. He ran to the door just in time
to rescue the symphony into which Whistler had turned himself from a
growling mob.

"For God's sake, Stevenson," said Whistler, "save me from these
howling brutes!"

He went home in a cab with all his trimmings.

       *       *       *       *       *

Harper Pennington has revealed to us the origin of the "standing-room
only" joke. It appears that there was hardly ever any furniture in
Whistler's house. He was peculiarly parsimonious in the matter of
chairs. This led to a remark of Corny Grain's which became famous.

"Ah, Jimmy! Glad to see you playing to such a full house!" said Dick
(Corny) Grain when shaking hands before a Sunday luncheon, while
glaring around the studio with his large, protruding eyes, in search
of something to sit on.

"What do you mean?" asked Whistler.

"Standing-room only," replied the actor.

       *       *       *       *       *

Henry Labouchere, who first met Whistler as a boy in Washington in the
fifties, when he himself was an attaché of the British Legation, took
the credit for bringing Whistler and his wife together. His story was
denied by Mrs. Whistler's relatives, but is interesting enough to be

"I believe," wrote Mr. Labouchere in _Truth_, "I was responsible for
his marriage to the widow of Mr. Godwin, the architect. She was a
remarkably pretty woman and very agreeable, and both she and he were
thorough Bohemians.

"I was dining with them and some others one evening at Earl's Court.
They were obviously greatly attracted to each other, and in a vague
sort of way they thought of marrying, so I took the matter in hand to
bring things to a practical point.

"'Jimmy,' I said, 'will you marry Mrs. Godwin?'


"'Mrs. Godwin,' I said, 'will you marry Jimmy?'

"'Certainly,' she replied.

"'When?' I asked.

"'Oh, some day,' said Whistler.

"'That won't do,' I said. 'We must have a date.'

"So they both agreed that I should choose the day, tell them what
church to come to for the ceremony, provide a clergyman, and give the
bride away.

"I fixed an early date and got them the chaplain of the House of
Commons to perform the ceremony. It took place a few days later. After
the ceremony was over we adjourned to Whistler's studio, where he had
prepared a banquet. The banquet was on the table, but there were no
chairs, so we sat on packing-cases. The happy pair, when I left, had
not quite decided whether they would go that evening to Paris or
remain in the studio.

"How unpractical they were was shown when I happened to meet the bride
the day before the marriage in the street.

"'Don't forget to-morrow,' I said.

"'No,' she replied; 'I am just going to buy my trousseau.'

"'A little late for that, is it not?' I asked.

"'No,' she answered, 'for I am only going to buy a tooth-brush and a
new sponge, as one ought to have new ones when one marries.'

"However, there never was a more successful marriage. They adored each
other, and lived most happily together, and when she died he was
broken-hearted indeed. He never recovered from the loss."

       *       *       *       *       *

When Frederick Keppel, the American print expert, first called upon
the artist at the Tite Street studio, the famous portrait of Sarasate,
"black on black," stood at the end of the long corridor that he used
to form a vista for proper perspective of his work. Laying his hand on
Keppel's shoulder, he said:

"Now, isn't it beautiful?"

"It certainly is," was the reply.

"No," said he; "but isn't it _beautiful_?"

"It is indeed," said Keppel.

This was too mild a form of agreement. Whistler raised his voice to a

"D---n it, man!" he piped. "Isn't it BEAUTIFUL?"

Adopting the emphasis and the exclamation, Mr. Keppel shouted:

"D----n it, it is!"

This was satisfactory.

       *       *       *       *       *

The proof-sheets of _The Gentle Art_, Whistler version, had just
arrived as Mr. Keppel called. "Read them aloud," he commanded, "so I
can hear how it sounds."

Mr. Keppel started in, but his elocution was not satisfactory.

"Stop!" Whistler cried. "You are murdering it! Let me read it to you!"

He read about two hours to his own keen delight, but was finally
interrupted by a servant announcing, "Lady ----."

"Where is she?" asked the artist.

"In her carriage at the door."

He went on reading until Mr. Keppel suggested that he had forgotten
the lady.

"Oh," he said, carelessly, "let her wait! I'm mobbed with these

After another quarter-hour he condescended to go down and greet her
shivering ladyship.

       *       *       *       *       *

A little later during this visit a foreign artist called and was
pleasantly received. Admiring a small painting, the visitor said:

"Now, that is one of your good ones."

"Don't look at it, dear boy," replied Whistler, airily; "it's not

"Finished!" said the visitor. "Why, it's the most carefully finished
picture of yours I've seen."

"Don't look at it," insisted Whistler. "You are doing an injustice to
yourself, you are doing an injustice to the picture, and you're doing
an injustice to me!"

Then, theatrically:

"Stop! I'll finish it now." With that he picked a very small brush,
anointed, its delicate point with paint, and touched the picture in
one spot with a speck of pigment.

"Now it's finished!" he exclaimed. "Now you may look at it."

Forgetting his umbrella, the foreign gentleman called at the studio
the next day to get it. Whistler was out, but the visitor was much
moved to find the "finishing touch" had been carefully wiped off!

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Keppel's personal relations with Whistler ended when, by an idle
chance, he sent a copy of _The University of the State of New York
Bulletin, Bibliography, No. I, a Guide to the Study of James Abbott
McNeill Whistler_, compiled by Walter Greenwood Forsyth and Joseph Le
Roy Harrison, to Joseph Pennell, and another to Ernest Brown, in
London. Mr. Keppel, arriving in London the day of Mrs. Whistler's
funeral, sent a note of condolence, and, receiving a mourning envelope
sealed with a black butterfly, opened it expecting a grateful
acknowledgment. Instead, it was a fierce, rasping denunciation for the
distribution of the pamphlet--a mere catalogue so far as it went.

"I must not let the occasion of your being in town pass," he wrote,
"without acknowledging the gratuitous zeal with which you have done
your best to further the circulation of one of the most malignant
innuendos, in the way of scurrilous half-assertions, it has been my
fate hitherto to meet. Mr. Brown very properly sent on to me the
pamphlet you had promptly posted to him. Mr. Pennell, also, I find,
you had carefully supplied with a copy--and I have no doubt that, with
the untiring energy of the 'busy' one, you have smartly placed the
pretty work in the hands of many another before this."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Keppel replied in kind, but Whistler never wrote him directly
again. Some business letter of the former requiring a reply, he
summoned the house-porter, who wrote under dictation, beginning his
crude epistle thus: "Sir:--Mr. Whistler, who is present, orders me to
write as follows." Roiled by this beyond measure, Mr. Keppel resorted
to verse to relieve his feelings, after which Whistler twice sent
verbal messages through friends that if he ever saw him again he would
kill him!

       *       *       *       *       *

John M. Cauldwell, the United States Commissioner for the Department
of Art at the Paris Exposition of 1900, sent a circular letter to
American artists in the city announcing his arrival and making
appointments to discuss the hanging of their work. Whistler received
one, asking him to call at "precisely four-thirty" on the afternoon of
the following Thursday.

"I congratulate you," he replied.
"Personally, I never have been able and never shall be able to be
anywhere at precisely four-thirty."

       *       *       *       *       *

"_Parbleu!_ This is a nice get-up to come and see me in, to be sure!"
was his greeting to a newspaper writer who called to tap him on art,
clad in a brown jacket, blue trousers, and decked with a red necktie.
"I must request you to leave this place instantly! These scribblers,
rag-smudges, _incroyable_! Why, it is perfectly preposterous! Did you
ever hear such dissonance? His tie is in G major, and I am painting
this symphony in E minor. I will have to start it again. Take that
roaring tie of yours off, you miserable wretch! Remove it instantly!"

The visitor removed the "roar." "Thank goodness!" said Whistler. "My
sight is perfectly deaf!"

"I am so sorry, Mr. Whistler," apologized the scribe.

"Whistler, sir? Whistler? That's not my name!" he cried, in a highly
wrought voice.

"I beg your pardon?"

"That is not my name. I say, you don't seem to know your own language.
W-h is pronounced Wh-h-h--Wh-h-histler. Bah!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Max Beerbohm, the caricaturist, was rather clumsy with the Gallic
tongue. Whistler used to term it "Max Beerbohm's Limburger French."

The carefully cultivated and insistently displayed white lock played a
part in many amusing incidents. Sir Coutts Lindsay's butler whispered
to him excitedly one evening: "There's a gent downstairs says he's
come to dinner, wot's forgot his necktie and stuck a feather in his

Another evening, at the theater, an usher said obligingly: "Beg
pardon, sir, but there's a white feather in your hair, just on top."

       *       *       *       *       *

Raging characteristically once when in Paris, he earned this rebuke
from Degas, the matchless draughtsman: "Whistler, you talk as if you
were a man without talent."

       *       *       *       *       *

Some one gave Henry Irving a Whistler etching for a Christmas gift.
"Of course I was delighted," he said, "for I was a great admirer of
the artist as well as a personal friend of the man, but when I started
to hang the etching I was puzzled. I couldn't for the life of me tell
which was the top and which the bottom. Finally, after reversing the
picture half a dozen times and finding it looked equally well either
way up, I decided to try an experiment.

"I invited Whistler to dine with me and seated him opposite his
picture. During dinner he glanced at it from time to time; between the
soup and the fish he put up his eyeglass and squinted at it; between
the roast and the dessert he got up and walked over to take a closer
view of it; finally, by the time we reached the coffee, he had
discovered what the trouble was.

"'Why, Henry,' he said, reproachfully, 'you've hung my etching upside

"'Indeed!' I said. 'Well, my friend, it's taken you an hour to
discover it!'" "The man in possession" furnishes an amusing incident
in the artist's career.

When the creditors at last landed a bailiff in the painter's Chelsea
mansion, he tried to wear his hat in the drawing-room and smoke and
spit all over the house. But Whistler, in his own airy way, soon
settled that. He went out into the hall, and, selecting a stick from
his collection of canes, he daintily knocked the man's hat off. The
bailiff was so surprised that he forgot to be angry, and in a day or
two he had been trained to wait at table. But though he was now in
possession and a favored household servant, he could not obtain his
money. So he declared that if he was not paid he would have to put
bills up outside the house announcing a sale. And sure enough, a few
days after great posters were stuck up all over the front of the house
announcing so many tables and so many chairs and so much old Nankin
China for sale on a given day. Whistler enjoyed the joke hugely, and
hastened to send out invitations to all his friends to a
luncheon-party, adding as a postscript: "You will know the house by
the bills of sale stuck up outside." And the bailiff proved an
admirable butler and the party one of the merriest ever known.

As the guests were rising from the table a lady observed to the host:

"Your servants seem to be extremely attentive, Mr. Whistler, and
anxious to please you."

"Oh, yes," replied he; "I assure you they wouldn't leave me!"

But the bailiff stayed on, and the day of sale approached; so
Whistler, having been educated at West Point, determined to practise
strategy. Some one had told him that a mixture of snuff and beer had
the property of sending people off to sleep. So he bought a big parcel
of snuff and put the greater part of it into a gigantic tankard of
beer, which he sent out to the bailiff in the garden. It was a very
hot summer afternoon, and the man eagerly welcomed his refreshment.
Whistler was in his studio painting and soon forgot all about him. In
the evening he said to his servant, "Where's the man?" The servant
replied: "I don't know, sir. I suppose he must have gone away."

The next morning Whistler got up very late and went out into the
garden, where he was astonished to see the bailiff sitting in
precisely the same position as the day before. The empty tankard was
on the table beside him and his pipe had fallen from his hand upon the
grass. "Hello, my sleeping beauty!" said Whistler. "Have you been
there all night?" But the man made no answer, and all the painter's
efforts to rouse him were unavailing. Late in the afternoon, however,
he awoke in the most natural way in the world, exclaiming that it was
dreadfully hot weather and that he must have been asleep over an hour.
Whistler's strategy had been even more successful than he anticipated;
the bailiff had slept through the entire day appointed for the sale of
the painter's household effects, and was induced to go away in a very
bewildered state of mind and with a small payment on account in his

       *       *       *       *       *

Lady de Grey went once to the Tite Street studio for luncheon and
chided Whistler for his extravagance in having two man servants to
wait on the table, when he was always complaining of being hard up.

"Hush!" whispered Whistler. "One of them is the man in possession, and
he has consented to act as footman for the day; but he asks me to
please settle up as soon as possible, because he too has a man in
possession at his own place and wants to get clear of him."

       *       *       *       *       *

Once at a garden party the rapt hostess rushed up to the artist and

"Oh, Mr. Whistler! Do help me out! I have just bought a magnificent
Turner, but Lord----says it isn't genuine, merely a clever imitation.
Now I want you to look at it, and if you say it is genuine, as I know
you will, I shall be perfectly satisfied."

"My dear lady," replied Whistler, "you expect a good deal of me. The
distinction between a real Turner and an imitation Turner is so
extremely subtle."

       *       *       *       *       *

A flippant reply to the secretary of a London club where Whistler's
account was past due produced this retort--and the money was paid:

"DEAR MR. WHISTLER:--It is not a Nocturne in Purple or a Symphony in
Blue and Gray we are after, but an Arrangement in Gold and Silver."

       *       *       *       *       *

At an exhibition at the Academy of Fine Arts there was a portrait in
subdued colors by Whistler, "The Little Lady of Soho." Before this
picture Secretary Harrison S. Morris stood one day. "It is beautiful,"
he observed, "and it reminds me of a story about Whistler--not a very
appropriate or poetical one, perhaps. But here it is, anyhow. Whistler
one summer day took a walk through the Downs with three or four young
men. They stopped at an ale-house and called for beer. Tankards were
set before them and they drank. Then Whistler said to the host:

"'My man, would you like to sell a great deal more beer than you do?'

"'Aye, sir, I would that!'

"'Then don't sell so much froth!'"

       *       *       *       *       *

When a French magazine located his birthplace in Baltimore, and the
error traveled far, Whistler took no pains to correct it. "My dear
cousin Kate," he said to Mrs. Livermore, "if any one likes to think I
was born in Baltimore, why should I deny it? It is of no consequence
to me."

       *       *       *       *       *

A chance American introduced himself by saying: "You know, Mr.
Whistler, we were born at Lowell, and at very much the same time. You
are sixty-seven and I am sixty-eight."

"Very charming," he replied. "And so you are sixty-eight and were born
at Lowell. Most interesting, no doubt, and as you please! But I shall
be born when and where I want, and I do not choose to be born in
Lowell and I refuse to be sixty-seven!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Don't be afraid," said Whistler to Howard Paul, who recoiled from the
presence of a huge dog because he did not like the look in the
animal's eyes. "Look at his tail--how it wags. When a dog wags his
tail he's in good humor."

"That may be," replied Paul, "but observe the wild glitter in his eye!
I don't know which end to believe."

       *       *       *       *       *

Comyns Carr met a foreign painter who had been known to breakfast with
Whistler at Chelsea and asked him if he had seen him lately.

"Ah no, not now so much," was the reply. "He ask me a little while ago
to breakfast, and I go. My cab-fare two shilling, 'arf crown. I
arrive. Very nice. Goldfish in bowl. Very pretty. But breakfast! One
egg, one toast, no more! Ah, no! My cab-fare back, two shilling, 'arf
crown. For me no more!"

       *       *       *       *       *

A.G. Plowden, the London police magistrate, attended a private view at
Grosvenor Gallery. The first person he met was Whistler. He took
Plowden, very amiably, to his full-length portrait of Lady Archibald
Campbell, where, after sufficiently expressing his admiration, Plowden
asked if there were any other pictures he ought to see.

"Other pictures!" cried Whistler, in a tone of horror. "Other
pictures! There are no other pictures! You are through!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Dining at a Paris restaurant in his early days, Mr. Whistler noted the
struggle an elderly Englishman was having to make himself understood.
He politely volunteered to interpret.

"Sir," said the person addressed, "I assure you, sir, I can give my
order without assistance!"

"Can you indeed?" quoth Whistler, airily. "I fancied the contrary just
now, when I heard you desire the waiter to bring you a pair of

       *       *       *       *       *

Dining, and dining well, at George H. Boughton's house in London,
Whistler was obliged to leave the table and go up-stairs to indite a
note. In a few moments a great noise revealed the fact that he had
fallen down the flight.

"Who is your architect?" he asked, when picked up.

The host told him Norman Shaw.

"I might have known it," said Whistler. "The d----d teetotaler!"

       *       *       *       *       *

A young artist had brought Whistler to view his maiden effort. The two
stood before the canvas for some moments in silence. Finally the
junior asked, timidly:

"Don't you think this painting of mine is a--er--a tolerable picture,

Whistler's eyes twinkled.

"What is your opinion of a tolerable egg?" he asked.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Irish girls have the most beautiful hands," he once wrote, "with
long, slender fingers and delightful articulations. American girls'
hands come next; they are a little narrow and thin. The hands of the
English girls are red and coarse. The German hand is broad and flat;
the Spanish hand is full of big veins. I always use Irish models for
the hands, and I think Irish eyes are also the most beautiful."

An American artist studying in Paris, like many others, was too poor
to have a perfect wardrobe. Strolling on the Boulevard, he heard a
call and, turning, saw Whistler hastening toward him, waving his long
black cane.

Rather flattered, he said, "So you recognized me from behind, did you,

"Yes," said Whistler, with a wicked laugh; "I spied you through a hole
in your coat."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Do you think genius is hereditary?" asked an admiring lady one day.

"I can't tell you, madam," Whistler replied. "Heaven has granted me no

       *       *       *       *       *

Whistler once took Horne, his framer, to look at one of his paintings
at the exhibition.

"Well, Horne," he asked, "what do you think of it?"

"Think of it?" he cried, enthusiastically. "Why, sir, it's
perfect--perfect. Mr. ---- has got one just like it."

"What!" said the puzzled Whistler. "A picture like this?"

"Oh," said Horne, "I wasn't talking about the picture; I was talking
about the frame."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well, Mr. Whistler, how are you getting on?" said an undesirable
acquaintance in a Paris restaurant.

"I'm not," said Whistler, emptying his glass. "I'm getting off."

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Pamela Smith, a designer in black and white, while a crude
draughtsman, had a fine imagination. Whistler was asked to look over
some of her work. After careful examination he said:

"She can't draw."

Another look and a gruff "She can't paint" followed.

A third look and a long thought wound up with, "But she doesn't need

       *       *       *       *       *

A lady who rejoiced in "temperament" once said gushingly to Whistler:

"It is wonderful what a difference there is between people."

"Yes," he replied. "There is a great deal of difference between
matches, too, if you will only look closely enough, but they all make
about the same blaze."

       *       *       *       *       *

A certain gentleman whose portrait Whistler had painted failed to
appreciate the work, and finally remarked, "After all, Mr. Whistler,
you can't call that a great work of art."

"Perhaps not," replied the painter, "but then you can't call yourself
a great work of nature!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The artist and a friend strolled along the Thames Embankment one
wonderfully starry night. Whistler was in a discontented mood and
found fault with everything. The houses were ugly, the river not what
it might have been, the lights hard and glaring. The friend pointed
out several things that appealed to him as beautiful, but the master
would not give in.

"No," he said, "nature is only sometimes beautiful--only
sometimes--very, very seldom indeed; and to-night she is, as so often,
positively ugly."

"But the stars! Surely they are fine to-night," urged the other.

Whistler looked up at the sky.

"Yes," he drawled, "they're not bad, perhaps, but, my dear fellow,
there's too many of them."

A sitter asked him how it was possible to paint in the growing dusk,
as he often did. The reply was:

"As the light fades and the shadows deepen, all the petty and exacting
details vanish; everything trivial disappears, and I see things as
they are, in great, strong masses; the buttons are lost, but the
garment remains; the garment is lost, but the sitter remains; the
sitter is lost, but the shadow remains; the shadow is lost, but the
picture remains. And that, night cannot efface from the painter's

       *       *       *       *       *

Sir Laurence Alma-Tadema, of the classic brush, loved yellow, a color
which Whistler had annexed unto himself. Sir Laurence in employing the
color in his decorations did not consider himself a plagiarist. He had
not seen Whistler's. This defense led to a war of words. Whistler
broke out:

"Sly Alma! His Romano-Dutch St. John's wooden eye has never looked
upon them, and the fine jaundice of his flesh is none of the jaundice
of my yellows. To-de-ma-boom-de-ay!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Seated in a stall at the West End Theater one evening, he was
constantly irritated by his next neighbor--a lady--who not only went
out between the acts, but several times while the curtain was up. The
space between the run of seats was narrow, and the annoyance as she
squeezed past was considerable.

"Madam," he said at last, "I trust I do not incommode you by keeping
my seat!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He regarded the United States tariff on art as barbarous.

"When are you coming to America?"
he was asked.

"When the tariff on art is removed."

The Copley Society asked his aid in making up their exhibition in
Boston. He refused, saying:

"God bless me! Why should you hold an exhibition of pictures in
America? The people do not care for art!"

"How do you know? You have not been there for many years."

"How do I know? Why, haven't you a law to keep out pictures and
statues? Is it not in black and white that the works of the great
masters must not enter America, that they are not wanted? A people
that tolerate such a law have no love for art; their protestation is
mere pretense."

       *       *       *       *       *

Asked by a lady if a certain picture in a gallery was not indecent, he

"No, madam. But your question is!"

Mark Twain visited the studio and, assuming an air of hopeless
stupidity, approached a nearly completed painting and said:

"Not at all bad, Mr. Whistler; not at all bad. Only here in this
corner," he added, reflectively, with a motion as if to rub out a
cloud effect, "if I were you I'd do away with that cloud!"

"Gad, sir!" cried the painter. "Do be careful there! Don't you see the
paint is not yet dry?"

"Oh, don't mind that," said Mark, sweetly. "I am wearing gloves, you

They got on after that.

       *       *       *       *       *

In Paris, Whistler and an English painter got into a turbulent talk
over Velasquez at a studio tea. In the course of the argument Whistler
praised himself extravagantly.

"It's a good thing we can't see ourselves as others see us," sneered
the Briton.

"Isn't it, though?" rejoined Whistler, gently. "I know in my case I
should grow intolerably conceited."

       *       *       *       *       *

Financial necessities once caused the sale of Whistler's choice
furnishings. Some of the family, returning to the house during his
absence, found the floor covered with chalk diagrams, the largest of
which was labeled: "This is the dining-table."

Surrounding it were a number of small squares, each marked: "This is a

Another square: "This is the sideboard."

       *       *       *       *       *

Cope Whitehouse once described a boat-load of Egyptians "floating down
the Nile with the thermometer one hundred and twenty degrees in the
shade, and no shade."

"And no thermometer," interjected Whistler.

       *       *       *       *       *

A lady sitter brought a cat with her and placed it on her knee. The
cat was nervous and yowled continuously.

"Madam," said the vexed artist, "will you have the cat in the
foreground or in the back yard?"

       *       *       *       *       *

While painting one of his famous nocturnes a critic of considerable
pretensions called. "Good heavens, Whistler!" he cried, "what in the
world are you splashing at?"

"I am teaching art to posterity," Whistler replied, quietly.

"Oh!" said the critic, visibly relieved. "I was afraid you were
painting for the Royal Academy."

"Oh, no," answered Whistler; "they do not want masterpieces there, but
some of their picture-frames are exquisite and really worth bus-fare
to look at."

       *       *       *       *       *

Walking in the Champs-Elysées in Paris one morning, Whistler heard one
Englishman say to another:

"See that chap over there?"

"What? That chap with the long hair and spindle legs?"

"Yes, that's the one. That's Whistler, the American, who thinks he's
the greatest painter on earth."

Walking up to the pair, Whistler held out his hand and said gravely to
the last speaker:

"Sir, I beg your acceptance of these ten centimes. Go buy yourself a
little hay!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Sitting for a portrait was an ordeal. Many were quite upset after a
siege in the studio. One man annoyed the artist by saying at each

"How-about that ear, Mr. Whistler? Don't forget to finish that." At
the last session, all being finished but this ear, Whistler said,
"Well, I think I'm through; now I'll sign it." This he did in a very
solemn and important way.

"But my ear!" exclaimed the victim. "You're not going to leave it that

"Oh," said Whistler, grimly, "you can put it in after you get home."

       *       *       *       *       *

He occasionally contemplated visiting America in his late years, but
the dread of the journey was too much for him to overcome. "If I
escape the Atlantic," he said, "I shall be wrecked by some reporter at
the pier." Finally, he definitely canceled his last proposed trip,
observing airily: "One cannot continuously disappoint a continent."

"America," he once said, lightly, "is a country where I never can be a

       *       *       *       *       *

Sir Rennell Rodd recalled that at a breakfast Waldo Story gave at
Dieu-donné's in Paris there was a great company, including Whistler.
Every one there was by the way of having written a book or painted a
picture, or having in some way outraged the Philistine, with the
exception of one young gentleman whose _raison d'être_ was not so
apparent as his high collar and the glory of his attire. He
nevertheless intruded boldly into the talk and laid down his opinions
very flatly. He even went so far as to combat some dictum of the
master's, whereat that gentleman adjusted his glasses and, looking
pleasantly at the youth, queried:

"And whose son are you?"

When Dorothy Menpes was a babe in the cradle a white feather lay
across her infant brow. The sight pleased Whistler. "That child is
going to develop into something great," he prophesied, "for see, she
begins with a feather, just like me."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the last two years of his life Mr. Whistler's disputes grew less
frequent and his public flashes were few. The _Morning Post_ of
London, however, provoked an admirable specimen of his best style,
which it printed under date of August 6th, 1902. In its "Art and
Artists" column the paper had made the following statement:

"Mr. Whistler is so young in spirit that his friends must have read
with surprise the Dutch physician's announcement that the present
illness is due to 'advanced age.' In England sixty-seven is not
exactly 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 know his work well, will
be surprised to learn that he was exhibiting 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 1865 was the famous 'Little White Girl,' the
painting that attracted 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 forgotten 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."

Under date of August 3d Mr. Whistler sent from The Hague this brisk

I feel it no indiscretion to speak of my "convalescence," since you
have given it official existence.

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 the ready wreath and quick biography?

I cannot, as I look at my improving self with daily satisfaction,
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
pigeonhole for later on this present summary and replace it with
something preparatory, which, doubtless, you have also ready.

This will give you time, however, 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 Swinburne," 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 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
_Morning Post_ to see that no vulgar Woking joke reach me?

It is my marvelous 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 offended. The continuing to wear my
own hair and eyebrows, after distinguished confrères 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 presumption.

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 I cannot
remember his name. And I have, sir, the honor to be,


The last dispute that found its way to print came through the New York
_Sun_ and Will H. Low, to whom Mr. Whistler sought to convey a piece
of his mind _via_ the newspaper channel, under date of May 8th, 1903,
This grew out of a complication in which Mr. Low became involved with
the Hanging Committee of the Society of American Artists over the
placing in its exhibition of "Rosa Corder" and two marines by Whistler
borrowed from Charles L. Freer, of Detroit, on the condition that they
be hung "in a good position." The position selected did not suit Mr.
Low, and he withdrew the pictures. Mr. Whistler sent his remonstrance
to the _Sun's_ London office, from which it was cabled to New York and
published on May 9th, as follows:

"I had waited for Mr. Low to publish my reply to a letter from himself
concerning the withdrawal of my pictures from the Society of American

"This gentle opinion of my own upon the situation is, I understand,
expert. I therefore inclose it to you for publication. I have the
honor to be, dear sir, your obedient servant."

The remarks to Mr. Low read:

"I have just learned with distress that my canvases have been a
trouble and a cause of thought to the gentlemen of the Hanging

"Pray present to them my compliments and my deep regrets.

"I fear also that this is not the first time of simple and
good-natured intrusion--looking in, as who would say, 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 afternoon habit of peace and
good will, and the leaf of the mint so pleasantly associated with this

"I could not be other than much affected by your warm and immediate
demonstration, but I should never forgive myself were the consequence
of lasting vexation to your distinguished confrères."


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