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Title: Whistler - Masterpieces in Colour Series
Author: Wood, T. Martin
Language: English
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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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Whistler - Masterpieces in Colour Series" ***

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MASTERPIECES IN COLOUR

EDITED BY--T. LEMAN HARE


WHISTLER

1834-1903



IN THE SAME SERIES

    ARTIST.             AUTHOR.
  VELAZQUEZ.          S. L. BENSUSAN.
  REYNOLDS.           S. L. BENSUSAN.
  TURNER.             C. LEWIS HIND.
  ROMNEY.             C. LEWIS HIND.
  GREUZE.             ALYS EYRE MACKLIN.
  BOTTICELLI.         HENRY B. BINNS.
  ROSSETTI.           LUCIEN PISSARRO.
  BELLINI.            GEORGE HAY.
  FRA ANGELICO.       JAMES MASON.
  REMBRANDT.          JOSEF ISRAELS.
  LEIGHTON.           A. LYS BALDRY.
  RAPHAEL.            PAUL G. KONODY.
  HOLMAN HUNT.        MARY E. COLERIDGE.
  TITIAN              S. L. BENSUSAN.
  MILLAIS.            A. LYS BALDRY.
  CARLO DOLCI.        GEORGE HAY.
  GAINSBOROUGH.       MAX ROTHSCHILD.
  TINTORETTO.         S. L. BENSUSAN.
  LUINI.              JAMES MASON.
  FRANZ HALS.         EDGCUMBE STALEY.
  VAN DYCK.           PERCY M. TURNER.
  LEONARDO DA VINCI.  M. W. BROCKWELL.
  RUBENS.             S. L. BENSUSAN.
  WHISTLER.           T. MARTIN WOOD.
  HOLBEIN.            S. L. BENSUSAN.
  BURNE-JONES.        A. LYS BALDRY.
  VIGÉE LE BRUN.      C. HALDANE MACFALL.
  CHARDIN.            PAUL G. KONODY.
  FRAGONARD.          C. HALDANE MACFALL.
  MEMLINC.            W. H. J. & J. C. WEALE.
  CONSTABLE.          C. LEWIS HIND.
  RAEBURN.            JAMES L. CAW.
  JOHN S. SARGENT     T. MARTIN WOOD.

_Others in Preparation._



[Illustration: PLATE I.--OLD BATTERSEA BRIDGE. Frontispiece

(In the National Gallery)

This nocturne was bought by the National Collections Fund from
the Whistler Memorial Exhibition. It was one of the canvases
brought forward during the cross-examination of the artist in the
Whistler v. Ruskin trial.]



Whistler

BY T. MARTIN WOOD

ILLUSTRATED WITH EIGHT REPRODUCTIONS IN COLOUR


[Illustration]


LONDON: T. C. & E. C. JACK

NEW YORK: FREDERICK A. STOKES CO.



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


  Plate
     I. Old Battersea Bridge                            Frontispiece
          In the National Gallery
                                                                Page
    II. Nocturne, St. Mark's, Venice                              14
          In the possession of John J. Cowan, Esq.

   III. The Artist's Studio                                       24
          In the possession of Douglas Freshfield, Esq.

    IV. Portrait of my Mother                                     34
          In the Luxembourg Galleries, Paris

     V. Lillie in Our Alley                                       40
          In the possession of John J. Cowan, Esq.

    VI. Nocturne, Blue and Silver                                 50
          In the possession of the Hon. Percy Wyndham

   VII. Portrait of Thomas Carlyle                                60
          In the Corporation Art Galleries, Glasgow

  VIII. In the Channel                                            70
          In the possession of Mrs. L. Knowles



[Illustration]

I


At the time when Rossetti and his circle were foregathering chiefly at
Rossetti's house, quiet Chelsea scarcely knew how daily were
associations added which will always cluster round her name. Whistler's
share in those associations is very large, and he has left in his
paintings the memory of many a night, as he returned beside the river.
Before Whistler painted it, night was more opaque than it is now. It had
been viewed only through the window of tradition. It was left for a man
of the world coming out of an artificial London room to paint its
stillness, and also to show us that we ourselves had made night more
beautiful, with ghostly silver and gold; and to tell us that the dark
bridges that sweep into it do not interrupt--that we cannot interrupt,
the music of nature.

The figure of Whistler emerges: with his extreme concern as to his
appearance, his careful choice of clothes, his hair so carefully
arranged. He had quite made up his mind as to the part he intended to
play and the light in which he wished to be regarded. He had a dual
personality. Himself as he really was and the personality which he put
forward as himself. In a sense he never went anywhere unaccompanied; he
was followed and watched by another self that would perhaps have been
happier at home. Tiring of this he would disappear from society for a
time. Other men's ringlets fall into their places accidentally--so it
might be with the young Disraeli. Other men's clothes have seemed
characteristic without any of this elaborate pose. He chose his clothes
with a view to their being characteristic, which is rather different and
less interesting than the fact of their becoming so because he,
Whistler, wore them. Other men are dandies, with little conception of
the grace of their part; with Whistler a supreme artist stepped into the
question. He designed himself. Nor had he the illusions of vanity, but a
groundwork of philosophy upon which every detail of his personal life
was part of an elaborate and delicately designed structure, his art the
turret of it all, from which he saw over the heads of others. There is
no contradiction between the dandy and his splendid art. He lived as
exquisitely and carefully as he painted. Literary culture, merely, in
his case was not great perhaps, yet he could be called one of the most
cultured figures of his time. In every direction he marked the path of
his mind with fastidious borders. And it is interesting that he should
have painted the greatest portrait of Carlyle, who, we will say,
represented in English literature Goethe's philosophy of culture, which
if it has an echo in the plastic arts, has it in the work of Whistler.
In his "Heretics" Mr. G. K. Chesterton condemned Whistler for going in
for the art of living--I think he says the miserable art of living--I
have not seen the book for a long time, but surely the fact that
Whistler was more than a private workman, that his temperament had
energy enough to turn from the ardours of his work to live this other
part of life--indicates extraordinary vitality rather than any weakness.
Whistler was never weak: he came very early to an understanding of his
limitations, and well within those limitations took his stand. Because
of this his art was perfect. In it he declined to dissipate his energy
in any but its natural way. In that way he is as supreme as any master.
Attacked from another point his whole art seems but a cobweb of
beautiful ingenuity--sustained by evasions. Whistler, one thinks, would
have been equally happy and meteorically successful in any profession;
one can imagine what an enlivening personality his would have been in a
Parliamentary debate, and how fascinating. Any public would have
suited him. Art was just an accident coming on the top of many other
gifts. It took possession of him as his chief gift, but without it he
was singularly well equipped to play a prominent part in the world. As
things happened all his other energy went to forward, indirectly and
directly, the claims of art. Perhaps his methods of self-advancement
were not so beautiful as his art, and his wit was of a more robust
character. For this we should be very glad; the world would have been
too ready to overlook his delicate work--except that it had to feed his
inordinate ambition. At first it recognised his wit and then it
recognised his art, or did its level best to, in answer to his repeated
challenges.

[Illustration: PLATE II.--NOCTURNE, ST. MARK'S, VENICE

(In the possession of John J. Cowan, Esq.)

This picture was first exhibited in the winter of 1886 at the Royal
Society of British Artists. The painter's election as President of the
Society taking place just after the hanging of the exhibition. A
newspaper criticism at the time was to the effect that the only
note-worthy fact about the painting was the price, £630, "just about
twenty shillings to the square inch." The figure of an investment, we
may add, which was to improve beyond the wildest calculations.]

It is easier to explain Whistler's personality than his work. In his
lifetime most people had recognised all the force of his personality,
but it was not so with his art. In this he is as a player of violin
music, or a composer after the fashion of the masters of music--his
relationship to the subject which suggests the motif, of course, could
not be quite so slight as theirs--but it was their standpoint that he
adopted and so approached his art from another direction than the
ordinary one. To a great extent he established the unity of the arts.
Without being a musical man, through painting he divined the mission of
music and passed from the one art almost into the other. And the effort
above everything else for self-expression was in its essence a musical
one too, as also the fact that he never allowed a line or brushmark to
survive that was not as sensitively inspired--played we might almost
say--as the touch of a player, playing with great expression, upon the
keyboard of his piano. This quality of touch--how much it counts for in
the art of Whistler--as it counts in music. It is one of the essential
things which we have to understand about his work, to appreciate and
enjoy it.

Both painting and music are so different from writing in this, that the
thoughts of a painter and musician have to issue through their fingers,
they have to clothe with their own hands the offsprings of their fancy.
They cannot put this work out, as the writer does, by dictation to a
type-writer. It is not in the style he lays the ink that the poet finds
the expression, its thickness or its thinness bears no resemblance to
his soul, but the intimacies of a painter's genius are expressed in the
actual substance of his paint and in the touch with which he lays it. So
in painting the mysterious virtue arises which among painters is called
"quality," a certain beauty of surface resultant from the perfection of
method. And it is "quality," which Whistler's work has superlatively, in
this it approaches the work of the old masters, his method was more
similar to the old traditions than to the systems current in the modern
schools. And part of the remote beauty, the flavour of distinction which
belongs to old canvases is simulated by Whistler almost unconsciously.

Mr. Mortimer Mempes has put on record the painful care with which
Whistler printed his etchings. The Count de Montesquieu, whom Whistler
painted, tells of the "sixteen agonising sittings," whilst "by some
fifty strokes a sitting the portrait advanced. The finished work
consisted of some hundred accents, of which none was corrected or
painted out." From such glimpses of his working days we are enabled to
appreciate that desire for perfection which was a ruling factor both in
his life and work. In art he deliberately limited himself for the sake
of attaining in some one or two phases absolute perfection; he strained
away from his pictures everything but the quintessence of the vision and
the mood. He worked by gradually refining and refining upon an eager
start, or else by starting with great deliberation and proceeding very
slowly with the brush balanced before every touch while he waited for it
to receive its next inspiration. So he was always working at the top of
his powers. Those pleasant mornings in the studio in which the
Academy-picture painter works with pipe in mouth contentedly, but more
than half-mechanically, upon some corner of his picture were not for
him. Full inspiration came to him as he took up his brushes, and the
moment it flagged he laid them aside. So that in his art there is not a
brush mark or a line without feeling. His inspiration, however, was not
of the yeasty foaming order of which mad poets speak, but spontaneity.
Spontaneous action is inspired. And this is why his work looks always as
if it was done with grace and ease, and why it seemed so careless to
Ruskin. However, such winged moments will not follow each other all day
long, and though they take flight very quickly, work at this high
pressure--with every touch as fresh as the first one--cannot be
indefinitely prolonged. Whistler's friends regretted that he should
suddenly leave his work for the sake of a garden party. It is more
likely that he turned to go to the garden party just when the right
moment came for him to leave off working and so conserve the result, for
it is the tendency of the artist in inspired moments to waste his
inspiration by allowing the work of one moment to undo what was done in
the one before it.



II


The wit of Whistler was not like the wit, let us say, of Sheridan, but
it was the result of intense personal convictions as to the lines along
which art and life move together. About one or two things in this world
Whistler was overflowing with wisdom, and upon those things his
conversation was always salt, his sayings falling with a pretty and a
startling sound. He talked about things which were much in advance of
his day. His was not the wisdom of the past which always sounds
impressive, but the greater wisdom of the future, of instincts not yet
established upon the printed page. By these he formed his convictions as
he went, referring all his experiences, chiefly artistic ones, back to
his intelligence, which as we know was an extraordinarily acute one.
Other people's ideas, old-fashioned ones, coming into collision with the
intensity of his own, produced sparks on every occasion, and this
without over anxiety to be brilliant on Whistler's part. It is so with
original minds.

There is a difference between artistic work and other sorts of work.
Outside the arts, in other professions, what a man's personality is,
whilst it affects the way his work is accomplished, does not alter the
nature of that work. Immediately, however, the work becomes of such a
nature that the word art can be inserted, then the personal equation is
before everything to be considered. "Temperament" meets us at every
turn, in the touch of brush to paper, in the arrangement of the design,
in the subject chosen, in the way of viewing that subject, in the shape
that subject takes. Also we can be sure that a picture suffers by every
quality, either of mere craftsmanship or surface finish, that tends to
obscure individuality of touch and feeling. Outside the arts every job
must be finished, if not by one man then by another. A half-built
motor-car means nothing to any one, it cannot be regarded as a mode of
personal expression, but in art it is otherwise, no one can finish a
work for some one else, and as Whistler pointed out, "A work of art is
finished from the beginning." In such a saying Whistler showed the
depths from which his wit spilt over. His intuitiveness in certain
directions was almost uncanny, taking the place of a profound
scholarship, and this saying is a case in point. For however fragmentary
a work of art is, if it contains only a first impulse, so far as the
work there is sufficient to explain and communicate that impulse, it is
finished--finish can do no more. And of course this is not to say that
art should never pass such an early stage. All this depends on what the
artist has to say: sometimes we have to value above everything the
completeness, the perfection of surface with which a picture has been
brought to an end. Whistler's paradox sums up the fact that finish
should be inextricably bound up with the method of working and the
personal touch never be so "played out" that resort is made to that
appearance of finish which can always be obtained by labour descending
to a mechanical character. This may sound rather technical, but it is
not so really.

[Illustration: PLATE III.--THE ARTIST'S STUDIO

(In the possession of Douglas Freshfield, Esq.)

In this Whistler stands in profile before his easel. The picture belongs
to Mr. Douglas Freshfield. There is another version, in a lower key and
less finished, in the Lane gift at the City of Dublin Gallery, from
which this was perhaps painted.]

Here we may remark on all that is due to Whistler, as to Manet, for
disturbing the dust in the Academies, at one time so thick that the
great difference between art and mere craft seemed almost totally
obscured.



III


Whistler's life is at present a skeleton of dates on which this incident
occurred or that, and at which the most notable of his pictures
appeared. And this must remain so until an authoritative biography of
the painter has appeared. With whom the authority rests was made the
subject of a recent Law Case. Till such a work appears we can only deal
with his art and with the Whistler legend, the impressions, recorded and
otherwise, he left upon those who were brought into contact with him.[1]
These are strangely at variance--some having only met him cloaked from
head to foot in the species of misunderstanding in which, as he
explained, in surroundings of antagonism he had wrapped himself for
protection; others remembering him for his kindliness and his
old-fashioned courtesy.

  [1] Since going to press, "The Life of Whistler," by E. R. and
      J. Pennell has appeared.

Permitting himself sufficient popularity with a few to be called
"Jimmy," Whistler's full name was James Abbot McNeill Whistler, and the
initials gradually twisted themselves into that strange arabesque with a
wavy tail which he called a butterfly and with which he signed his
pictures and his letters. Born on 11th July 1834 at Lowell,
Massachusetts, he was the descendant of an Irish branch of an old
English family, and in his seventeenth year he entered the West Point
Military Academy, where after making his first etchings on the margins
of the map which he should have been engraving, he decided to devote his
life to art. He was twenty when he left America and he never returned to
it, so that as far as America is concerned infancy can be pleaded.
America has since bought more than her share of the fruits of his
genius, finding in this open-handed way charming expression for her
envy. He went to Paris to study art, where he was gay, and attracted
attention to himself by the enjoyable way in which he spent his time. It
was not until he was twenty-five that he arrived in London, and a
little later moving to Chelsea commenced work in earnest.

A charming picture suggests itself of the painter escorting his aged
mother every Sunday morning to the door of Chelsea old church, as was
his habit, bowing to her as she enters and hastening back to the studio
to be witty with his Sunday friends.

Whistler's first important picture, "At the Piano," issued from Chelsea.
It was hung in the Academy in 1860 and was bought by a member of the
Academy. He followed the next year with "La Mère Gerard," which belongs
to Mr. Swinburne. He sent a picture called "The White Girl," to the
Salon of 1863. It was, however, rejected. It was then hung at the
collection called the "Salon des Refusés," an exhibition held as a
protest against the Academic prejudices which still marked the Salon.
There it met with an enthusiastic reception which set Whistler off on
his career of defiance. In 1865 the painter went to Valparaiso for a
visit, from which resulted the beautiful Valparaiso nocturnes. Back
again in Chelsea, he devoted himself to the river there. He was then
living in a house in Lindsay Row. At this time he was greatly affected
by Japanese art, and one or two pictures show curious attempts to adapt
scenes of the life of the West to the Eastern conventions. This phase of
his art was beautiful, but he passed it on the way to work of greater
sincerity, and more clearly the outcome of his own vision. In 1874 the
first exhibition of Whistler's work was held at a Gallery in Pall Mall,
containing among other things "The Painter's Mother," "Thomas Carlyle,"
and "Miss Alexander." It is interesting that the Piano Picture, painted
just as he emerged from his studentship, is of the flower of his art; he
did things afterwards of great significance, and did them quite
differently, but the Piano Picture does not seem a first work preparing
his art for future perfection, it is so perfect in itself. And here
perhaps we may observe another fact in connection with Whistler, that in
the last days of his life he painted with the same genius for the
beautiful as at the beginning; none of that deterioration had set in,
which so often comes in the wake of flattery and belated public esteem.
He was never betrayed by success into over, or too rapid, production. He
never succumbed to the delight of anticipating a cheque by every post
instead of bills. He found no difficulty in declining the most tempting
offers. Well, work that is held thus sacred by its own creator, should
tempt people to search for all that made it seem so valuable to him.
Whistler had an intense dislike of parting with his work. When a picture
was bought from him he was like a man selling his child. Sometimes he
would see somewhere a picture he had painted, he would borrow it to add
to or improve it, but he would keep it and live with it and gradually
forget all about its possessor. Whatever qualms attacked his conscience
for this procrastination, it was no part of his genius to confess,
instead he would say "For years, this dear person has had the privilege
of living with that masterpiece--what more do they want?" At Whistler's
death, however, it was found that the circumstances under which a
picture had at any time been borrowed were methodically entered up,
with minute directions as to the return of one or two pictures, borrowed
thus, that were in his studio when he died.

In Chelsea, Rossetti and Whistler were good friends, they shared a love
of blue china, in fact inventing the modern taste for certain kinds,
especially for what they called "Long Elizas," a specimen upon which
slim figures are painted,--"_Lange leises_"--tall damsels--as they were
called by the Dutch. One supposes that it is through Rossetti that he
came into contact with Swinburne, who was inspired to write the poem
called "Before the Mirror," by Whistler's picture "The White Girl," and
of which some of the verses were printed after the title in the
catalogue of the Royal Academy Exhibition. The first verse in itself
suggests a scheme of white:--

  "White rose in red rose-garden
    Is not so white;
  Snowdrops that plead for pardon
    And pine for fright
  Because the hard East blows
  Over their maiden rows
    Grow not as this face grows from pale to bright."

The poem was printed on gilded paper on the frame; this was however
removed on the picture going to the Academy, and in the catalogue the
two following verses were printed after the title:--

  "Come snow, come wind or thunder
    High up in air,
  I watch my face, and wonder
    At my bright hair;
  Nought else exalts or grieves
  The rose at heart, that heaves
    With love of her own leaves and lips that pair.

  "I cannot tell what pleasure
    Or what pains were;
  What pale new loves and treasures
    New years will bear:
  What beam will fall, what shower,
  What grief or joy for dower;
    But one thing knows the flower; the flower is fair."

Later on, Swinburne did not allow the Ten o'clock lecture to go
unchallenged, and he subjects its glittering rhetoric to a not unkind
but cold analysis which, however, Whistler has the grace to print with
marginal reflections in "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies," the book
which contains the paradoxes which reflect so well his powers as a
thinker. It is doubtful whether Whistler in kinder circumstances would
have produced his brilliant theories. The irritation caused by
misconception, the necessity of justifying even his limitations to a
world which was apparently prepared to consider nothing else about him
at one time--these were the wine-press of his eloquence. He disliked the
rôle of teacher and apologised for it at the beginning of his "Ten
o'clock," and when, in later life, following the fashion, he started a
school, he relied upon the example of his own methods of setting the
palette rather than upon precept, with a little banter to keep good
humour in his class-room. A young lady protested "I am sure that I am
painting what I see." "Yes!" answered her master, "but the shock will
come when you see what you are painting." A student at the short-lived
Académie-Whistler has written that merely attempting to initiate them
into some purely technical matters of art, he succeeded--almost without
his or their volition--in transforming their ways of seeing! "Not alone
in a refining of the actual physical sight of things, not only in a
quickening of the desire for a choicer, rarer vision of the world about
them, but in opening the door to a more intimate sympathy with the
masters of the past."

[Illustration: PLATE IV.--PORTRAIT OF MY MOTHER

(In the Luxembourg Galleries, Paris)

This was first exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1872. For many years it
remained in the painter's possession. It left this country to become the
property of the French Government in the Luxembourg at the sum of £120.
In "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies" Whistler writes of the picture as
an "Arrangement in Grey and Black." "To me," he adds, "it is interesting
as a picture of my mother; but what can or ought the public to care
about the identity of the portrait?"]

The thing that strikes one in reading "The Gentle Art" is how badly
those who entered into combat with its author came off in the end, some
of them in what they consider their witty replies committing suicide so
far as their reputation as authorities on art went. Notable is the case
of the critic of _The Times_, replying "I ought to remember your
penning, like your painting, belongs to the region of chaff." We have
indicated the source of Whistler's success as a wit--at that source we
find the reason why he always scored when talking about painting. He is
playing something more than a game of repartee. His best replies are
crystallised from his inner knowledge. In them we get bit by bit the
revelation which he had received as a genius in his craft.

It was the force of his personality that obtained for Whistler's evasive
art such recognition in his lifetime as in the natural course only
falls to fine painters of the obvious, whom every one delights to
honour. He had said that "art is for artists," and it is true that the
perfection of his own art is the pleasure of those who study it. It
reached heights of lyrical expression where life in completeness has not
yet been represented in painting; reached them perhaps because so
lightly freighted with elementary human feeling. His work so often
leaves us cold, and we turn seeking for art mixed further with the fire
of life and alight with everyday desire.

But nature showed many things to this her appreciator--I write, her
intimate friend. As a moth which goes out from the artificial atmosphere
of a London room into the blue night, I think of the painter of the
nocturnes--yet always as a lover of nature, never more so than when his
subject is the sea. For he has a greater consciousness of the salt wet
air than any other sea painter, of the veil behind which all ships are
sailing and through which the waves break, the atmosphere which descends
so mystically and invisibly and yet which if not accounted for in a
canvas leaves ships with their sails set in a vacuum and the waves as if
they were crested with candle-grease. Is it not absence of this
atmosphere which has tortured us on so many occasions when with
everything quite real a picture has not brought us pleasure. Pleasure
comes to us always with reality in art, and the end of art is realism.
All is real even around a mystic, though his thoughts are out of our
sight. Whistler was not a mystic but above everything he wished to
suggest the atmosphere which is invisible except for its visible effect,
and I cannot help thinking his vision essentially abstract.

He did not paint subject pictures. To make our meaning quite clear, let
us say such pictures as Frith's, or better still, as Hogarth's in which
we have the extreme. The art of Hogarth moved upon a plane lower down,
but there it had a strength unknown to Whistler, a careless and lavish
inspiration of life itself. He had to find speech for all sorts of
things in his art, beauty was but one of these, creeping in less as a
deliberate aim than as the accident of a nature artistic. Whistler in
painting desired to express nothing but his sense of beauty. For the
rest of his nature, he found expression altogether outside his art in
enthusiasm for life itself, its combats, difficulties, and its
opportunities for saying brilliant things at dinner. His dinner
conversation, I have been told, was like the abstract methods of his
etching, always cryptic, full of suggestion,--wonderful conversation,
full of short ejaculations which carried your imagination from one point
to another with hints that seemed to throw open doorways into passages
of thought leading right behind things.

[Illustration: PLATE V.--LILLIE IN OUR ALLEY

(In the possession of John J. Cowan, Esq.)

This study in brown and gold was made about the time (1865) when the
Little Rose of Lyme Regis was painted, one of the most beautiful
portraits of an English child. The latter picture unfortunately left
these shores and is now in the Boston Museum, U.S.A.]

He had a remarkable regard for purity of speech, as became the painter
of such spiritual types of womanhood. It would seem that women liked
him, and readily apprehended in his art his sensitive view of life. At
table he drank but little and was a slender eater. When alone he would
sometimes forget all about his meals, or eat scarcely anything; in later
years, feeling the necessity of taking care of himself he would guard
against his indifference by always seeking companionship when away from
his house. His nervous disposition forced him to content himself with
little sleep, his active brain keeping him awake conceiving witticisms
and planning the battle for the morrow.



IV


It would be incomplete in any memoir of Whistler to omit the most
thrilling battle of his life. To all adventurers there comes at last the
event which knocks all their venturousness out of them or is the
beginning of a triumphant way. Whistler had been before the footlights a
long time, but it was his contact with Professor Ruskin which brought
him into the full lime-light, which he was so much prepared to enjoy.
Ruskin paid him the only tribute strength can pay to strength when it is
not on the same side--with a prophetic instinct that as regards picture
exhibitions Whistler's art was the sign of a coming, and licentious,
freedom from the old rules of the game. He saw in Whistler's work the
end of old fair things, the laws of those old things all set aside. In
reading the so well-known criticism of Whistler one has a feeling that
after all Ruskin has only half expressed his feelings in it--however it
resulted in the famous libel action. Whistler received one farthing
damages, which sum he afterwards magnanimously returned to his eminent
critic, as his contribution towards the subscription set on foot to pay
Ruskin's legal expenses.

Ruskin's criticism was as follows:--

  "For Mr. Whistler's own sake, no less than for the protection of
  the purchaser, Sir Coutts Lindsay ought not to have admitted works
  into the gallery in which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so
  nearly approached the aspect of wilful imposture. I have seen, and
  heard much of cockney impudence before now, but never expected to
  hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint
  in the public's face."

The case came on in the Court of Exchequer Division before Baron
Huddleston on November 15, 1878, Whistler claiming £1000 damages. "The
labours of two days, then, is that for which you ask two hundred
guineas!" asked the Attorney-General representing Ruskin. "No," replied
Whistler, "I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime." "Do you think now
that you could make _me_ see the beauty of that picture?" asked the
Attorney-General. "No!" he replied. "Do you know I fear it would be as
hopeless as for the musician to pour his notes into the ear of a deaf
man." In resuming the Attorney-General said: "Let them examine the
nocturne in blue and silver, said to represent Battersea Bridge. What
was that structure in the middle? Was it a telescope or a fire-escape?
Was it like Battersea Bridge? What were the figures at the top of the
bridge? And if they were horses and carts, how in the name of fortune
were they to get off?"

Mr. W. P. Frith, R.A., was examined and in his evidence said that in his
opinion Mr. Whistler's pictures were not serious works of art. In the
margin of the account of the trial in "The Gentle Art" Whistler quotes
from that painter's "It was just a toss up whether I became an artist or
an auctioneer," and adds, "He must have tossed up." There was a time
when policemen had to keep the crowd away from Frith's Margate Sands.
There was a time when Whistler's pictures were hissed when they were put
on the easel at Christie's? If the attitude towards these so different
kinds of art is changed, it is the resolution Whistler showed in life as
well as in his art that changed it. And have we not in the above
interchange of points of view at the court the whole vexed question--the
issue around which the battle of Whistler's life always raged? Whistler
explained to the court that his whole scheme was only to bring about a
certain harmony of colour. He tried to dispel the illusion that the
painter's craft forms itself upon the desire to communicate a story. It
may be so with the literary craft, but there is no life in the drawing
or painting that is not inspired by the delight of the artist in the
mere outside of things. Where there is the expression of that delight,
there may be the expression of much beside, of the spiritual meanings
behind all beauty--though Whistler did not take this flight in his
reply. He himself tried to limit the meaning of art almost as narrowly
as Ruskin. He had this advantage over Ruskin, that whatever he said
about painting was from the inside knowledge of his genius in painting.
Ruskin's genius was always approaching that subject from the outside. We
could not on any account dispense with what was said at any time by
either of them. It was impossible for them to see each other except as
enemies across a wide gulf, all speech with each other drowned by the
rapids of misunderstanding. The gulf is nearly bridged. In viewing art
in its relation to life no one wrote more profoundly than Ruskin, but he
failed in knowledge of the beautiful and inner mysterious delights of
the craft of painting. Whilst exalting the mission of painting, he
degraded its craft, he seemed to fail in appreciation of the fact that
at its highest this is as mystical as inspired--and as unaccountable as
the craft in Shelley's lyrics. The number of rules he laid down, the
gospels he preached upon them reveal always the irritating scholiast
and pedant. How eloquently Whistler expresses his irritation in the Ten
o'clock lecture!

In his account of the trial in "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies,"
Whistler fills the margin with quotations from Ruskin so dexterously
opposed to the matter in hand as seemingly to discredit for ever
Ruskin's writings upon art and the mode of thought therein. But at the
bidding of Whistler, and those who boast his opinions second hand, we
cannot abjure all this order of thought. One passage which Whistler
quotes: "Vulgarity, dulness, or impiety will indeed always express
themselves throughout, in brown and grey as in Rembrandt" is not without
its bearing on his own art--which has since then quite altered the
meaning of the word grey. And despite the perhaps unfortunate naming of
Rembrandt one divines that Ruskin is here speaking in the light of the
highest intuitive knowledge.

It must be remembered that in prose, which may accept its motif from
anything, from art if it likes, Ruskin could sometimes lose himself as
completely as Whistler often did in the beauty of his own art. And with
the waters of beauty closing over their heads, one was as deaf and blind
as the other. That trial was Ruskin's Waterloo. If there is one thing
that would make me doubt that Whistler was a great man, it is the fact
that he never had a Waterloo, but perhaps that is reserved for those who
have been successful right from the beginning. The light air with which
Whistler carried his own early troubles is misleading as to their
extent. Without the thread of coarser stuff that crossed his otherwise
over-refined nature some such sadness of fate might have awaited him as
awaited Meryon, the French etcher, for possessing motives too far in
advance of those accepted by his time. For really at first no one hardly
seemed to have understood the delicate order of things that Whistler was
trying to do, especially in his later etchings, in which everything is a
symbol counting upon our imagination; everything a pleasure to its
creator and nothing a labour; every line one of nervous impulse, the
whole etching an inspiration of such impulsive threads. In what
loneliness he must have possessed his abnormal delicacy of perception.
He hugged to himself the delusion that a knowledge of his craft enabled
artists to understand him--but it is common for artists of abundant
gifts not to have the necessary refinement of sense, and after all
artists are not so numerous that these appreciators will be many. But in
the wide world outside the studios there are many people thus delicately
attuned, their numbers to be increased when Whistler in his subtlety of
vision is less ahead of the world in point of evolution. He brought
recognition to himself before his time by strident challenges,
aggressive at every point and scornful--as they could not have been had
the real nature of his superiority dawned on him at the first. In the
first Thames etchings he has not received his revelation: they do not
show his hand quite so conscientiously, nervously, awaiting its
inspiration for every movement.

[Illustration: PLATE VI.--NOCTURNE, BLUE AND SILVER

(In the possession of the Hon. Percy Wyndham)

Painted at Westminster, looking towards Lambeth. On the back of the
picture is a card bearing the artist's signature and the butterfly, with
title "Westminster, Blue and Silver, J. McNeill Whistler, 2 Lindsay
Houses, Old Chelsea." This places the date of its execution about 1866.]

Nothing can make us realise the great significance of the Whistler
influence in art more than the contrast between the esteem in which
his etchings are now held and the early criticisms of them which he
collected and scornfully embodied in his book. These are indeed the most
depressing reading--and Whistler's quaint termination to those pages,
"they roar all like bears," does very aptly express the feeling of
desolation that must overcome any one who appreciates the spirit of his
etchings. When praise is forthcoming it is only for the early etchings
at the expense of those later ones in which he conceived such an
inspired use of the needle. By the criticisms in this book we know the
exhausting struggle and how right it was that a life, the first half of
which had been spent thus, should have no "Waterloo," but end with
rest--and with honour, accorded to this "Merlin," so evidently great, if
only a few knew why.

It was 1878, the year of the Ruskin trial, that he started working in
lithography as a medium, being initiated into the technicalities by Mr.
Thomas Way. In the "Fair Women" Exhibition held by The International
Society, which is open whilst I write, there are some lithographs by
Whistler, which suggest purity of type and the charm of beautiful
womanhood in a manner that puts to flight the claims of many a famous
canvas in the gallery. It is the most delicate of all mediums; it suited
his touch and the sensitive order of his perceptions.

After the Ruskin case Whistler left London for Venice for about a year;
upon his return he exhibited at the Fine Art Society the first series of
Venice pastels, and a little later at the same gallery fifty-three
pastels of Venice. He also held exhibitions at the Dowdeswell Gallery in
1883, Etchings in 1884 in "Notes, Harmonies, and Nocturnes," in 1886 all
the time still continuing to exhibit at the Grosvenor Gallery some of
his most famous portraits, nocturnes, and marines.



V


On 31st December 1884 the following amusing letter appeared in _The
World_, signed with the well-known butterfly. "Atlas, look at this! It
has been culled from the _Plumber and Decorator_, of all insidious
prints, and forwarded to me by the untiring people who daily supply me
with the thinkings of my critics. Read, Atlas, and let me execute
myself. 'The "Peacock" drawing-room of a well-to-do shipowner, of
Liverpool, at Prince's Gate, London, is hand painted, representing the
noble bird with wings expanded, painted by an Associate of the Royal
Academy, at a cost of £7000, and fortunate in claiming his daughter as
his bride, and is one of the finest specimens of high art in decoration
in the kingdom. The mansion is of modern construction.'

"He is not guilty, this honest Associate! It was I, Atlas, who did this
thing--alone I did it--I 'hand painted' this room in the 'mansion of
modern construction.' Woe is me! I secreted, in the provincial
shipowner's home, the 'noble bird with wings expanded'--I perpetrated in
harmless obscurity, 'the finest specimen of high-art decoration'--and
the Academy is without stain in the art of its member. Also the
immaculate character of that Royal body has been falsely impugned by
this wicked _Plumber_! Mark these things, Atlas, that justice may be
done, the innocent spared, and history cleanly written."

Whistler's picture "La Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine" had been hung
by Mr. F. R. Leyland in his mansion at Prince's Gate, and Whistler could
not reconcile himself to its appearance against the valuable Spanish
leather on the walls. He was to correct this by treating a little of the
wall; meanwhile Mr. Leyland went down into the country. When he returned
it was to find that Whistler was painting over the whole of the room.
Much money had already been spent on the original leather scheme, and
Whistler had quickly effaced all appearance of its intrinsic worth, but
he was in the rapid process of creating the famous Peacock Room.
Dissension took place as to terms under the circumstances, and Whistler
finished the room with a panel of two peacocks fighting, emblematic of
the quarrel. Mr. Leyland was considered one of the most discriminating
patrons of his time. Just previous to the above events the interior of
the house had been reconstructed and decorated in accordance with
designs by Norman Shaw and Jekyll. The leather had been the latter
architect's scheme for the room where the "Princesse du Pays de la
Porcelaine" was hung. The walls were fitted with shelves designed for
the display of blue china. Whistler painted all the window shutters with
gold peacocks on a blue ground, and a panel at the end of the room,
which had been reserved for a picture commissioned from him; into this
panel he put the fighting peacocks, whose eyes were real jewels, the one
a ruby and the other a diamond. It was found possible to move all the
decoration without injury and some time after the original owner's death
this was done, the purchaser taking it to America. Before it left
England it was set up temporarily for the purpose of its exhibition at
Messrs. Obach's Gallery. The picture "The Princesse du Pays de la
Porcelaine," the key-note, was however missing from the scheme, having
found another purchaser.

The room was the finest example of a less known side of Whistler's art.
His designs sprung straight from himself, they had no connection with
any European tradition. He accepted in their entirety the conventions,
the arrangements and devices of the Japanese designers. Yet his designs
could not have been created by any of the great artists of Japan. There
is too much vitality about them, and these peacocks which belong to a
pattern and are conventionalised to the last degree, have a more
startling reality than any peacock painted in a modern picture. No one
knows how Whistler came to know so much about peacocks. A duffer can
paint the bird until he comes to the neck--and then we have to turn to
photographs for the reality that gives us pleasure, it eludes all modern
genius. So for the most part, fortunately, peacocks are left severely
alone. The dancing of the _première danseuse_ at the Empire, perfected
with ardent years of study, is a less recondite theme of movement than a
peacock raising its head. It is a delight, to all those who love it,
beside which all dancing pales, more gracious and stately in movement
than the accumulated grace of many women. That is how it must always
seem to those who really know it. Whistler arrived at perfect
understanding by the instinctive route on which he never went astray.

After the peacock-room incident the wildest legends were afloat about
the whole matter, one of them that the architect had been driven mad by
the sight of what had happened to his leather, and that later he was
found at home painting peacocks blue and gold all over the floor.



VI


In 1885 Whistler's lecture on art was given in London, Oxford, and
Cambridge; to suit the convenience of Londoners who liked to linger over
dinner, he fixed the hour of delivery rather later than usual. This was
the famous "Ten o'clock lecture"--so vague and shadowy in its facts at
the beginning, so brilliant at the end, and dispelling the æsthetic fog
in which the æsthetes elected to dwell. It is significant of the slight
heed given to Whistler's real beliefs that characteristics of his
appearance were at one time satirised in W. S. Gilbert's "Bunthorne,"
confusing him as was common with the æsthetic craze. In "The Ten
o'clock" his scorn is eloquent enough of the weird cult "in which,"
as he says, "all instinct for attractiveness--all freshness and
sparkle--all woman's winsomeness--is to give way to a strange vocation
for the unlovely--and this desecration in the name of the Graces!" But
for all that the principles which governed in L'art nouveau which
followed and may be said to be a part of the movement, are prominent in
those two "arrangements" of his own, the portrait of Carlyle and the
portrait of his Mother.

[Illustration: PLATE VII.--PORTRAIT OF THOMAS CARLYLE

(In the Corporation Art Galleries, Glasgow)

This portrait is in the possession of the Glasgow Corporation, the only
public body in these islands whose appreciation of the painter was not
belated. In spite of protests, to their credit the purchase was made,
and direct from the artist for £1000. The picture was first seen at the
artist's exhibition in 1874, and was painted in the same period as the
"Portrait of My Mother."]

No doubt the fame of an _objet d'art_ can last for ever with
connoisseurs, if rare enough in itself and rare in the skill displayed,
and many a painting is destined to live on these same grounds. But there
is a destiny too for the spirit of a picture of which all this valuable
perfection is but the outward shrine. Where human experience rises to
intensity of expression in art it is born into life anew and less
perishably. It is thus that the picture of Whistler's Mother is by
common consent enthroned above the level of criticism, what we say for
and against it being only as water lapping at the foot of a cliff.
Incorporate with the traditions of a race it is acknowledged a classic,
and of a classic one may speak as one does of life, with freedom as to
how it affects oneself. I have challenged the effect of this picture
upon myself. The trail of the age seems over it, the self-consciousness
which is like a blight upon modern arts and crafts. Instead of its
figure being painted in some such accidental contact with its
environment as would naturally occur, we have an _arrangement_. In
rearranging things thus for itself, art is at least one remove farther
away from things as they are, and as things as they are reflect the
influences that brought them together, art must come closer to life by
the interpretation of this reflection than by its alteration. There must
be an arrangement in every picture, but the improbability of this one,
outside of a studio, spoils the picture for me. The figure is placed in
position as we should place a piano. It is not very likely that a lady
would sit at right angles to the wall with no fire in front of her, no
work-table, no books. These thoughts rise unbidden when I look at the
picture--but Whistler begs us in a printed letter to consider it as an
_arrangement_. Incidentally, he says it is interesting to him as a
portrait of his mother. Yet he misunderstood when he thought the
artist's rights extended beyond his creations to the attitude in which
one should approach them, and the picture is famous for the beautiful
rendering of the lady and to us only incidentally interesting as an
arrangement. One does not escape the music of the outline of the figure
in the picture, the balance of all parts of the design, the refreshing
convention in comparison with other conventions. Only conventions
perhaps are best left for portraits where the traditional environment
connected with the high social status or office of the sitter, supplants
in our imagination the more everyday aspect of their life. The
unnaturalness of the photographer's art may require concessions from
every one; though even here as in painting, the art which conceals art
must save the situation; and Whistler managed this gracefully enough in
all his other portraits.

It was Gainsborough who was haunted by the smile of a woman. It is
Whistler who represents her movement as she turns into the room, his art
seeming to show a consciousness that the body that turns thus, the grace
of the clothes, are but a temporary habitation of swiftly passing
spirit.

In his early piano picture the trembling white dress of the child
surprises him into the representation of stuff itself; later his art
passes to an almost ecstatic obliviousness to the quality of things
themselves and he surrenders the representation of their surface
qualities for a fluid, musical, all-embracing quality of paint in which
the artist can render his theme as a virtuoso, ever striving to overtake
some almost impossible inflection of tone. And as his art becomes thus
abstract, as it assumes such a mission as music, he finds musical terms
for the names of his pictures to give the public the clue.

His water-colours are executed with an extremely pleasant touch of
brush to paper in which he himself delighted, and here, as also in the
case of etching, he made the most of the particular qualities of the
medium and as ever was careful not to out-step the limitations which an
appreciation of those qualities imposed. They do not do much more than
register the incident of colour which interested him in any particular
scene. It was to register his pleasure in that, rather than to make a
full record of surrounding country that he made his water-colours, and
the spectator will understand them only by the responsiveness of his
imagination to artistic suggestion.

By the process of what is termed in the language of art "suggestion"
(that is, interpretation by thoughtful, economical, and expressive
touches instead of a photographic imitation) all merely mechanical
labour is eliminated and there is a consequent spiritualising of the
whole method by which the artist makes his communication to our
imagination. He infers that we have advanced beyond an understanding
merely of the capital letters of art, and that this autographic
handling of the brush or etching needle is as intelligible to us as the
characteristic penmanship of our friends and as charming.



VII


The second great public event in Whistler's career was his election in
1886 to the Presidency of the Society of British Artists in Suffolk
Street, which made exciting history at the time. Whistler was just one
of those people who want everything in the world arranged after some
secret pattern of their own. They make the best reformers. But what
could be a more strange spectacle than the revolutionary Whistler in the
presidential chair of the staidest of art societies? The desire for
advertisement overcoming the scruples of older members, Whistler's
election as a member took place just before their winter exhibition in
1884. _The Times_ of the 3rd of December 1884 recorded the fact that
artistic society was startled by the news that this most wayward of
painters had found a home among the men of Suffolk Street--of all
people in the world.

His humour did not forsake him in this new environment. Mr. Horseley,
R.A., lecturing before the Church Congress, attacked the nude models,
especially and in particular at the Royal Academy Schools. Shortly after
this, in sending a pastel of a nude to the Society of British Artists,
Whistler attached the words "Horseley soit qui mal y pense," and was
only prevailed upon to remove them by the fear of older members that the
attack upon an Academician might lead up to a libel case with the Royal
Academy. The Royal Academy students at the time used to drape the legs
of the chairs and tables when Mr. Horseley visited the schools. That was
in 1885. It was the following year that Whistler was elected President
of the Society for which he got a Royal Charter, and to which by his
methods--as President--he brought fame for ever as the R.B.A.

Many of the electors who had supported his membership had concluded that
he was not likely to take much part in the workings of the Society.
However, he came to the meetings and to their surprise took an interest
in the proceedings, proffering advice, intruding new ideas, not often
welcomed by the older artists. He invited some of the members to one of
his famous Sunday breakfasts at his studio in Tite Street, and regaled
them with his theories of art. They were influenced by his personality
and the character of the elections altered, men of the newer movements
were elected, and they soon formed a small but very energetic and loyal
group around Whistler, finally acquiring sufficient power to elect him
as we have shown into the President's chair. After that the meetings of
the Society were exhilarating in the extreme, and Whistler talked with
extreme brilliance to the members, and somehow got his way until their
Gallery was hung with one line of pictures upon a carefully chosen
background.

But the opposition became too strong from members who wished to run the
exhibition on its old lines, and certainly the funds were suffering from
these very high ideals. His opponents "brought up the maimed, the halt,
and the blind," "all except corpses, don't you know!" as Whistler put
it, the oldest members, the fact of whose membership had up to that time
lingered only perhaps in their own memory, and thus effected his
out-voting at the next election. Whistler congratulated them, for, as he
explained, no longer was the right man in the wrong place. "You see," he
said, referring to the group of his followers who resigned with him,
"the 'Artists' have come out and the 'British' remain."

It was the first time in England that pictures had been so artistically
arranged. No pictures were badly hung, no member had anything to
complain of as far as that went. But they were disturbed at the loss of
probable sales which they calculated the empty spaces on the walls might
be taken to signify.

On the night of the election which ended the Whistler dynasty there was
great excitement, and the younger members let off steam by playing in
the passages during the counting of the votes.

[Illustration: PLATE VIII.--IN THE CHANNEL

(In the possession of Mrs. L. Knowles)

In this impression of grey sea-weather we have the colour equivalent of
that expressive economy which Whistler practised with his line; and the
butterfly touch--like a butterfly alighting.]

The Society had come into existence with aims of its own. An order of
art was represented which had to be represented somewhere. A great
amount of capable work for which the Academy had not room was on view
here, representative of the everyday activity of London studio life. It
was amusing to think of Whistler as the President of this Society as it
was constituted in those days--and absurd. He could have nothing in
common with its homely aims. But it was an advertisement for the Society
and for him, he probably did not share the illusions of his followers
that he was in the right place.

When in after years the leaders of the modern movement formed themselves
into the International Society, in 1898, through the organisation of Mr.
Francis Howard, it was inevitable and natural that Whistler should be
the President, but at the British Artists it was simply a case of cuckoo
and the sparrow's nest. With his success, the original element of the
Society must have gone elsewhere leaving him in possession of their
building.

It was fitting that Sir Joshua Reynolds should be the President of an
Academy whose theories he embraced but exposited with greater genius.
But Whistler's theories had no relation whatever to the body of which he
was thus made the head, and he did not surpass in everything as Sir
Joshua; the significance of his genius resting rather with the fact that
it is epochal.

However, as all this affair happened just at the time when paradox was
coming into vogue, there was that much only about it that was fitting.
After these events Whistler, who was invited on to the Jury of the "New
Salon" then forming, left for Paris.



VIII


In 1892 the painter returned and held an exhibition at the Goupil
Gallery, and from the date of this exhibition everything altered in his
favour. For years he had found it impossible to sell his pictures except
to a circle of wealthy patrons. The prejudice excited against his work
after the issue with Ruskin had closed all other markets for him. He had
remained the "impudent coxcomb" in so many people's minds, and his
challenge to the omnipotence of Ruskin had not been forgiven him. A ban
was upon his works. He said that for nearly twenty years the Ruskin case
affected his sales. But fame he desired more ardently, and this he
had,--like Prometheus,--and of a kind that would keep till the day came
when it could be changed for a quantity of money. When the Goupil show
was open he found this day was already upon him, and the Americans
coming over, began to buy his works, and early acquaintances who had
acquired them at small prices, themselves sold out, of course much too
soon. That was the time when a purchase for the nation should have been
made.

Later he toured through France and Brittany until he settled again in
Paris in the Rue de Bac, having married Mrs. E. W. Godwin, the widow of
the eminent architect, builder of the White House in Tite Street,
Chelsea, which had been Whistler's former home. In the old days in the
White House he had furnished one or two rooms elaborately, and others,
perhaps for lack of funds to make them perfect, hardly at all. It was
then he collected the blue china with Rossetti as a friendly rival. This
was the house in which he instituted his famous Sunday breakfasts, and
to which everybody used to come who was distinguished. The
breakfast-time was twelve o'clock, cook permitting. On one occasion,
through some untoward circumstances in the kitchen, it was not placed
upon the table until nearly three. Mr. Henry James was there that day,
and has been heard to speak of it since, and how he took a walk to bring
him nearer breakfast-time. But all this had to be given up after the
expenses of the Ruskin Trial, and the blue china was "knocked down."
Whistler wrote a characteristic letter to _The World_ in 1883 upon the
alterations then being made in the White House by his successor, one of
"Messieurs les Ennemis" a critic. In those days his wit and vivacity had
already made him a host of acquaintances, and distinguished men were
glad to count him as one among themselves,--whilst reserving their
opinion on his painting. But now things were very different, and he was
referred to as "the Master"--and the house in the Rue de Bac thoroughly
furnished, partly from designs made by his gifted wife.

He came to England in 1895 and painted at Lyme Regis, painting "The
Little Rose of Lyme Regis"--which shows that his art is purely
English--though he had said that one might as well talk of English
Mathematics as of English Art. For in this little girl's face something
there is that is only found in English Art. She descends directly from
the beautiful tradition of Walker and Sir John Millais. In December he
exhibited a collection of lithographs at the Fine Art Society's Gallery.
He was again in London in 1896. About this time he painted upon a small
scale an almost full-length portrait called "The Philosopher." It was of
the artist, Holloway. Holloway died on the 5th March 1897, and in the
sadness of the attendant circumstances the kindness of Whistler will
always be remembered.

There were qualities in Holloway's art of which Whistler was
appreciative, and a characteristic story can be connected with this.
There is a picture of the sea in the National Gallery at Milbanke called
"Britain's Realm," by John Brett, R.A. It had great success in its year,
at the Academy. Everybody went to see it, and it was eventually bought
for the Chantry Bequest. It had figured also in an exhibition of
sea-pieces at the Fine Art Society. Whistler happened to be at this
exhibition when somebody very enthusiastic over the picture brought him
up to it expecting him to admire it also, but Whistler glanced at it
through his eye-glass, turned and emphasising his words with a very
significant gesture towards the representation of sea--as if knocking at
a door--said with his sardonic Hé, Hé,--"Tin! if you threw a stone on to
this, it would make a rumbling noise," and turning to a picture by
Holloway said--"_This_ is art!"

Also in this year Whistler was very preoccupied with the art of
lithography. His wife was ill, and they were staying at the Savoy Hotel.
Whistler used to sit at the window all day looking out upon the river,
and in these circumstances he made one of the best series of
lithographs. With the recovery of Mrs. Whistler they moved up to
Hampstead, where he said "he was living on a landscape." At the same
time he was renting a studio in Fitzroy Street, at No. 8, now called the
Whistler Studios. In choosing it, Whistler had said, "After all, this is
the classic ground for studios," and he had as neighbour a tried friend.

On May the 7th, 1896, Mrs. Whistler died, and she was buried on the
14th. The next day he came down to the studios and walked with his
friend. They took lunch in the neighbourhood of Tottenham Court Road.
Whistler spoke of the strangeness of fatality. He had postponed his
wife's funeral a day to escape the 13th, the 14th was her birthday. They
sat on, Whistler in the deepest depression, and to divert him his
companion, Mr. Ludovici, pointed to a print exactly over his head. It
was of Frith's Margate Sands!

After the death of his wife, Whistler lived much in retirement, though
travelling a little. He returned to Chelsea, and died there in his 70th
year in July 1903. His life added as richly to its associations as the
lives of his two great contemporaries Rossetti and Carlyle, both of whom
are commemorated upon the embankment of the river close to the places
where they lived. There is now a movement well on foot to place a
memorial there to Whistler, to be designed by that other artist,
Monsieur Rodin, who on so different a scale has been inspired by the
same half mystic motives. To appeal to us, not with fairy tales, but
with art imaginative in its deference to our imagination.

Whistler was without excessive, spendthrift, creative power. In many
ways his art was slight. Yet even so, not because it is empty, but
because it outlines for us so much that is only visible to thought,
though thought always in relation to external beauty.

And the indefiniteness of his art, the grey of its colour, they are
emblematic of the times, as the plain red and blue of Titian belonged to
those days, and are resemblant of the plainer issues that then divided
men's thoughts.

Admitting all his own limitations to himself Whistler admitted none of
them to other people, and to those who divined his weaknesses at certain
points he seemed somewhat of a charlatan. Perhaps in the near future his
fame will again seem to suffer, from the strict analysis of the
pretensions put forward in his name, but if so, only to triumph again as
the true character of his achievement comes to be distinguished.

He was such an instinctive artist that the explanation of his art must,
to some extent, have remained hidden from himself, and Art fixing his
place among her masters, will remember that great limitation in some
ways is always the price of a new and instinctive knowledge in others.


The plates are printed by BEMROSE & SONS, LTD., Derby and London

The text at the BALLANTYNE PRESS, Edinburgh





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