No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

October 10, 2003-January 9, 2004
Exhibited in AAA's NYC Research Center Gallery

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

Hokusai Manga

Hokusai Manga, ca. 1814

Creator: Katsushika Hokusai

Whistler was one of the first Western artists to be transfixed by the art of Japan, and Hokusai was a printmaker whom he studied. By 1858 Whistler’s French printer, Jacques Delâtre, shared manga (Japanese picture books) such as these with his artist-friends. The illustrations show peacock and leaf-and-plant motifs, which were essential to Whistler’s own oeuvre. In such etchings as Swan and Iris, Whistler employed Japanese-inspired slanting lines as shorthand for suggesting water, light reflection, and weather conditions. It is no surprise that the American critic, painter, etcher, and dealer Walter Pach (1883-1958) owned manga. Treasured by Whistler and his French peers, the books were like bibles to two generations of American artists.

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

The Whistler Brothers (James and William) a photograph of an 1847 pastel by Emile Francois Dessain

The Whistler Brothers (James and William) a photograph of an 1847 pastel by Emile Francois Dessain, ca. 1847

Creator: George E. Quigly

Born in Lowell, Mass. on July 11, 1834, James Whistler was the son of a civil engineer. His father, a leading builder of this country’s railroads, was engaged by Czar Nicholas I to build the Moscow-St. Petersburg railroad in 1842. The Whistler family moved to St. Petersburg, where Whistler first studied art. When the elder Whistler died in 1849, the family returned to the United States. His father had been educated at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and James followed him there. He entered the Academy in 1851, but was dismissed in 1854 because of demerits for misconduct and poor grades.

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

U.S. Coast Survey.  Report of the Superintendent of the U.S. Coast Survey for 1854

U.S. Coast Survey. Report of the Superintendent of the U.S. Coast Survey for 1854, 1855

After Whistler was dismissed from West Point, he moved to Washington, D.C., and got a job in the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, a government bureau responsible for producing maps of the coastline. He was put in the engraving division, and as part of his training, he received technical instruction in etching. Against the wishes of his superiors, who instructed him to stick to topographical delineation, Whistler added a V-shaped flock of birds above the cliffs in this engraving.

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

James McNeill Whistler to George Lucas.

James McNeill Whistler to George Lucas., 1863 Mar. 16

Creator: James McNeill Whistler

Whistler writes to George Lucas, an American art dealer in Paris, that he plans to send Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl (1862; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) to the Paris Salon of 1863 because the Royal Academy of Arts in London had rejected the picture in 1862. Asking Lucas to deliver the painting for him, Whistler gleefully speculates that an acceptance by the Salon will be “a crusher for the Royal Academy.” Fortunately for Whistler, the Salon also turned down the painting. He showed it instead in the Salon de Refusés, an exhibition that became a landmark in the history of art.

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

James McNeill Whistler to Katherine de Kay Bronson.

James McNeill Whistler to Katherine de Kay Bronson., ca. 1880

Creator: James McNeill Whistler

After successfully establishing himself in London in the 1870s, Whistler sued the critic John Ruskin for libel when Ruskin accused him “of flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” In 1878 Whistler won the case, but was awarded only a farthing in costs and damages and went bankrupt. When he was offered a commission to make etchings of Venice, he accepted and went to Italy in September 1879 with his mistress, Maud Franklin. They remained there for 14 months, during which time Whistler created about 50 etchings, 100 pastels, and seven or eight paintings. Katherine de Kay Bronson presided over the American expatriate community in Venice. The book of poems she gave Whistler may well have been by Robert Browning, another friend and frequent guest. In socializing with the Bronsons, Whistler would have understood that Maud could not be included among the party.

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

Robert Frederick Blum to Virginia Gerson

Robert Frederick Blum to Virginia Gerson, 1885 Sept. 22

Creator: Robert Frederick Blum

Encouraged by Whistler while he was in Venice, Robert Blum (1857-1903) pursued etching and pastels. On his return to New York, he became close to William Merritt Chase, who married Alice Gerson in 1886. In this illustrated note, Blum teases Virginia Gerson, one of Alice’s sisters, about her future brother-in-law, who was subjecting himself to an intense period of intimacy with Whistler. Each artist had agreed to paint the other, and Blum joked that Chase “must be quite unbearable since Whistler painted his portrait.” But any preening was short-lived. Chase’s portrait of Whistler (1885) is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but because Chase dared to show Whistler as a self-advertising dandy, Whistler destroyed his likeness of Chase.

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

James McNeill Whistler to Katherine Prince

James McNeill Whistler to Katherine Prince, 1885 Feb. 20

Creator: James McNeill Whistler

By the mid-1880s, Whistler felt that his ideas on esthetics were being appropriated and promoted more successfully by his former disciple Oscar Wilde. Partly in response, Whistler wrote the most sustained exposition of his theories on art in the “Ten O’Clock,” a lecture he first delivered to the public on February 20, 1885, at 10 P.M. Alluded to as an “amateur” and a “dilettante,” Wilde returned Whistler’s fire with his own graceful yet deadly retort.

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

James McNeill Whistler to C. B.  Bigelow.

James McNeill Whistler to C. B. Bigelow., 1891 Oct. 5

Creator: James McNeill Whistler

In 1889 American journalist Sheridan Ford approached Whistler about assembling his best letters and witticisms into a book. Whistler thought it was a capital idea, but shortly into the project, he dismissed Ford. Taking the compilation entirely into his own hands, he lavished as much care upon its production as he would have given to an exhibition. The result—The Gentle Art of Making Enemies—was a literary event. As the inaugural effort of the young firm of William Heinemann, the book launched the house as a publisher of the first rank. Ford naturally felt shortchanged, and put out a contraband edition of the anthology. Whistler successfully moved to have the pirated volume suppressed, pursuing Ford through the courts. Whistler may have been unduly harsh in his revenge, but Ford’s edition lacked the elegant layout and typography of the authorized version, so fastidiously designed by the artist. Whistler reports that Ford never returned the money he had been advanced for the book, and that on October 26, 1891, Ford will be prosecuted in Antwerp. Ford was tried in Belgium because he had the manuscript typeset there. He thought that he would be out of Whistler’s reach. Whistler’s lawyer was Albert Maeterlinck, brother of the playwright and poet Maurice Maeterlinck.

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

James McNeill Whistler to Frederick H. Allen

James McNeill Whistler to Frederick H. Allen, 1892 or 1893 June 6

Creator: James McNeill Whistler

Whistler reports that Ford left Paris for New York under an assumed name, and reviles him as “a shocking scoundrel.” He worries that Ford will “slip through the very clever fingers of the New York Police,” and hopes that Ford is sent to “Sing-Sing” or “The Tombs.”

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

Catalogue of a Collection of Etchings and Dry Points by Whistler

Catalogue of a Collection of Etchings and Dry Points by Whistler, 1905 Nov.

Creator: Wunderlich Gallery

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

Oil paintings, Water Colors, Pastels & Drawings.  Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler

Oil paintings, Water Colors, Pastels & Drawings. Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, 1904

Creator: Copley Society (Boston, Mass.)

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces

Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, 1892

Creator: James McNeill Whistler

In 1891 the city of Glasgow acquired Whistler’s portrait of Thomas Carlyle and the French government bought the portrait of his mother. Seeing that the artist’s stock was rising, the Goupil Gallery in London offered him a retrospective exhibition. Nocturnes, Marines, & Chevalet Pieces opened in March 1892. Reprising the format of The Gentle Art, Whistler assembled a catalog of inane remarks that the critics had made about his work and subtitled it, “The Voice of a People.”

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

James McNeill Whistler to J. W. Beck

James McNeill Whistler to J. W. Beck, ca. 1892 July

Creator: James McNeill Whistler

After the Goupil show, British collectors put their paintings by Whistler up for sale and, to the artist’s disgust, reaped the profits. When Whistler was asked to exhibit with the English contingent at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, he retaliated. Invoking past grudges of being “skied”—hung well above eye level—and insulting Sir Frederick Leighton, the Royal Academy’s president, he replied to the secretary of the organizing committee: Pray convey my distinguished consideration to the President, and say that I have an undefined sense of something ominously flattering occurring—but that no previous desire on his part ever to deal with work of mine, has prepared me with the proper sort of acknowledgment. No! no Mr. Beck— “Once hung—twice Sky!”

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

Walter Pach diary

Walter Pach diary, 1903 June 24 through Sept. 14

Creator: Walter Pach

During the summer of 1903, William Merritt Chase, by then a renowned teacher, took his class abroad. In this diary entry made by his student Walter Pach, Chase announces the death of Whistler to the group. Whistler died on July 17, 1903.

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

James McNeill Whistler's palette and brushes

James McNeill Whistler's palette and brushes, ca. 1889

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

James McNeill Whistler to George Washington Lee

James McNeill Whistler to George Washington Lee, ca. 1879

Creator: James McNeill Whistler

After Robert E. Lee died in 1870, his eldest son, General George Washington Custis Lee, headed an effort to memorialize the Confederate military leader with an equestrian statue. Whistler drafted a letter to G.W. Lee recommending the sculptor Joseph Boehm for the commission. Whistler and G.W. Lee had been cadets at West Point when Robert E. Lee had been the Academy’s superintendent. In closing, Whistler wrote, “Let me recall myself to your recollection as an old West Point comrade who has never forgotten the high opinion all held of yourself and the veneration we had of your Father.”

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

Wilde v. Whistler: Being an Acrimonious Correspondence on Art between Oscar Wilde and James A. McNeill Whistler

Wilde v. Whistler: Being an Acrimonious Correspondence on Art between Oscar Wilde and James A. McNeill Whistler, 1906

Creator: Oscar Wilde

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

Etchings by James McNeill Whistler

Etchings by James McNeill Whistler, ca. 1903

Creator: St. Botolph Club

After Whistler’s death in 1903, memorial exhibitions were held in Boston, London, and Paris. In conjunction with these tributes, Whistler’s acquaintances, both those in his favor and those he had excommunicated, rushed to publish reminiscences about him. A self-proclaimed “follower” of Whistler, the Australian-born painter Mortimer Menpes, to whom Whistler had not spoken since 1889, was the first to break into print with a significant memoir. His Whistler As I Knew Him appeared in 1904. Joseph and Elizabeth Pennell, American expatriates who moved to London in the 1880s, attached themselves to Whistler during his life and became his biographers after his death. Their controversial Life of James McNeill Whistler, initially published in 1908, went through six editions. Most of the books published immediately after Whistler’s death emulated the artist’s favored typography and color combinations and displayed the butterfly signature.

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

James McNeill Whistler letter to John White Alexander

James McNeill Whistler letter to John White Alexander, ca. 1896-1901

Creator: James McNeill Whistler

Whistler never stopped using mourning stationery. His correspondent was the descendant of a family he and his parents had known in Lowell. Whistler first leased the studio at 8 Fitzroy Street in March 1896, two months before Beatrice died. Earlier that year, Sargent had kindly lent his studio at 76 Fulham Road to the distraught Whistler.

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

F. W. (Fitzwilliam) Sargent, Nice, France letter to Thomas Sargent

F. W. (Fitzwilliam) Sargent, Nice, France letter to Thomas Sargent, 1886 May 13

Creator: F. W. (Fitzwilliam) Sargent

Dr. Sargent explains that his son is moving from Paris to London.

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

F. W. (Fitzwilliam) Sargent, Cadenabbia, Italy letter to Thomas Sargent

F. W. (Fitzwilliam) Sargent, Cadenabbia, Italy letter to Thomas Sargent, 1884 June 17

Creator: F. W. (Fitzwilliam) Sargent

Dr. Fitzwilliam Sargent (1820-1889), the painter’s father, retired from his practice as a surgeon in Philadelphia to travel with his family throughout Europe. He steadily wrote to his brother, Thomas Sargent, and seldom failed to include reports about his son’s career. Here he writes that John “talks of going to Spain later on in the season, where he hopes to find some subjects for pictures. Spain affords more such suggestions than any other European country … and it is less visited than most countries and offers more that is novel and picturesque at the same time, baronial-looking beggars, weird-looking gipseys [sic] and smugglers and dancers and peasants, all in their quaint and old-time costumes, together with bull-fights and brigands.”

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

John Singer Sargent's studio at 31 Tite Street, Chelsea, England

John Singer Sargent's studio at 31 Tite Street, Chelsea, England, ca. 1920

After Sargent relocated to England in 1886, he took this Tite Street studio recently vacated by Whistler.

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent, ca. 1880

Whereas most of the American artists Whistler knew in the early 1880s returned home after their studies, Whistler maintained significant relationships with two distinguished American artists who elected to remain abroad. Impressionist Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) first chose to live in France in 1866. Like Whistler, she had studied Spanish art and Japanese prints, and he respected her paintings and graphic work. In between 1883 and 1885, he painted a portrait of her sister-in-law, Lois Cassatt. Mary Cassatt wrote to her brother about the portrait, “I don’t think you could have done better, it is a work of art and as young Sargent said to Mother … it is a good thing to have a portrait by Whistler in the family.” “Young Sargent” was John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), who met Whistler in Venice. Whistler could not take issue with Sargent’s character, but he resented the latter’s ascent as a portraitist in the 1890s. However, Sargent never failed to treat the older man with kindness and deference.

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

James McNeill Whistler note to unidentified recipient, Cambridge, England

James McNeill Whistler note to unidentified recipient, Cambridge, England, 1896

Creator: James McNeill Whistler

Beatrice Whistler died on May 10, 1896, two days short of her thirty-eighth birthday. Her illness was long, painful, and devastating for Whistler to witness. The couple spent two years fruitlessly seeking a cure for her cancer, which was then untreatable.

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

James McNeill Whistler to Susie Sutton

James McNeill Whistler to Susie Sutton, 18--

Creator: James McNeill Whistler

Whistler never stopped using mourning stationery. His correspondent was the descendant of a family he and his parents had known in Lowell. Whistler first leased the studio at 8 Fitzroy Street in March 1896, two months before Beatrice died. Earlier that year, Sargent had kindly lent his studio at 76 Fulham Road to the distraught Whistler.

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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art

Typescript of an interview of Elizabeth Alexander

Typescript of an interview of Elizabeth Alexander, 1928 Jan. 24

Creator: Elizabeth Alexander

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