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James McNeill Whistler collection, 1863-1906

More Information

Stephanie Ashley
Scope and Contents
The collection measures 0.2 linear feet and provides scattered documentation of the career of American-born British-based painter and etcher James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) through 39 items from Whistler to various recipients, including 25 letters, 9 telegraphs, 3 invitations, one thank you card and a postcard. The collection also contains 4 letters from others, 7 catalogs of Whistler exhibitions, a note from the back of Whistler's painting The Beach at Selsey Bill, and a 1906 copy of Wilde v. Whistler: being an acromonious correspondence on art between Oscar Wilde and James A. McNeill Whistler, a pamphlet containing letters originally published in London newspapers between 1885 and 1890.
The Whistler letters found here touch on some important events in Whistler's career. One letter to George Lucas, an American art dealer in Paris, discusses his plans to send Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl to the Paris Salon of 1863. Rejected by the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1862, the painting was also refused by the Paris Salon but shown ultimately in the landmark exhibition at the Salon des Refus├ęs.
Also found are a circa 1879 letter to the eldest son of Robert E. Lee, General George Washington Custis Lee, with whom Whistler had been a cadet at West Point, recommending sculptor Joseph Boehm for an equestrian statue for memorializing Lee and expressing Whistler's veneration for the Confederate general; a circa 1880 letter from Whistler, written during his 14 months in Venice, to Katharine de Kay Bronson, who presided over the expatriate community there; 2 circa 1892-1893 letters documenting Whistler's determination to pursue Sheridan Ford through the courts in response to Ford's publication of a contraband version of Whistler's book The Gentle Art of Making Enemies; and a circa 1897 letter to J. W. Beck, sent in response to Beck's request on behalf of the Royal Academy that he exhibit with the British contingent at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In the letter Whistler insults Sir Frederic Leighton, the Royal Academy's president, retaliating against previous slights including having his paintings hung well above eye-level, or "skied".
Although few, if any, records survive about the creation of The Company of the Butterfly, a syndicate established in 1897 for selling Whistler's work, the collection contains one letter from Christine Anderson, the secretary of the Company, to one of it's first clients, Herbert Charles Pollitt.
The collection also contains an 1883 invitation from Whistler to Dr. Swan Burnett and his wife, children's author Frances Hodgson Burnett, to view etchings and drypoints and a note written by Whistler and signed with the butterfly, taken from the back of the painting Beach at Selsey Bill (1865).
Seven catalogs dating from 1892-1910 and circa 1940 document Whistler exhibitions in London and the United States.
Seven of the Whistler items are signed with his butterfly signature and all letters sent after his wife's death in May 1896 are on mourning stationary.
The collection was compiled from a series of accessions donated between 1959 and 2003. Most of the items in the collection were given to the Archives of American Art by Charles Feinberg in 1959. The pamphlet Wilde v. Whistler was donated by Mrs. Lois Field in 1964 and an invitation to Dr. and Mrs. Burnett was donated by Martha Fleischman in 2003.
Related Material
The Archives holds several collections relating to James McNeill Whistler including the Katherine Prince collection relating to James McNeill Whistler, 1835- 1892; Edward Guthrie Kennedy papers concerning James McNeill Whistler in the New York Public Library, 1850-1902 and Selected papers concerning James McNeill Whistler in the New York Public Library, 1830-1950 (available on microfilm only, reel N25; originals reside at the New York Public Library); and James McNeill Whistler collection in the University of Glasgow, Special Collections, circa 1830-1963 (available on microfilm only, reels 4600-4611 and 4683-4699; originals reside in the Glasgow University Library, Dept. of Special Collections).
Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art
Processing Information
The collection was fully processed and a finding aid prepared by Stephanie Ashley in 2011. The collection was digitized in its entirety in 2011. Processing and digitization of the collection were funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art.