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The new life of Whistler.

A Fortnightly Review of

The Life of James McNeill Whistler
By Elizabeth Robins Pennell and Joseph Pennell

William Heinemann 1908 | 2 Vols. | $89.98

By WALTER SICKERT.

IN MR. AND MRS. PENNELL’S Life of Whistler the authors tell us how Whistler would imitate two men fighting outside a door, so cleverly that the spectators never ceased to be astonished when the painter walked into the room, alone, unruffled, and unhurt. This, the most recent of the three biographies of Whistler that have yet appeared, filled as it is with interest and information, reminds me a little of the above-mentioned charge d’atelier. We are told how a wicked critic over the signature D.S.M. ventured — naughty man — to write too fully of Manet and Fantin, and insufficiently of Whistler. How the new English Art Club in 1896, “to their shame,” hung some works by a man with whom Whistler had had a quarrel. The air is thick with “enemies.” Artists were “afraid” to support Whistler in the Eden case. Of what, or whom, the authors do not tell us. Altogether we get an admirable illusion of mêlée in an acute state of actuality, and at the end we rub our eyes when Mr. and Mrs. Pennell emerge, smiling, alone, and unhurt.

Some instance is made by the writers on the fact that Whistler himself authorised this biography. We do not care much whether he did or whether he did not. I can, if I like, write the lives of Menelik and Queen Taitu, and I am in no way bound to obtain their Majesties’ consent, except perhaps for an Abyssinian edition. Mr. and Mrs. Pennell tell us that they succeeded in keeping their subject under close personal observation for the last two years of his life. They have to record only one symptom of restiveness under the process. “You want to make an old master of me before my time!”

The book…gains in including much that has to be garnered quickly…The loss is in a certain heated tone.

The book both suffers and gains from this manner of execution. It gains in including much that has to be garnered quickly, while memories are fresh, and while willing and friendly witnesses are still living. The loss is in a certain heated tone. We ask ourselves from time to time: — “Am I reading a life of Whistler, or am I reading amended and supplementary pleadings in the recent suit of Philip v. Pennell?” “Je constate, je n’apprécie pas,” is a statement often heard in the French law-courts. Mr. and Mrs. Pennell, on the contrary, comment freely, but narrate somewhat carelessly. They accept gratefully, and embody gravely, stories about Whistler to which jocular writers have for years given currency, where careful narration would have been more interesting. “He said he had wiped the floor with his adversary,” for instance, does not add much to our exact knowledge of the matter in hand.

Errors of taste are easy to allege, and one may espy them where another does not. I once had the honour of discussing in the presence of Mr. Steer a question of the admissibility of a certain caricature signed “Max,” on the score of taste. “Taste! taste!” said Mr. Steer, “I think it extremely bad taste of ‘Max’ to give me large feet!” So it may well be that those of us, to whom Mr. and Mrs. Pennell have given large feet, may view their errors more severely than do others. Judging only by what is within the four covers of these two volumes, there seems to me to be one failure in tenue, which is illogical. I mean the attitude throughout towards Whistler’s sister-in-law, heiress and executrix. To record the petulant outburst of a dying man to a lady of his family, who brings him a cap of beef-tea, is not what Whistler would have considered “West-Point.” At a guess I should say that Whistler would not have “authorised” this, among other passages. Mr. and Mrs. Pennell say in their preface that they have considered the writing of this biography as a sacred trust. To carry out the work in this spirit a respectful and sympathetic attitude was surely indicatissimo towards the lady, in whom Whistler would not have formally vested certain powers if he had not intended her to exercise them.

There is hardly anyone who has not at times said things so silly and so pointless that the first function of friendship is to forget them. Under this heading comes a paragraph which purports to be a jocular description of Beardsley by Whistler. I once dropped a copper plate I was printing in Whistler’s presence. “How like you!” said Whistler. Five minutes afterwards the improbable happened. Whistler, who was never clumsy, dropped one himself. There was pause. “How unlike me!” The remarks on Beardsley are not only unlike Beardsley, but unlike Whistler. When the truth is improbable, it had perhaps better not be recorded.

But I set out with the intention of whipping quite other cats than these. As I run through the chronicle of the years and events that have interested me most keenly, I ask myself in what has our comprehension of Whistler’s talent altered by the observation and reflection of a quarter of a century? It was in 1892 that I may be said to have wound up in these columns a defence of Whistler begun in 1882 by a convaincu paragraph to the Pall Mall Gazette duly recorded on p. 309 of the biography. It was a defence that was carried on with some obstinacy in whatever papers would put up with it. In Truth, in the Pall Mall Gazette, the Whirlwind, the London edition of the New York Herald, the Speaker, and the Saturday Review, I insisted, in season and out of season, on the excellence and importance of Whistler’s work. “See here, MR. Sickert,” said the sub-editor of the New York Herald is a Whistler organ.” Mr. Pennell was meanwhile scolding the Royal Academy in unison regularly once or twice a week in an evening paper. Mr. George Moore wheeled into lined with us. Miss Goold allowed me to arrange a Whistler exhibition in the rooms of the working women’s college, in the beautiful old house in Queen Square. This dress rehearsal was followed by the important retrospective exhibition at Goupil’s organised by Mr. Croal Thomson, and the walls of Jericho may be said to have fallen.

Since then everyone is plus royaliste que le roi. The snobisme (not to be confounded with snobbishness) which has seized on Whistler’s hardly-won reputation is as innocent in its manifestations of enthusiasm, as were the gibes of the ‘eighties on their side’. Shall I tell eleventh-hour Whistlerians, for instance, that the coloured reproduction of the portrait of the painter’s mother that they are inclined to flaunt as the outward symbol of their faith is not so much liked by those who have, all their lives, had clearly present to their minds the exact character of the exquisitely observed profile of the old Puritan lady, as it is by recent converts. “Wenn Sie so lange Christ gewesen sind wie ich, dann gehen Sie nicht mehr in die Kirche,” said a friend of mine in Hamburg, to a Christianised Jew of his acquaintance, whom he met hastening to church. Mr. Frank Rutter has told in a recent lecture, a charming story. A business man of much culture and ability asked him recently the following question, “How many versions did Whistler paint of the portrait of his mother?” Mr. Rutter paled. He was perhaps on the track of an interesting discovery. “One, so far as I know,” he faltered. “And where is that?” “In the Luxembourg.” “I am sure you are mistaken. I saw a small version the other day in the window of a Bond Street dealer.”

It was Whistler’s incessant preoccupation to present himself as having sprung completely armed from nowhere.

IT WAS WHISTLER’S INCESSANT preoccupation to present himself as having sprung completely armed from nowhere. And it certainly was a flaw in his philosophy that he did not understand that it is no shame to be born. In matters of trade it is doubtless necessary to defend the originality and copyright of your trade-mark with vigilance. But pretensions of that kind are useless and confusing to the serious study of art. I can think of no artist who understood the perfectly becoming attitude in this matter as well as did La Bruyère. La Bruyère said, in effect, to his readers: — “I have studied the Characters of Theophrastus with such pleasure that I offer you herewith my translation of them. This study has led me to make some essays in the manner of the master, which I have ventured to bind up in the same volume, for those who care to peruse them.” La Bruyère lost nothing by this proceeding. I imagine that more readers know Theophrastus through La Bruyère than the other way about. Pissarro is in no way lessened if a student is told, as a point of departure: — “You may consider him as a kind of Courbey grafted on to a Corot.” We are only by this means inducted into a sympathetic comprehension, which is likely to take us quicker and further along the path of Pissarro’s life-work, and make us appreciate more intensely the great resultant, of which his very self remains, naturally, by far the preponderant factor.

Then there is not only the cradle of an artist’s talent to be sought. There is the immense part played by the action and re-action of contemporaries on each other. Accent and manners are formed in art, as in life, by habits and of association. Certain groups are inseparable. The whole 1830 group hangs together. None of the Impressionists — and I wish it could be agreed to use the name, solely and definitely, for the members of the original group who first accepted the description — would have been exactly what they are without the mutual influence and stimulus that each exercised on all the others. Influences not necessarily, even, of agreement, influences, sometimes of contractions. An excellent example is the influence of Bracquemond on Degas and Pissarro in etching. Bracquemond, the accomplished technician in his craft, seems to have inspired the artists who consulted him with a desire to try, at every point, exactly the opposite course to that recommended. The French logic of curiosity was roused. “And suppose we pursue the opposite course to its logical issue, what shall we find?” Exact knowledge is gained in this way. I remember a speech of the late Lord Goschen in which he said that his father had made it a rule to avoid entirely any compromise in business. Not, if I remember rightly, he said, because a compromise might not in certain cases give the best results, but because it taught you nothing. That is the clue to much that seems, to us in England, extravagant in modern French art. “A cave, did you say?” they say, “With no issue? Dangerous? Give me a candle at once that I may go to the very end of it!”

Mr. Pennell has pointed out with great acuteness that the Thames etchings owe much to Whistler’s apprenticeship in engraving for the coast-survey in Washington. Here we have a most interesting point. Into the French art-culture is imported a grain from the mechanism of a scientific craft as practised in America. It flowers and gives us a tertium quid, the etched work of Whistler which is unique of its kind. Mr. Bernhard Sickert points out in his biography that it is misleading to say that Whistler drew every brick and every tile in certain parts of the Thames set. I am inclined to think he is right, and that certain patterns, indicated from nature, were filled in at home, with the microscope from Washington lying handy on the etcher’s table.

If Whistler in etching is not what orthodox Whistlerians, including my younger self, have claimed for him, his riper work in that medium is a feast of facile and dainty sketching on copper. And let those who despise sketching remember that there are certain truths, certain beauties, certain swift relations between the thrilled observer and the fleeting beam of light, of which sketching, and sketching alone, is the human and intellectual expression. While they must admit this, I hasten to concede that the highest and strongest flights are not to the mere sketcher. And further, a truth which demolishes the sketcher, even on his own ground, it is only the artist whose sketching is informed by the necessity of making it a means to something further who touches the high-water mark of excellence in the sketches themselves. As a sketcher, Turner is superior to Brabazon. The author of the “Entrance to Calais Harbour” sketches with quite another intensity and intelligence than that of a man whose hit-or-miss is to be its own sole end and aim. The mere sketcher inevitably runs to seed, and ends by babbling. If the sketcher is the profligate, the builder of works is alone the patriarch. I understand now, what I did not understand in the ‘eighties, why Keene cared more for Whistler’s painting than for his etching.

Tu sais Whistler, c’est bon de faire le charlatan à Londres: ici ça ne prendra pas,” though quoted in reprobation, perhaps expresses the opinion of nine out of ten of Frenchmen on Whistler’s campaigning, as apart from his work. Nor need we repudiate the word “charlatan” with too much indignation. I know that now any words of force and savour must be avoided in England. Wormwood Scrubs is North Kensington, and a cripple must be called an “afflicted gentleman.” But if the charlatan attracts us to his booth by strange devices, it is said that he takes your teeth out better than his more academic brother.

THE REAL DIS-SERVICE that Whistler risked doing to art was the determined effort he made to buttress up any weaknesses in the walls of his own citadel, by the promulgation of somewhat arbitrary little decrees or bulls. There was almost a risk that a whole generation would swallow these edicts with their eyes shut.

Great insistence, for instance, has been laid on the fact that Whistler always printed his own etchings. It is not uncommon now, in consequence, to meet with these two propositions, somewhat hesitatingly formulated, it is true. Firstly, that it was in some way a merit in Whistler that he did plates that were so high-class that no professional could print them! Secondly, that professional printers are somewhat inferior and mechanical beings, not fit to be entrusted with really exquisite work! I believe the reverse of both these propositions to be true. An incomplete or incoherent plate can be veiled and explained by leaving tone on in the printing. In this a step has really been taken in the direction of monotype, and, of course, only the etcher of the plate himself can print the first proof. But this must not be set up as a merit. It is a weakness. In the abstract, the best and most completely equipped etcher is he who leaves the plate in such a state that a competent printer cannot fail to give adequate and uniform proofs. Between ourselves, I do not believe that any etcher can be the equal, as a printer, of the professional printer, for the same reasons that a barber can shave you better than you can shave yourself. I must say I am inclined to see the pretensions of an etcher to insist on the fact that he prints whole editions himself, a touch of mystification. “Il y a du bluff dans tout ça.”

Then, again, that it is a virtue to etch from nature, and a sin not to do so. So that the criticism that I have to make on the Venice etchings will sound, I fear, in the ears of the faithful, almost like a blasphemy. My criticism is in the form of a suggestion to some publisher in England or America who can see three yards ahead of his fellows. Let him bring out a book of good reproductions of the Venice etchings reversed, the same size as the originals. Let there be a brief, careful, topographical note to each, by someone who knows Venice well from San Simeone Profeta to San Pietro di Castello. Let us enjoy, for the first time, without having to reverse them in a looking-glass, the witty comments of the hand that flew like a swallow over the surface of the copper, in lyrical appreciation of the loveliest city in the world. I do not want to think I am looking along the Riva towards the Via Garibaldi when I am really looking towards the Ducal Palace. It worries me, and spoils my pleasure to see the Salute on the Giudecca and San Giorgio on the Zattere. Whistler is great, but so is Venice, pace always Mr. and Mrs. Pennell. The transfer-lithographs have some of the same qualities of light and happy sketching as have the etchings. But do not let us call Whistler, as Mrs. Pennell does, “The master of the lithograph.” What are we then to call Daumier? Let us keep our heads and call Whistler one of the most distinguished pioneers of transfer-lithography.

For the understanding of Whistler’s painting, I had the good fortune to be prepared, in the ‘seventies, by the fact that I had received my earliest artistic education from two painters, both also affiliated to the French school. The one was my father, who has studied at Couture’s, and was influenced by Courbet, and the other was Otto Scholderer, who had been subjected to the same influences. Scholderer’s gentle, intelligent face is recorded for us by Fantin in the famous studio group in the Luxembourg, with Manet seated at the easel. The language of painting is like any other language. It can only be currently read by those who have learnt it and are in the habit of hearing it spoken around them.

He has the great good fortune to learn painting in Paris, while the traditions of David, and Ingres, and Delacroix were still vivid…

If Whistler has himself left, in an interesting and passionately felt life-work, a contribution to our better understanding of the visible world, he has also done another thing. He has sent the more intelligent of the generation that succeeds him to the springs whence he drew his own art — to French soil. He has the great good fortune to learn painting in Paris, while the traditions of David, and Ingres, and Delacroix were still vivid, and his talent had the extraordinary instinct of self-preservation through years learnt from Gleyre, Lecocq de Boisbaudran, Courbet, and Fantin. That instinct of self-preservation in a talent is what constitutes genius. George Moore has quoted Degas: “Tout le monde a du talent à vingt-cinq ans. La difficulté est d’en avoir à cinquante.”

I regret to say that I am altogether at variance with every one of the three biographers of Whistler in my view of the course that was run by Whistler’s talent as a painter. Neither with Way and Dennis, with Bernhard Sickert, nor with Mr. and Mrs. Pennell do I quite see eye to eye.

It would take a profound philosopher to examine the reasons why certain acts, accomplishments, crafts, sports, tend, at a given period, to be at their best and most intense in certain countries, and in others to grow only unwillingly in the manner of religions that are not indigenous, but imported, and only languish in exotic chapels. Speaking under much correction, I imagine that certain developments in instrumental music are at home in Germany, that the genius of song may be said to be lodged in Italy. Certain things are perhaps better understood about carving marble within reach, either of Carrara or Pentelicus, than elsewhere. Those curious of the refinements of criticism in bull-fighting would, I suppose, go to Spain to study them; of football or cricket, to England or the English colonies. And so I believe that, for some reasons to me hidden and inscrutable, the genius of painting still havors over Paris, and must be wooed on the banks of the Seine.

Are these reasons or are they symptoms? I do not know. Firstly, the best pictures in France have been at some time cheap. Claude Monet sold some canvases in the ‘seventies for £4, and many since for £12. So that people of moderate means in France have always been able to collect. Artists in Paris wisely make no attempt to mingle in the life of the gens du monde. “Non, mon ami, nous ne dressons pas,” was the playful answer I heard given by one of the greatest living artists to an Englishman whom he had invited to dinner. Economy forms part of the life-blood of the French, so there is a little money available, not only for the dots of the daughters, but for a picture or two a year. Hats, motors, whisky, and bridge are smaller items in a French, than in an English, budget. A painter in England is introduced to a peer. He sees, at last, in his mind, the patron who will enable him to realise a great life work. Not a bit of it! The brute paints in water colours himself! He knows just enough not to think very highly of the professional’s work; but he is anxious for “wrinkles” in technique, and for the painter’s vote and interest on the hanging committee of his Academy.

LA PEINTURE,” the phrase conveys a whole host of definite principles and associations in French. To translate it, “the art of painting,” conveys nothing of the kind. Shall I venture on the impossible task of hinting at a definition? An evocation, shall I say, produced in accordance with certain laws known to everyone, great and small, in Paris? As much as, and the kind of truth, shall I say? as can be expressed by the clean and frank juxtaposition of pastes (pâtes), considered as opaque, rather than as transparent, and related to each other in colour and value by the deliberate and conscious act of the painter. And in order to make clearer my conception of the positive, shall I hint at the nature of the negative? The staining of a white canvas in the manner of a water colour is not “la peinture”; nor is the muffling up of the painting in the indecision of universal glaze. “La peinture” is as fresh and clean in colour as a fresh herring, while the pictures that are glazed can at most be said to be kippered. We may perhaps say that glazing has been the vice of English painting. An example, once for all, of la bonne peinture is perhaps better than words. At Messrs. Obach’s gallery in Bond Street may now be seen Le passage du ravin by Géricauld. Here is a concentrated instance of la bonne peinture of the men of 1830, which, please remark, not only geniuses and phoenixes practised at that time, but all French painters. Here is the fine flower of the French technique of the period. Here is painting as good as painting, as the lithography of Daumier is, as lithography, or the etching of Karel Dujardin, as etching. Here is the same painting as that of Delacroix, shall we say saner, or shall we say less inspired? These judgments are not for me, I am not a student, and not a pontiff.

This was the living art, this was the generous French pot-au-feu into which Courbet dipped his ladle to such good effect, and later Whistler. “Il a du talent le petit Whistler,” Courbet used to say, “mais il fait toujours le ciel trop bas, ou l’horizon trop haut.” Japan was breaking up the admirable bonne peinture of Paris. Whistler’s talent survived the internal conflict, the only real one for him, and evolved in his Nocturnes, his little streets, and seas, and shops, that something new which justifies an artist for his existence.

I see Whistler settling in London towards 1860, at first puzzled, bewildered, and no wonder.

Navire loin du vrai port assablé!

He had come from the wholesome, rigid common sense of Paris, the positive knowledge of his art, by which he was there surrounded, to the lilies and languors of the Chelsea amateurs. I had almost written “æsthetes,” when I reflected that they were perhaps anything but perceivers. “Rossetti,” said Whistler once in a burst of frankness, “Rossetti is not a painter, Rossetti is a ladies’ maid!”

Imagine, let us say, W. G. Grace, settling at Arles or Tours, at the age of twenty-five, and getting, for the rest of his life, such practice in cricket only as Arles or Tours could afford him. His cricket would certainly not have been what it is now. It would have become something different. Has anyone the temerity to assert that it would have been better?

I see la bonne peinture breaking up. A confusion — how natural to a young man so isolated — creeping in upon him. Perhaps the æsthetes were right? Perhaps he could retain his good painting and yet satisfy the English thirst for sentimentality? Suppose we get the loveliest woman procurable, and put her in the finest robe imaginable! Suppose we even design the dress! Greco-crinoline, shall it be? No, Japanese, perhaps? Let us surround her with the most precious china! Let there be sprays of azalea, and so on! Perhaps we shall thus create a very Paradise of art! Who knows? Ought not the product to be a very syrup of the purest taste? Why should it not be able to contain la bonne peinture as well?

Again I find it difficult to say why it cannot, but we all know what it cannot. Maybe by some such law as makes it difficult for a man to market, and cook his dinner, and then dine with pleasure. Perhaps Canaletto would not have painted such fine pictures if he had first to build a city and then paint it. Taste is the death of a painter. He has all his work cut out for him, observing and recording. His poetry is in the interpretation of ready-made life. He has no business to have time for preferences. Of the greatest artists in literary presentation, we have heard it said, that, at the end they leave us ignorant of their own opinion, or of the direction of their sympathies with the characters they present.

So here we have on the one hand Whistler tying Mrs. Leyland’s dress up with little ribbons, and placing bows of preordained colours at thought-out points. We have him locating her in a confused Paradise of invented check-patterns, and apple blossoms, in a nowhere of his own, and producing a very wreck of a painting, while Renoir, in Paris, makes a classic of a plump little lady, standing simply in her bourgeois salon, in her black silk Sunday dress, as it was sent home to her by her dressmaker.

In “Symphony in White, No. 3,” we get the culbute. A bad picture, lâchons le mot, badly composed, badly drawn, badly painted, the low-water mark of the old manner, before the birth of the new. Folds of drapery are expressed by ribbons of paint in the direction of the folds themselves, with hard edges to them. Only painters can quite understand the depth of technical infamy confessed in this last description. It means that the drapery is no longer painted, but intended. The picture interests us in England, who are sentimental, and care little for painting. Something in the expression of the eyes of the girl on the sofa has preserved for us a hint of a young man’s admiration. But painting is a rough-tongued, hard-faced mistress, and her severe rule will brook no dallying of that sort. It would have been good to hear one of the masters, under whom Whistler studied in Paris, on “Symphony in White, No. 3.” “Ca ne prendra pas ici.”

Mr. George Moore has written a rhapsody of appreciation on the portrait of Miss Alexander, regardless of the dangers that beset a novelist, when he navigates the difficult waters of technical criticism, in an art which is not his own. “Are you sure,” says the nervous tourist, in the story, to the boatman from Marseilles, who is taking him for a row, “that we are safe here Are there not hidden rocks?” “There are,” says the boatman, “but I know them every one by heart.” At that moment the boat splits upon one: “Tenez!” says the boatman, “en voilà justement un!” So to the eternal joy of the studios, has Mr. Moore explained to us how the skirt in the portrait of Miss Alexander was painted by lifting the white paint off a black ground with a dry brush! But we will let bygones be bygones! I doubt if Mr. Moore still thinks the Miss Alexander a masterpiece. It is a scholarly and most interesting wreck by a man with a divine talent for painting, who had not yet found his way.

A happy accident of contract was to be the germ of an admirable portrait-formula, that served Whistler through half his life-sized canvases. In the old Lindsay Row Studio was a black door, which furnished him with a background for the admirable Rosa Corder. The manner in which the figure was relieved on this ground enchanted him. He adopted the same formula for the Leyland, in preference to the light ground suggested in the sketch. When he moved to Tite Street, he had a large square of black velvet sewn together and hung from a cross-tree. The formula of black on black served him for the Sir Henry Cole, for many of the versions of Maud, for the Lady Archibald Campbell, the Mrs. Forster (alas destroyed), the Sarasate, one of the three portraits of Lady Meux, and many others. Mr. and Mrs. Pennell in speaking of the Leyland, fall, it seems to me, into a confusion when they say that Whistler here adopted a background of atmosphere. The black was not intended to represent atmosphere, but a black background, in front of which, of course, was admirably observed atmosphere. Degas said of the Lady Archibald Campbell, “Elle rentre dans la cave de Watteau.”

OF THE NOCTURNES, everything that can be said has, it seems to me, been written. I think the best treatment of that branch of Whistler’s work is to be found in Bernhard Sickert’s little book. Whistler was always very angry with Godwin for having written that the Nocturnes were “so original as to be entirely Japanesque.” While it must be admitted that Godwin here made a bull, he perhaps put, in this quaint form, a criticism which was not wanting in point.

I imagine that, with time, it will be seen that Whistler expressed the essence of his talent in his little panels, pochades, it is true, in measurement, but masterpieces of classic painting in importance. While his maturer etching inclined to a superficial hinting, to a witty suggestion, of form, what our national critic has called “pirouetting on paper,” the paintings have always weight. The relation and keeping of the tone is marvellous in its severe restriction. It is this that is strong painting. No sign of effort, with immense result. He will give you in a space nine inches by four an angry sea, piled up, and running in, as no painter ever did before. The extraordinary beauty and truth of the relative colours, and the exquisite precision of the spaces, have compelled infinity and movement into an architectural formula of eternal beauty. Never was instrument better understood and more fully exploited than Whistler has understood and exploited oil paint in these panels. He has solved in them a problem that had hitherto seemed insoluble: to give a result of deliberateness to a work doe in a few hours from nature. It was the admirable preliminary order in his mind, the perfect peace at which his art was with itself, that enabled him to aim at and bring down quarry which, to anyone else, would have seemed intangible and altogether elusive.

It was always a grief and annoyance to those who loved and admired these rare and precious qualities in Whistler that he would so constantly leave his easel for his writing desk.

It was always a grief and annoyance to those who loved and admired these rare and precious qualities in Whistler that he would so constantly leave his easel for his writing desk. Sitters would wait for hours in the studio while he polished a little squib for Mr. Edmund Yates. For the literary preparation of the collected quarrels, the studio fire was needs let out for months at a time, to the benefit, maybe, of the booksellers, but at an irreparable loss to art. A painter must not quarrel. It makes his hand tremble, and destroys the serenity of his contemplation of nature, which is often the only thing the poor devil has got. Goethe’s words to Echermann cannot be too often quoted: “He who wants to work in the right way must never scold, must not concern himself at all with what is being done in the wrong way, but must simply continue to work in the right way himself.”

Among the cloud of witnesses called by Mr. and Mrs. Pennell we get delightful and touching glimpses of the light of far-away days. The diary of the painter’s mother depicts the child the same as was the man I knew. Sunny, courageous, handsome, soigné. Entertaining, serviable, gracious, good-natured, easy-going. A charmeur and a dandy, with a passion for work. A heart that was ever lifted up by its courage and genius. A beacon of light and happiness to everyone who was privileged to come within its comforting and brightening rays. If, as it seems to me, humanity composed but of two categories, the invalids and the nurses, Whistler was certainly one of the nurses.


Walter Sickert (1860-1942) was a British painter, a celebrated member of the Camden Town Group. Twenty years before the Post-Impresssionist exhibition, Roger Fry attended Sickert’s evening classes at The Vale, in Chelsea. This essay originally appeared in The Fortnightly Review, December 1908, vol 84 (NS). It has been manually transcribed for the New Series.

This transcription © 2018 The Fortnightly Review.

See also Manin Young’s essay, “Roger Fry, Walter Sickert and Post-Impressionism at the Grafton Galleries“, elsewhere in the New Series.

A carefully annotated version of this review appears in  Complete Writings on Art, Anna G. Robins, ed.

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