Whistler

WHO was Charles Gleyre ? To ask and to answer that question in approaching the art of the late James McNeill Whistler is to draw much nearer, I think, to what is interesting in the genesis of that art, than if we seek to learn where and when the American painter and etcher was born, who his parents were, and all the other things that are supposed to count, and usually do count, in the development of a man’s genius. In Whistler’s case they do not count at all, and only the compilers of reference books need trouble themselves about the vexed question as to whether he was born in 1834 or 1835, in Baltimore or St. Petersburg. He was, himself, always rather mysterious on these points. Perhaps he realized their unimportance, and, in his quizzical way, amused himself by evading the importunities of the intrusive biographer. The well-known story of his youthful indiscretion at West Point tells us nothing essential. After the death of his father, Major George Washington Whistler, who had been summoned to Russia by the Czar Nicholas, to supervise the construction of a railway there, he returned to this country with Mrs. Whistler, and entered the Academy on the Hudson. The famous Coast Survey plate on which he etched half-a-dozen irrelevant heads, thereby inviting a rebuke from his superior, and bringing about the abrupt termination of his military career, is a souvenir of his wayward temper, — nothing more. No, the first salient fact by which we are confronted in his record is his entrance into Gleyre’s studio in 1856, and so I return to my question.

Gleyre was a born classicist, a devoted conservator of those principles upon which Ingres had placed his imprimatur, — the only principles, as they thought, which it was rational for French art to follow. Obviously they were, in a measure, wrong. Géricault proved it, Delacroix proved it, the works of all the Romantic and Naturalistic painters, both figure compositions and landscapes, remain an irrefragable proof that Ingres and Gleyre went too far in their academic fury against all things not academic. Less obviously, perhaps, but conclusively enough, they were, in a measure, right. At least they were in harmony with the French genius; at least they preached, in their gospel of “ the rectitude of art,” the truth that is at the bottom of the most characteristic things in the Salon to-day. But Gleyre, as Whistler’s master, ceases for the moment to represent the continuity of French practice — he becomes a protagonist in the great artistic quarrel of the nineteenth century, that between tradition and temperament. Looking back at the pair in those early days, both men are perceived in a peculiarly interesting light. Gleyre stands for everything that has been formulated and accepted. Whistler, a mere youth, is already bent upon revolution, and the odd thing is that all his resources for the struggle were accumulated in his own nature ; he drew nothing from the comrades who, like himself, sought an outlet from the stifling atmosphere of the Academy. That is why his period of pupilage is so important to remember. Even then he was a kind of solitary, the influence of Gleyre only serving to accentuate his detachment from the reigning school. Never in later life did he more vividly demonstrate his title to a place apart in modern art than when he defied the very representative of officialdom to whom he had come to be taught.

I have said that he drew nothing from his more independent comrades. Degas was among them ; he knew other Frenchmen since become celebrated, like that painter, for successful rebellion against routine, and he shared in their high erected talk. He did not share in any of their new movements to the extent of trying to do what they were trying to do. If he suffered rejection with Manet, for example, from the Salon, and thereupon sought recompense, with that artist, in the Salon des Refusés, it was by virtue of qualities entirely his own, and bearing the stamp of no school, impressionistic or what not, that he was scorned in the one place and welcomed in the other. I name Manet at this point because the contrast between his work and Whistler’s in their time of trial is especially suggestive. The Frenchman’s great sensation in the Salon des Refusés of 1863 was made with his now famous — then merely notorious — Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe. The American sent La Femme Blanche, the first of his three early Symphonies in White. The position taken by both painters amounted in effect to this : that they cared nothing for subject as subject, but were solicitous solely for the charm to be got out of the sheer manipulation of paint. The difference between them, beginning in temperament, ended in something like a total separation of their ideals. To Manet the incongruity of his nude bather, grouped beneath the trees near a stream, with two men in the coats and trousers of modern life, was of no earthly consequence. He was not painting an anecdote, he was painting an effect of light and air. But he really gives us more than this, he puts life into his figures and his scene, the life of the world we live in, something that moves and breathes and has a very human interest. Brilliant as a technician, Manet was most brilliant in putting his technique at the service of truth. What Velasquez and Hals taught him he used in a large, robust spirit. The scales had fallen from his eyes. The world was intensely real to him. His eyes devoured the substance of life, and his hands thrilled with a sense of power as he seized it and transferred it to canvas, its vitality heightened rather than diminished, and its appeal directed to the layman, caring for mankind hardly less, than to the dilettanti of “ pure painting.”

Whistler had felt the magic of Velasquez, and he was weary, as Manet was, of the cold, sapless fruits of the Academy. But it was no more in his nature to face the truth as Manet faced it than it was in his nature to emulate his contemporary’s prodigious vigor. La Femme Blanche is not, like any one of Manet’s figures, a being whose humanity cannot be denied, — one sees in this canvas simply the graceful wearer of a white dress which the artist has wanted to paint against a white curtain, and the same atmosphere as of technical experimentation hangs about The Little White Girl of 1864, and the third of the “ symphonic ” studies, painted in 1867. These canvases are all interiors. Not for him the luminosity, which, for Manet, Monet, and all the rest of the Impressionists, meant a new and indispensable factor in art. He sought cooler tones, in a still, sequestered world of his own; untroubled by the nervous tension of familiar life ; unlit by anything so garish as the sun, — detached, in a word, from ordinary reality. Long afterwards, alluding to his great portrait of his mother, which he called an Arrangement in Grey and Black, he protested that while its personal associations were interesting to him, the public could have no legitimate concern with that side of the work. “ It must stand or fall,” he asserted, “ on its merits as an arrangement.” This was his attitude in the sixties, when he was feeling his way toward the expression of his ideal, and he never abandoned it. He was furious with Mr. Hamerton for complaining, in The Saturday Review, that there were more varieties of tint in the Symphony in White, No. III. than could be squared with a literal interpretation of the title. “ Bon Dieu ! ” he exclaims, “ did this wise person expect white hair and chalked faces ? And does he then, in his astounding consequence, believe that a symphony in F contains no other note, but shall be a continued repetition of F, F, F. ? . . . Fool! ”

The critic had certainly committed a bêtise, but this is not to say that Whistler deserved no criticism at all in those earlier days. On the contrary, it is very easy to exaggerate the value of the three paintings I have named. They are immensely interesting as illustrations of a kind of art unlike anything that had previously been done, and in the middle member of the trio particularly, the note struck is not simply so new, but so charming that it is, at first blush, a little difficult to understand why Paris was so slow in applauding the painter. The truth is that the absence in Whistler of that power which we have seen in Manet was destined, not altogether unjustly, to keep him for a long time out of his own. Preoccupied with the nuance of tone, trying to achieve in painting an effect which finds its parallel in, say, the music of Chopin, or the poetry of Verlaine, he neglected to so perfect himself in the handling of his brushes that one would see his effects and nothing else. As a matter of fact one sees a great deal else, a point which Whistler’s thick and thin admirers are absurdly unwilling to concede. “ The work of the master,” he somewhere says, “ reeks not of the sweat of the brow, — suggests no effort, — and is finished from its beginning.” Consider the want of limpidity in the surfaces, the want of elasticity in the lines, of the three Symphonies in White, and judge if there is no sign of effort in those works. Of masterful ease there is assuredly no suggestion. Some charm of tone is there, and the savor of genius is unmistakably present, but it is tone that needs to take on a purer transparence; it is genius that is not yet in full possession of itself. What Whistler himself thought of his first essays in paint is shown by an episode taken from a much later period in his career. He found, in an English collection, a picture he had painted, and painted so badly that he longed to destroy it. So anxious was he to do this that he offered to paint a full-length portrait of the owner, and another of his wife, in exchange for this ghost from his past!

If from the start he had been only a painter, the explanation of his deficiencies could be the more speedily found, but it is one of the interesting things about Whistler that, just as he makes his début in painting, and starts the critic on an analytic pursuit, the latter is brought athwart the etchings, and, for the moment, must see his subject in a very different light. Again the name of Gleyre presents itself. Looking simply to the three Symphonies in White one would say that he, to whom draughtsmanship was as the soul of art, had not taught his pupil to draw. Not down to the end of his career was Whistler to draw with the brush as most other masters have drawn, — masters as unlike one another as Velasquez, Titian, Raphael, Mantegna, and Ingres. But with the etching needle in his hand he drew as only Rembrandt had drawn before him, with a precision, a delicacy, a power, which, perhaps, after all, not Ingres and Gleyre together could have taught him. These qualities appeared in his first etchings, the French Set of 1858; and when the Thames Set was finished a year or so later, he had developed his art to a remarkable point of self-possession and force. Altogether he produced nearly four hundred plates, and, while they vary in excellence, there is not one in the collection which is without some touch disclosing the great artist.

For convenience these etchings may be roughly divided into four groups. The first two have just been named. In them, and in the etchings of the sixties, brilliance both of line and tone is the predominating characteristic. Then, around the early seventies, Whistler modified his manner, sketched the figure with a freer point, and often substituted for the rich tones, the velvety blacks and deep browns of his earlier plates, a grayer and more impalpable veil of color, approximating more to the key of certain of his paintings. Several years passed, and in Venice he entered upon a new phase, exchanging the full firm line of his first plates for a looser, more stenographic form of expression. Thereafter, in plates done in France, Belgium, and Holland, and in some delightful notes of a British naval review, he adhered to much the same method. The point of view from which he made all his etchings is well exhibited in a passage from one of his letters to a friend who happened to be staying in Stuttgart at the time, and had written him of the picturesqueness of that place. “ It sounds delightful,” he says. “ I have never been to Stuttgart, but should fancy it a most fascinating old town. Is it full of quaint little daintinesses for me to carry off ? — and is the town a dear Old-World spot — withdrawn quite from the circulating tourist ? ” This was ever his mood, one of immediate sympathy for dainty picturesqueness, and what makes the fragment I have quoted doubly characteristic is its indication of his tendency to look for that quality in what I may call the immobile aspects of a city. If he seeks movement at all, it is in the lines of shipping on the Thames, or it is in the men and women who enliven a street or square, — and over these idlers or passers-by he pauses only long enough deftly to summarize them, and to furnish his composition with some sign of life.

Why did he not make more of the human figure in his etchings ? He was not altogether without resource in this direction. In fact, some of his portraits, like the Drouet, for example, or several others of men, women, and children, show a fine sense of form. I think the reason why we find among his plates none of the dramatic figure subjects that we find in the etched work of Rembrandt, whom he equals otherwise, is that he was not interested in human nature for its own sake ; indeed, I sometimes wonder if he was interested in it at all, if the passion and poetry of life were not, to him, a sealed book. In his Ten O’Clock lecture Whistler speaks of Art being selfishly occupied with her own perfection only, having no desire to teach ; and in illustration of her disposition to seek the beautiful in all conditions and in all times, he cites “ her high priest ” Rembrandt, who, he goes on, “ saw picturesque grandeur and noble dignity in the Jews’ Quarter of Amsterdam, and lamented not that its inhabitants were not Greeks.” The point is well taken, yet we can imagine Rembrandt protesting to Whistler, — if they are now somewhere talking together of their earthly experiences, — protesting that his position in the matter had been understated ; that he saw a good deal more than picturesque grandeur and noble dignity in the Jews’ Quarter at Amsterdam and wherever else he sought his models ; that he saw, and felt, the emotions by which the faces of those models were marked, by which their frames had been made significant of the soul’s travail. We cannot imagine Whistler illustrating the Scriptures as Rembrandt illustrated them. To have done so he would have had to suffer a transformation of his whole nature, to have learned that there is more in mankind than the materials for an “ arrangement ” in line or color. Furthermore, even if he had had an impulse toward Rembrandt’s way of looking at things, it is probable that he would have failed through his lack of anatomical knowledge. His portraits, I repeat, are often masterly, but he needed an even greater command over the secrets of the figure than they reveal to put forth elaborate compositions. I note the fact with little or no regret, however, for in his chosen field Whistler made such beautiful etchings that it would be foolish to wish that he had done something else.

Architecture, seemingly so fixed a phenomenon, nevertheless presents itself to different eyes with the most drastic differences. To Méryon it is again and again a symbol of mystery and of eerie, even tragic beauty. To a man of the light temperament of Lalanne it is an affair of grace and elegance. To Whistler it meant a picturesqueness from which now and then a certain romantic glamour might seem inseparable, but which he sought to express quite unemotionally. We know what he could see in the Thames : “ The evening mist clothes the riverside with poetry as with a veil, and the poor buildings lose themselves in the dim sky, and the tall chimneys become campanili, and the warehouses are palaces in the night, and the whole city hangs in the heavens and fairyland is before us.” But it was as the colorist, as the painter, that he wrote these words. As an etcher it was not fairyland that he saw, whether on the Thames or in Venice, it was simply a world of picturesque buildings and boats, dim arches that held subtle beauties of light and shade, delicate traceries of stone or metal that made in his plates an effective “ pattern.” There is poetry in it, the sensuous poetry that appeals solely to the eye. It has none of the deeper implications of the art produced by a man looking, involuntarily, beneath the surface. But let us have done with qualifications. In his own sphere of etching Whistler is incomparable.

Edmond de Goncourt, in that amazing journal which preserves so much of the gossip he and his brother loved, quotes Legros as saying to him, in 1882, “ Whistler, oui, c’est pas mal . . . c’est de la jolie eau-forte d’amateur! ” How, I wonder, could an artist as accomplished as Legros is himself utter a remark like this! If there is one thing more than another which is demonstrated by Whistler’s etchings it is that in them he enjoys absolute control of his needle; that here he is a master from whom no secrets of technique are hid. It is not simply that he is letter-perfect, so to say, that he abides by every canon of the art. It is that from beginning to end his style seems to have been so sinewy, so strong, so wonderfully buoyant. At the outset his line is forcible and clear. It is often deeply bitten, and while he knows well what to omit, he gives one an impression — notably in the Thames set — of objects patiently observed and very carefully noted. In his later Venetian studies he skims the copper with a lighter hand, leaves out a great deal more detail, secures the tenderest atmospheric effects, and, in brief, refines his art without losing any strength. All through the long succession of plates he enchants us with his faculty for extorting from his material the loveliest webs of line, the loveliest passages of tone. He is superb in composition, whether he be etching the old tenements that line the Thames, with rocking masts and the delicate lines of rigging to break the monotony of their homely façades, or is commemorating some infinitely more romantic theme in France or Venice. He is always sufficiently pictorial, no matter what his subject may be, and always conscious of the special quality of the etcher’s art, knowing how to adjust his material to it, seeking the lines that will best form an interesting arabesque. His style is unique. No etcher in the past, not Rembrandt or Claude ; no one in his own time, not Méryon or Haden, ever saw his subject quite as he saw it, or handled it quite as he handled it. All those masters have qualities which he lacked. We have observed how Rembrandt outsoars him in intellectual and spiritual grasp. Whistler could never interpret landscape as Haden has interpreted it. But in strength and beauty of line, in brilliance of style, Whistler’s etchings form a body of work with which the masterpieces of Rembrandt and Haden are alone worthy to be grouped. I have seen, written by him on a proof of one of Rembrandt’s noblest portraits, these words : “ Without flaw. Beautiful as a Greek marble or a canvas by Tintoret. A masterpiece in all its elements, beyond which there is nothing.” The familiar butterfly affixed to this tribute carried a discomfiting suggestion with it. Could any of the works of art bearing that dainty emblem deserve such heroic praise ? Perhaps not. Whistler never rose, like Rembrandt, to the heroic plane. Nevertheless, so far as they go, his etchings are “ without flaw.”

In all the years from which they date he was steadily painting portraits and pictures. Finding no encouragement in Paris he soon went to live in London, where he made his home for many years. He could hardly expect to find in Chelsea a more sympathetic environment than he had found in Paris, but too much has been made of what his surroundings may have signified to him in either place. For a painter of his predilections the only things needful were a studio and an occasional patron. He did not paint French life when he was in France. He never thought of painting English life when he came to England, but went on along the lines laid down in those Symphonies in White to which I have already referred. Some commentators have been astonished at his intimacy with Rossetti. It was entirely natural. The fact that they did not paint in the same fashion is beside the question. Where they were absolutely united was in preferring, as artists, a kind of curtained existence, in which they could ignore the claims of the schools and the world in general, and make pictures as far removed from the joys and troubles of mere humanity as so many pieces of Oriental porcelain. Rossetti, embracing with enthusiasm the pre-Raphaelite ideal of fidelity to nature, never took the trouble to learn how to paint, so that he might put the truth on canvas with some degree of accuracy. He cared not for the scenes outside his house and garden, but for the scenes in the poets. He dreamed iridescent dreams, and, reflecting them in his work after his own self-willed esoteric fashion, was content. He and Whistler must have been vastly pleased with themselves as they stood aloof from everything that was making the history of their time, and, with scornful chuckles, cultivated each his hidden plot of ground. Whistler was the surer of remaining comparatively undisturbed in his seclusion because of his rare gift for quarreling. He was a difficult man to get on with, and the wrecks of friendships were scattered through his career in appalling profusion. It is said that there still survives somewhere a portrait he painted of the late Mr. Naylor Leyland, after he had decorated the famous Peacock Room in that gentleman’s London house, and had parted from him in a rage. In this portrait the mild-mannered collector is given horns and hoofs, and is transformed into a ramping devil. True or not, the tale does no injustice to Whistler, who loved the fray, and, when offended, was capable of taking a stinging revenge. He made himself feared, in short, and, even in the midst of society, that must have helped to create a spiritual loneliness for him. If he suffered any loss thereby he never knew it. Supremely self-centred, — “ You cannot serve the Republic, . . . and Whistler,” he once wrote to a friend, — he threw himself into his work and exploited his own ideas with an absorption and a conviction of right which we cannot but admire.

The results of his labors, portraits, marines, and pictures like the Fireworks at Cremorne, which proved such a memorable stumbling-block to Mr. Ruskin, were, in general, slow in forthcoming. Was it his early distaste for rudimentary instruction that left him handicapped, as it were, and caused him to proceed upon a canvas, as a rule, with the greatest deliberation ? Or was it that the subtlety of tone he was always seeking could not be attained at a stroke ? There are stories of the miraculous facility with which he could paint a picture, of the consummate skill with which he could brush in a detail, without a moment’s hesitation, leaving it perfect. It will be remembered that at the Ruskin trial he testified that he had painted the Fireworks at Cremorne in “ about a day.” The point, he thought, was immaterial, for in asking two hundred guineas for the picture he argued that he was asking to be paid, not for the work of a day, but for “ the knowledge of a lifetime.” The question, however, of whether he was a rapid or a slow painter, a sure or a hesitating one, is interesting, for it really bears upon the essential character of his art.

It is not, in respect to technique, with the grand masters that he is to be grouped. One of the traits of those masters is a certain momentum, as of a creative force passing through the world, boldly, majestically, and leaving landmarks in its wake. It is not Rubens alone who suggests this idea of propulsive energy and great weight, or Michael Angelo, or Hals. Even the serene Velasquez suggests it. We have all heard a great deal about Whistler’s resemblance to the Spaniard, and it is there, but not where the central springs of action, the very divine spark of genius and its free fruitful movements, are concerned. The greatest art, no matter how complex in design it may be, is unmistakably spontaneous. Whistler’s art was not of that highest order; it is more apt to suggest the slow and painstaking building up of an effect. Where you find the resemblance between him and Velasquez is in the gradations that he gets out of blacks and grays and whites ; in the simplicity with which he poses a figure against a neutral background ; in the texture of his color throughout. We may go further and say that he had a sense of values akin to that of Velasquez himself. But if we keep in mind what Whistler was driving at, and what he actually accomplished, we must admit that a meaning he never intended can easily be read into his much quoted retort, “ Why drag in Velasquez ? ” For one thing, Velasquez, as Whistler himself pointed out, “ made his people live within their frames, and stand upon their legs.” That was not precisely Whistler’s own aim, except in a few rare instances. His figures are not so much human beings, living within their frames and standing upon their legs, as they are lovely apparitions, alluring visions of charming women gliding through some place of dim lights and hovering shadows. The portrait of Lady Meux, known as the Harmony in Pink and Gray, may or may not be a good portrait. There is no mistaking its beauty as a piece of color, a harmony really musical in its purity and sweetness. Again, in lower keys, the portrait of Miss Rosa Corder, Arrangement in Black and Brown, and the study in the same colors known as The Fur Jacket, a similar impression of something faint, elusive, and most delicately sensuous is conveyed. There are other portraits which recur to me, particularly La Dame au Brodequin Jaune, and the dainty portrait of Miss Alexander, Harmony in Gray and Green, a picture of childhood, which has no parallel in modern art save Mr. Sargent’s Little Miss Beatrice Goelet. But I pass over all these studies of blooming femininity ; I pass over such delightfully decorative schemes as The Balcony, The Music Room, The Gold Screen, and The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks, to reach the two most renowned canvases that Whistler painted — his portrait of his mother, which now hangs in the Luxembourg, and the portrait of Carlyle in old age, which, in recent years, has been acquired by the Corporation of Glasgow.

I cannot better indicate the character of these two masterpieces than by saying that when one has seen them one instinctively revises his impression of all the painter’s other canvases. The bulk of his work is charming. The Portrait of the Artist’s Mother and the Thomas Carlyle are much more than that. To realize the difference is to see the unwisdom of being stampeded by a man’s fame into accepting everything he does as necessarily a triumph of genius. It is well to acclaim the genius of Whistler. We only darken counsel when we grow hysterical over it. For my own part I believe that his numerous portraits of women, while sure to survive as paintings of great individuality, and of a very delicate beauty, would not carry Whistler’s name unquestioned down to posterity if he had not also painted his portrait of his mother, and the Carlyle. Those rank him with the old masters. The others, if they formed his sole legacy to the galleries of the world, would keep him among the men just below the best. The reason is obvious the moment one puts prejudice aside and looks at things as they are. The mark of the great picture in every epoch has been a mark of organic balance. The painter has realized his conception with absolute felicity. Nothing could be added. Nothing could be taken away. Everything in the picture, composition, drawing, modeling, color, the personality of the sitter, when the picture is a portrait, contributes to one end, and that is a unit of beauty. Can it be said of any of Whistler’s portraits of young women that they fulfill these conditions as the portrait of his mother fulfills them ? He may have denied a thousand times our right to interest ourselves in his mother’s personality. Long after her name and his, perhaps, have vanished from the frame, men would look on this canvas and prize it as the portrait of an individual. It would be the same with the Carlyle ; characterization is of immense importance in both works. But it is the rounded perfection of them that I would chiefly emphasize, the noble simplicity with which, in each case, Whistler has given form to his idea.

The curtain and framed picture which figure in the background of the portrait of his mother, the two pictures and the butterfly introduced for the same decorative purpose in the Carlyle, give us no sense of artificiality, of painfully sought effect, that we feel in looking at so many of what I may designate as his minor achievements. In his two unqualifiedly great paintings he rises to a seriousness which he was only too seldom disposed to cultivate. In them he shows the “ noble dignity ” which he attributed to Rembrandt. Survey his work as a figure painter from beginning to end and it seems as if all his life he were trying for something wholly fine, came near it again and again, but only twice, when he painted the portraits I have chosen, saw his heart’s desire satisfied. I say “ his heart’s desire ” because at bottom he is just as faithful to himself in his pair of masterpieces as in his other paintings. He attempted nothing new. He did violence to none of his cherished theories. The two portraits are as much “ arrangements ” as anything he ever painted, — only they are more completely successful as such. He is the butterfly here as elsewhere. This, indeed, ought never to be forgotten, for even when he holds his own amongst the old masters, it is through his possession of a quality quite different from that to which they, in the main, owe their preëminence. He is not strong as they are strong, he has not their conquering might. Some one has defined taste as the feminine of genius, and Whistler is the incarnation of taste. Once, talking with a companion about the energy and skill shown by certain painters conspicuous in modern art, he remarked, with a gentle deprecating humor that robbed his words of all complacence, that while he admired the men in question, he could not but feel that he had put something into his own work which theirs lacked. He called it distinction, and the epithet is a happy one. Whistler’s figure pieces may not carry us off our feet, but with a quietude and a persuasiveness that, in these days especially, are above rubies, they exert the spell of high distinction. There have been more masculine painters ; but none has surpassed him in expressing on canvas the quintessence of refinement.

The dangers to which an exemplar of this kind of art is exposed I have emphasized in glancing at Whistler’s minor portraits, those curiously “ precious ” productions that so narrowly escape unreality, because in portraiture an excessively decorative and too exquisite method is the more seriously to be questioned. In his Nocturnes, on the other hand, and in his other daring variations on themes provided by scenes out of doors, Whistler has far less to fear. In them he is untroubled by any question of form, he is not handicapped by the necessity of giving even an approximately clear statement of facts. Returning again to his testimony in the suit he brought against Ruskin, we find him admitting, as to the famous Fireworks picture, that “ if it were called a view of Cremorne, it would certainly bring about nothing but disappointment on the part of the beholders.” On the same occasion, when his Nocturne in Blue and Silver was produced in court, he said, “ It represents Battersea Bridge by moonlight,” but when Baron Huddleston asked him if he would describe the picture as a correct representation of the subject, he replied, “ I did not intend it to be a ‘ correct ’ portrait of the bridge. It is only a moonlight scene, and the pier in the centre of the picture may not be like the piers at Battersea Bridge as you know them in broad daylight. As to what the picture represents that depends upon who looks at it. To some persons it may represent all that is intended ; to others it may represent nothing. . . . My whole scheme was only to bring about a certain harmony of color.” With such an ambition it is clearly unnecessary for a painter to give any such place to the truths of nature as was given to them by, for example, the members of the Barbizon school. Nature, in fact, merely provides him with an excuse for the exercise of his virtuosity.

Whistleris not the only modern painter representing this principle. Monticelli, in his studies of sylvan glades obscurely peopled with shapes that might be those of fair women or fairer wraiths, invented chromatic splendors which, at their best, are as distinguished in their way as Whistler’s elegiac harmonies. Other men of lesser ability have worked in the same vein. The special value of Whistler’s Nocturnes resides in the ravishing beauty of their color, the poetry of their sentiment, and the piquancy of their style. He could, when he chose, paint a sparkling little water color of the sea, not only beautiful but true ; he could paint a picture like his Thames in Ice, as realistic as a work of Courbet’s. But he was happiest in those paintings, like the Crepuscule in Flesh Color and Green, Valparaiso; or the Nocturne, Gray and Gold, — Chelsea, Snow, in which our appreciation of the scene is altogether subsidiary to our enjoyment of the color in which he has enveloped it. The two pyrotechnical nocturnes, The Fire Wheel and The Falling Rocket, though not perhaps his finest works in this field, are certainly the most instructive, for in them he carried his theories to their ultimate conclusion, eschewing all tangible facts, and aiming at his effect almost as though he had no pictorial intention at all, but were covering a panel with color as an Oriental craftsman powders a box with gold. Painting these Nocturnes and Symphonies and Harmonies, he gave to art a new sensation, one in which the more esoteric charm of his genius is extraordinarily beguiling.

Incidentally he showed to the world his rare versatility. But still he was not satisfied, and having given his measure in painting and etching, he insisted upon being recognized as a writer. He was a witty man, and he wrote like one. Two books stand to his credit. The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, which he published in 1890, contains his account of the Ruskin trial, his Ten O’Clock lecture, and a quantity of squibs and letters indited in scorn of his critics and other persons who had annoyed him. In The Baronet and the Butterfly: a Valentine with a Verdict, which dates from 1899, he set forth at considerable length the details of the litigation in which he was involved with Sir William Eden over a portrait he had painted of the baronet’s wife. This second book has no serious claim upon the reader. It records an episode in which the artist shone with a good deal less than his accustomed brilliance, and it shows him, to tell the truth, in no very engaging mood. The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, however, is sure to be preserved, for it contains many of Whistler’s ideas on art, and is, to boot, abundantly amusing. The ideas signify, first and last, that the artist is an isolated phenomenon, seeking beauty for its own sake, and quite beyond the understanding of the Philistine, who should merely bow before his work and be thankful for the privilege. The critic, by the way, is always a Philistine. “ There never was an artistic period. There never was an Art-loving nation.” In all ages the artist has been an unexplainable gift of God to mankind, — though from the way in which Whistler leaves mankind out of the question it might perhaps be more accurate to interpret him as arguing that the artist simply “ happens,” and is his own sole reason for existing. Art, he says, “ is a goddess of dainty thought, — reticent of habit, abjuring all obtrusiveness, purposing in no way to better others.” Her leading principle in the pursuit of beauty is one of selection. “ Nature contains the elements, in color and form, of all pictures, as the keyboard contains the notes of all music. . . . To say to the painter that Nature is to be taken as she is, is to say to the player, that he may sit on the piano.” In aphorisms like these Whistler threw light on his own work, and restated elements in the broad philosophy of art which any one might learn from intelligent study of the masters, but which it was well to have expressed as deftly and pungently as he expressed them. The Bible of Art, he once called his book, in half-mocking, half-proud humor. It is not that, but it is unquestionably a stimulating volume.

The epigrams it contains, the steel points on which he impaled his enemies, are glittering and sometimes venomous, but though Whistler had a malice all his own, his humor is so delightful that even his victims must have enjoyed many of his thrusts. He had a rare gift for repartee. When he talked of the “ shock of surprise that was Balaam’s when the first great critic proffered his opinion,” and a commentator in Vanity Fair, turning to the Scriptures, gleefully pointed out that “ the Ass was right, although, nay, because he was an Ass,” it took him but a moment to send this retort: “ I find, on searching again, that historically you are right. The fact, doubtless, explains the conviction of the race in their mission, but I fancy you will admit that this is the only Ass on record who ever did ‘ see the Angel of the Lord ! ’ and that we are past the age of Miracles.” In the catalogue for the exhibition of etchings which he held in London in 1883, he created much mirth by placing under the titles quotations from his critics, and very comical was the result. One of the gentlemen cited, Mr. Frederick Wedmore, complained that he had been misrepresented, that he had been quoted as using the word “ understand ” when he had really written “ understate.” Whistler promptly apologized. “ My carelessness is culpable,” he said, “ and the misprint without excuse ; for naturally I have all along known, and the typographer should have been duly warned, that with Mr. Wedmore, as with his brethren, it is always a matter of understating, and not at all one of understanding.” How many more instances of his readiness and ruthlessness might be given! The list is endless, for not only is The Gentle Art of Making Enemies packed with sharp sayings, but all his life Whistler barbed his words, and hundreds of his witticisms have been widely circulated, either in print or in the talk of those who have known him. Naturally his diabolical instinct for the biting phrase has reacted upon the public estimate of his character as a man, and in many quarters the accepted view is that which Degas is said to have once expressed to his face, that one would hardly suspect from his talk and demeanor that he was a great artist.

That, I confess, was my own first impression of him, for as he minced about his drawing-room in the Rue de Bac one summer morning a dozen years ago, flourishing a bird cage before my eyes like a dancer flirting a fan, he seemed as unlike an eminent painter as any one I have ever seen. But this was mere surface froth, which disappeared as one came to know him better. He was, even in his gravest moments, a distinctly picturesque figure, slight, erect, and with gestures of the most birdlike vivacity. Yet he had withal admirable dignity, and to the picturesqueness of his personality there was added the charm of his talk. At one moment most suavely courteous, at another vehement to the point of rudeness, he captivated you often by what he had to say, and entertained you always by the way in which he said it. Of course he made enemies, but, equally of course, he made many friends, and kept more of them than, with his pose of defiance toward everybody, he was perhaps willing to admit. “ A friend, my dear X! ” he once wrote to one who had rendered him a service, “ a tried friend ! I doubt if I shall know how to deal with him ! I have no habit, — and you might alter the whole plan of my life.” Not long before his death he wrote, “ I learn that I have, lurking in London, still a friend, though for the life of me I cannot remember his name.” That was only pretty Fanny’s way. The making of enemies indubitably afforded him a kind of fearful joy, but there were lovable traits in his nature, kindness, and generosity, and affection for children, and to lay stress upon his quarrels is to do a deep injustice to his memory. When Du Maurier sneered at Whistler, under the name of Joe Sibley, in Trilby, he did more than commit a breach of good breeding ; he showed how thoroughly he had misunderstood the comrade of his Bohemian days in Paris. It would be absurd to deny Whistler’s cruelty, or his occasional lapses from good taste. He pursued some of the objects of his wrath with more temper than manners. The Baronet and the Butterfly especially contains some striking evidence in this direction, and The Gentle Art of Making Enemies is not without illustrations of his less edifying aspect. It is certain, however, that, as time goes on, Whistler’s character, being more clearly understood, will be more sympathetically regarded.

His fame as an artist is already fixed, and has, indeed, been fixed for a long time, though he liked to keep up the fiction that the world was unworthy of him, — it was part of his plan of aloofness, — and there are quaint admirers of his who persist in talking, and writing, as if, after all his efforts, he had made no impression upon his time. He was never popular as Leighton or Bouguereau was popular. It was not until late in his career that he received high prices for his pictures. But Whistler is the last artist in the world for us to consider with reference to what ordinarily constitutes popularity. He did not paint for the many; he painted, if ever a man did, for the few; and he never lacked the appreciation which must have been dearer to a man of his stripe than any material benefit. As far back as 1872, when he sent his portrait of his mother to the Royal Academy, and it was threatened with rejection, Sir William Boxall declared that he would withdraw from the council if it were not accepted. There is an anecdote of his going down to Hughenden, without waiting for the formality of an invitation, to paint Lord Beaconsfield’s portrait. The great man did not rise to the situation, but he gave Whistler his friendship. (I cannot omit the episode of the Prime Minister’s walking arm in arm with the painter down Whitehall, and Whistler’s mot, “ If only my creditors could see ! ”) He knew hundreds of the celebrities of his day, and many of them understood and valued him. Why, therefore, should we bewail his sad fate, talking of him as a man who had suffered much ? If he had times of privation, so have other great men had them. Others have known what it has meant to have the bailiff at the door.

On the whole, Whistler’s career was a singularly rich and happy one. He did the work he wanted to do, and did it in his own way. He had hosts of friends, — when he lost them it was usually through his own fault; and he did not have long to wait for the approval of his fellow painters. For a generation his influence has been acknowledged in the studios, and probably no artist of his time has received more frequently the sincerest form of flattery. His etchings have long been prized by connoisseurs and assiduously collected; the moment it was announced that he had taken up lithography, some eight or ten years ago, his sketches in this medium were at once eagerly sought. His paintings all found owners, and when the sale of what he left in his studio takes place, we may be sure that it will be well attended, and that competition for his works will be fierce. His two best portraits hang, as I have noted, in the Luxembourg and in the Public Gallery at Glasgow respectively. The Sarasate is at Pittsburg; the Boston Museum of Fine Arts has his Blacksmith and one or two other things, and elsewhere in America numbers of his pictures may be found in private galleries. The critics he contemned may in some cases, at the outset, have undervalued him. But there has never been anything visible in the public prints even remotely resembling the general ignorance of his art, and the foolish distaste for it, which he liked to attribute to the critics, pretending that they were arrayed in a conspiracy of dullness and fatuity against him. He was eulogized everywhere when he died. He had been eulogized for years before the end came.

He passed from the scene full of years and honors, secure of the applause of his peers and of that of a much larger section of the multitude than, with his strange temperament, it would have suited him to admit. He leaves no school, but that is natural enough. His art is inimitable. He could help greatly to purify the taste of his time, he could give to painters, and to laymen too, some valuable hints on color, and he made the “ arrangement ” in portraiture popular. But his influence, though wide, as I have said, has been more a corrective than a constructive force. Imitation of him has led to nothing more than — imitation. His is not the kind of art that, imposing itself upon men, starts an evolutionary movement. He meant it to exist in and for itself alone, and so it does, like some rare orchid that has no prototype and can have no successor.

Royal Cortissoz.