Whistler's Correspondence

A note by Lynn Roberts

Whistler was as copious a letter-writer as any of his famous nineteenth-century peers, and a large tranche of this correspondence, covering the period 1855-1880, is now accessible on the internet at www.whistler.arts.gla.ac.uk/correspondence.

The letters, by, to and concerning Whistler, are extremely well indexed, and a great many of them can be read in transcript online; others provide full references for their locations, together with the first line of the letter, telegram or legal document.

The correspondence which refers directly to frames is divided into that on 'framemakers', 'frames', 'picture frames', 'painting frames', and different types of frame ('frames, colour', 'frames, etching', 'frames, lithograph', 'frames, mounts', 'frames, pastel', and 'pastel, framing'); there are also related sections on 'gallery decoration', 'house decoration', etc.

Any researcher interested in Whistler's frames will find names of framemakers and detailed instructions to them; for example, in a letter from Whistler to Henry Murcott, picture framer, carver and gilder, of 4 February 1878: I want you to make me at once another frame like the last two Please remember this time that second moulding you missed before - also let the inside flats be of the same oak as the rest of the frame - (and not stucco preparation) also let there be a glass - and have the pale green [double underlined] gold. This frame may have been intended for Nocturne in Blue and Silver (c.1872-78; private collection).

There are also letters to and from friends who liaised with framemakers for Whistler; documents dealing with framing firms to which he owed money; information on the colour of gold leaf and of gallery decoration; prices; styles of mounts and frames for etchings, etc (with sketches, not shown on the website). All letters are fully annotated, and there are links giving biographical details (for instance, of Murcott, above), and details of the pictures referred to. This first section of the correspondence is a small part of the 10,000 or so documents which will eventually be included or referred to on this website.

The Correspondence of James McNeill Whistler, 1855-1903 , edited by Margaret F. MacDonald, Patricia de Montfort and Nigel Thorp; including The Correspondence of Anna McNeill Whistler, 1855-1880, edited by Georgia Toutziari. On-line Centenary edition, Centre for Whistler Studies, University of Glasgow, 2003.

September 2003