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Quips & Quotes

Hear actor Kevin Klein read from Whistler’s writings.

On Art

26-27 January 1849
I hope, dear father, you will not object to my choice, [that is to say] a painter, for I wish to be one so very much and I don’t see why I should not, many others have done so before.

May 1884
A picture is finished when all trace of the means used to bring about the end has disappeared. To say of a picture, as is often said in its praise, that it shows great and earnest labour is to say that it is incomplete and unfit for view.

November 1872
Paint should not be applied thick.  It should be like breath on the surface of a pane of glass.

As the light fades and the shadows deepen, all petty and exacting details vanish, everything trivial disappears; the shadow is lost, but the picture remains.  And that, night cannot efface from the painter’s imagination.

To The Press

May I beg to correct an erroneous impression likely to be confirmed by a paragraph in your last number?  My painting [“The White Girl”] simply represents a girl dressed in white standing in front of a white curtain!!!

November 1872
Atlas…! Your art gentleman says that Mr. Whistler exhibits twelve etchings “slight in execution and unimportant in size.” An etching does not depend, for its importance, upon its size. Look to it, Atlas. Be severe with your man.   And if need be, in case of his dismissal, I offer my services. Meanwhile, yours joyously, Whistler.

On The Peacock Room

2 September 1876
My dear Mrs. Leyland, Nearly done now – for I am at it every day – Three or four days more and I suppose I will have finished  – I am nearly blind with sleep and blue peacocks feathers.

2 September 1876
Mon cher Leyland, Je suis content de moi!  The dining room is really alive with beauty – brilliant and gorgeous while at the same time delicate and refined to the last degree.  But don’t come up.  I have not yet quite done. There is no room in London like it.

2 September 1876
My own darling Mother, I must… tell you what I have long’d to do, the completion of this famous dining room… How I have worked! So very beautiful! & so entirely new, & original.

On Collectors and Dealers

2 February 1878
I do not acknowledge that a picture once bought merely belongs to the man who pays the money;  it is the property of the whole world.

25 April 1888
It cannot be that you really mean to withhold pictures of mine from the recognition that the occasion of exhibition offers them, for the mere accidental reason that you happen to possess them.

1 August 1891
The dealer’s business is to buy and sell — and in the course of such traffic, these same busy picture bodies, without consulting me, put upon the market a painting that I, the author, intended to efface. All along have I carefully destroyed plates, torn up proofs, and burned canvases. To destroy is to remain.

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