This section is from the book "Arts & Crafts Magazine Vol1-2", by Hutchinson & Company.
So much for the comedy of the "Peacock Room." And now for the tragedy. Alas ! for the vanity of human hopes. Mr. Jeckyll, the original designer of the room, mortified at the destruction of his work, went mad and died in a private lunatic asylum. Mr. Leyland is dead. Whistler is dead, and this work, which he relied on to perpetuate his reputation as a great decorator, in addition to his other claims to immortality, is torn from its original surroundings and put on exhibition some three thousand miles away from the picture which suggested it; for " La Princesse du pays de Porcelaine " recently was the centre of a Whistler Memorial Exhibition in Boston. But despite such vicissitudes as attend the migratory career of a work of art no less than that of its owner, this famous picture and this famous decoration may yet be united again, for it is understood that the " Peacock Room " has been bought by an American collector, and is to be shipped to him as soon as the present exhibition is over.
Commenting on this report, the Daily Mail exclaims: " Thus, the great master's finest works are allowed to be carried away from England, and no effort is made to retain them or to secure a fine example for our permanent collection." So far as the " Peacock Room" is concerned, I see no particular reason to be unhappy because a fine decoration by an American artist, designed for the private residence of an American in London, is to be transferred to the private residence of an American in, say, New York. But there is, of course, good reason to regret that no worthy example of
Whistler's brush is to be found in any public art collection in England. That he was an American should have been no bar to his representation in our
National Gallery of British Art, under the terms of the Chantrey Bequest, where his countryman, Mr.
Sargent, has been so honoured. Greatly to the credit of our Royal Academy, it must be said that in the distribution of its rewards, never, since the days of the American Revolution - even then it elected the American, Benjamin West, to succeed Sir
Joshua Reynolds - has it recognised any difference of nationality between English-speaking artists. That Whistler was not included in the "band of brothers" of the American colony in London was, perhaps, due to reasons not wholly unconnected with his peculiar personality. That his genius has not so far been recognised by Burlington House is not, perhaps, as inexcusable as at first blush it might appear to be. Even in his own country, appreciation of his painting has been restricted to artists and a somewhat narrow circle of connoisseurs.
What with the " Peacock Room" of Whistler in Bond-street and the wonderful Japanese
Peacock in Regent-street, the artist about town ought to pick up some valuable suggestions for his next decorative treatment of that gorgeous bird of
Juno. And if in his quest for inspiration, he should go a little further afield - say, as far as Kensington - he may look in at Mr. Bonner's, at 18, Holland-street, and see how another clever artist - Mr. Fairfax
It is in one of the "Sketches by Boz," if my memory serves me, that we are told of the startling method of a certain literary hack who was required to write an article on "Chinese Metaphysics." a subject about which he confessed he knew absolutely nothing. "Then, how did you manage it?" he was asked. "Oh ! easily enough. I first read up in the Encyclopaedia Britannica the article on ' China,' and then I read up the article on ' Metaphysics,' and, having digested them, judiciously blended the two." I think that the writer of a paragraph about Alfred Stevens, from a North British journal before me, must have adopted a similar course in reference to his remarks about that distinguished Belgian painter, whom he evidently confounds with our English decorative artist of the same name.
Of course, it is absurd to be a Belgian and be called Alfred Stevens. But I recall several similar instances of misnamed French artists. There was John Lewis Brown, who drew and painted horses and horsemen in the hunting field in a manner that should have settled the matter of his nationality beyond the peradventure of a doubt, if there had been any doubt about it. But there was none. He was a Frenchman through and through, and spoke not a word of English. By the way, I speak of him in the past - but I am not sure that he is not still alive. Another Frenchman of Frenchmen is named George Washington; he, also, draws horses, and paints them in water-colours delightfully. One of the most accomplished draughtsmen and painters of women of fashion in all Paris is Albert Lynch. He is neither English, Irish, nor American, and he speaks no language but French and Spanish. He hails from South America.