Manuscript/Mixed Material Illustrated letter, Aubrey Beardsley to G. F. Scotson-Clark concerning James McNeill Whistler's Peacock Room, [1891].

About this Item

Title
Illustrated letter, Aubrey Beardsley to G. F. Scotson-Clark concerning James McNeill Whistler's Peacock Room, [1891].
Created / Published
1891?
Subject Headings
-  Artists
-  Painters
-  Drawings
-  Watercolor painting
-  Beardsley, Aubrey (1872-1898)
-  Botticelli, Sandro (1444?-1510)
-  Burne-Jones, Edward Coley Sir (1833-1898)
-  Leyland, Frederick Richard (1831-1892)
-  Lippi, Filippo (1406-1469)
-  Millais, John Everett Millais (1829-1896)
-  Peacock Room
-  Pre-Raphaelites
-  Rossetti, Dante Gabriel (1828-1882)
-  Scotson-Clark, G. F. (George Frederick) (1872-1927)
-  Manuscripts
Genre
Manuscripts
Notes
-  Reproduction number: A99 (color slide; pages 1 and 4); A100 (color slide; pages 2 and 3); LC-MSS-35857-2 (B&W negative; sketch)
-  In July 1891 a consumptive nineteen-year-old London clerk, Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898), toured a mansion full of old master paintings, and his life was changed forever. Previously he had casually bartered his own drawings for books, but shortly after the house tour he became a career artist. When Beardsley, full of energy again after a bout of illness, visited the house of Frederick Richard Leyland (1831-1892), he was hungry to experience the masters and had reported to his Brighton grammar school friend George Frederick Scotson-Clark (1872-1927), who would later become an art critic, "His collection is GLORIOUS." Beardsley was only a year away from a meteoric artistic fame that was to last far beyond his short life. His first letter to Scotson-Clark had listed all of the paintings he saw in Leyland's collection--both old masters, such as Sandro Botticelli (1444?-1510) and Filippo Lippi (1406-1469) and Pre-Raphaelites, such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898) and John Everett Millais (1829-1896)--and luckily felt compelled to write (and draw) again to describe the effect on him of the flamboyant work by expatriate American painter James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), whose work was featured in Leyland's dining room.
-  Although some of the text of this richly illustrated informal letter has been published, the location and significance of the sumptuously illustrated original is not widely known. Beardsley tells his friend he still has "not got over the Leyland collection." His drawing at the top right depicts himself and his sister Mabel "Going thro' the rooms" of the mansion under the guard of one of Leyland's formidable footmen. Leyland was a Liverpool shipowner who had become the patron of the Pre-Raphaelites and a great art collector. He wanted the painting "La Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine," by his friend Whistler to be the centerpiece of his mansion's dining-room, which also featured the Leylands' collection of blue and white porcelain. In 1876-77 Whistler involved himself in harmonizing the rest of the room's striking decoration, but he got carried away and executed a Peacock motif without Leyland's authorization. This caused a rift in the friendship, financial litigation, and claims of hardship for both, but in the process, also it influenced art movements for decades to follow. The dining room, subsequently known as the Peacock Room, with its magnificent panels of blue and gold elongated tail plumes in graceful curves, became a centerpiece in the British Aesthetic Movement and a precursor of the international turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau movement. Whistler, of course, rejected that term, declaring there can be no "New Art," only art.
-  At the top of his letter to Scotson-Clark, Beardsley whimsically pays tribute to Whistler's "Princesse" by including his watercolor drawing of "Jap Girl painting a vase." He adds some other "Jap sketches"--an offhand reference to the Japonaise influence which Beardsley took from Whistler. Most amusing is Beardsley's rendition of Whistler's famous elegant little butterfly signature: a large Art Nouveau buzzard holding Beardsley's name. Sometimes called the last Pre-Raphaelite, Beardsley carried the bright torch of the Whistler and Burne-Jones influences for six years. Shortly after the tour of the Leyland mansion, Beardsley visited Burne-Jones who encouraged him to take evening classes at the Westminster School of Art that year--which was the only formal training in art he ever received. In 1894 he again showed his great admiration for Whistler in the illustration "Peacock Skirt" which he created for Oscar Wilde's book Salome. Beardsley supported himself as an artist and illustrator from 1892 until his death from tuberculosis in 1898 at the age of twenty-five.
-  Whistler's Peacock Room--or Harmony in Blue and Gold, was sold at auction when Leyland died in 1892 and his great collection was dismantled. However, visitors to Washington, D.C., can view the entire room which has been reassembled and restored at the Freer Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution.
Source Collection
Pennell-Whistler Collection of the Papers of Joseph and Elizabeth Pennell and James A. McNeill Whistler
Repository
Manuscript Division
Online Format
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Chicago citation style:

Illustrated letter, Aubrey Beardsley to G. F. Scotson-Clark concerning James McNeill Whistler's Peacock Room. ?, 1891. Manuscript/Mixed Material. https://www.loc.gov/item/mcc.021/.

APA citation style:

(1891) Illustrated letter, Aubrey Beardsley to G. F. Scotson-Clark concerning James McNeill Whistler's Peacock Room. ?. [Manuscript/Mixed Material] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/mcc.021/.

MLA citation style:

Illustrated letter, Aubrey Beardsley to G. F. Scotson-Clark concerning James McNeill Whistler's Peacock Room. ?, 1891. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/mcc.021/>.

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