Whistler’s War Against Respectability

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HOLKER: You have sent pictures to the Academy which have not been received?

WHISTLER: I believe that is the experience of all artists. ( Laughter .)

HOLKER: What is the subject of the Nocturne in Black and Gold ?

WHISTLER: It is a night piece, and represents the fireworks at Cremorne.

HOLKER: Not a view of Cremorne?

WHISTLER: If it were called a view of Cremorne, it would certainly bring about nothing but disappointment on the part of the beholders. ( Laughter .) It is an artistic arrangement.

Approaching for the kill, Holker next established that two hundred guineas was the picture’s price .

HOLKER: Did it take you much time to paint the Nocturne in Black and Gold ? How soon did you knock it off? ( Laughter .)

WHISTLER: I beg your pardon?

HOLKER: I was using an expression which was rather more applicable to my own profession. ( Laughter .) How long do you take to knock off one of your pictures?

WHISTLER: Oh, I knock off one possibly in a couple of days, ( laughter )—one day to do the work, and another to finish it.

HOLKER: And that was the labor for which you asked two hundred guineas?

WHISTLER: No, it was for the knowledge gained through a lifetime. ( Applause and threats to clear the court .)

Presently Old Battersea Bridge: Nocturne in Blue and Gold (opposite page) was produced in court. The judge broke in .

HIS LORDSHIP: Are those figures on the top of the bridge intended for people?

WHISTLER: They are just what you like.

HIS LORDSHIP: That is a barge beneath?

WHISTLER: Yes, I am very much flattered at your seeing that. The thing is intended simply as a representation of moonlight. My whole scheme was only to bring about a certain harmony of color.

When Holker resumed, he pointed to The Falling Rocket, and put the great, unanswerable question .

HOLKER: … What is the peculiar beauty of that picture?

WHISTLER: It is as impossible for me to explain … as it would be for a musician to explain to you the beauty of harmony in a particular piece of music if you had no ear for music.