James M. Whistler (1834-1903)
Whistler was vain and loved to attract attention to himself; his loud Ha-Ha’s and sartorial trademarks,- jaunty hats, a long cane, a wickedly mobile monocle and a carefully arranged lock of white hair that waved like a little plume even in late Victorian England when the cult of eccentricity reached its peak , Whistler had no trouble holding the spotlight.
Before entering a room full of people he would visibly preen ruffling up his curls and smoothening his clothes. Then as if from the wings would come the grand entrance of the little man dressed as only he could. He considered himself a living canvas,to be covered with patches of white(his duck suits),off-whites(his straw hat) and accents of blacks(his patent- leather pumps, ribbons that fluttered from his hat or around his neck). He enjoyed on occasions using other tones as well. Once en route to a dinner party he ran into an artist friend who noted that Whistler had thrust a salmon colored silk hand kerchief into the top of his black waist-coat just below an expanse of white shirt. Fearing that the handkerchief might slip out his friend tucked it deep into Whistler’s waist-coat. “Good God!” roared Whistler, “what are you doing? You have destroyed my precious note of color.” He pulled the handkerchief back into sight and went on his way waving his white cane.
The Leyland Affair
It was Frederick Leyland, the Liverpool ship-owner who precipitated much to his regret , a new phase of his career, that of interior decoration. He was invited to paint a dado in the entrance hall of the London town house, which the ship-owner had bought at 49 Prince’s Gate, Hyde Park. Leaving the painter in charge he left for Liverpool.
What Leyland saw on his return was far from comforting. He resented having his house turned into a showplace for Whistler’s antics. Above all he felt the golden giant peacocks ruined the entire decorative scheme for the room. To end the affair he asked the painter how much he owed him. Whistler asked for 2000 guineas. Leyland paid 1000 pounds. The artist was furious that he was paid in pounds. (The difference between a guinea and the pound was only a shilling, a trifle. But in those days only tradesmen were paid in pounds, a point on which Whistler took it as a slight.) The artist however stayed on to complete one end of the room towards which his client would face. He worked in two peacocks one rich and the other a poor peacock: under the rich peacock’s talons he painted the extra shillings he felt he should have received.