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Artistic Insults

James Abbott McNeil Whistler held his malevolent wit in almost as high esteem as his artistic genius. And when confronted with the work of enthusiastic, if misguided, beginners he seldom missed the chance to display both talents.

'From New York?' he asked one eager young painter at one of his classes.

'Yes,' she replied proudly.

'Pupil of Chase?' he asked, appearing to study her canvas with care.


'Yes ... I thought so. Tell me, why do you paint a red elbow with a green shadow?'

'I'm sure I only paint what I see.'

'Maybe, my dear, but the shock will come when you see what you paint.'

They told me that you took on a Renoir. They told me Renoir lost.

Whistler had a particular aversion to the works of the great landscape painter, J. M. W. Turner.

A former client rushed into his studio one morning announcing excitedly that she had found what she thought to be a couple of Turners going for a song.

'Please would you come and tell me whether you think these are genuine or imitation Turners?' she asked.

'Madam,' said Whistler, 'that's a fine distinction.'

As a painter he's got absolutely no talent, but then he's too famous to give it up.

John Ruskin didn't think much of Whistler's paintings at the best of times, but when one of them was exhibited in 1877 he was so appalled that he wrote this damning review which sparked off the famous libel case.

For Mr. Whistler's own sake, no less than for the protection of the purchaser, Sir Coutts Lindsay ought not to have admitted works into the gallery in which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so nearly approached the aspect of wilful imposture. I have seen, and heard, much of cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face.'

Your friends tell me that you're an artist, but there's really no need to spare me the truth.

Abraham Lincoln was invited to look over a painting recently hung in a Washington gallery. The President spent some time looking at the work from various angles and finally passed judgement on it.

The painter is a very good painter, and observes the Lord's Commandments,' he said.

'Whatever do you mean?' asked one of his friends.

'Well, as I see it,' Lincoln replied, 'he hasn't made unto himself the likeness of anything in heaven above or in the earth beneath or in the waters under the earth.'

I've heard that he dreams his paintings little wonder that he complains he can't sleep.

In 1809 The Examiner carried this review of an exhibition of William Blake's work:

'The poor man fancies himself a great master, and has painted a few wretched pictures. . . These he calls an Exhibition, of which he has published a Catalogue, or rather a farrago of nonsense, unintelligibleness, and egregious vanity, the wild effusions of a distempered brain.'

The famous poster artist, James Pryde, was invited to attend the unveiling of the statue of the Great War heroine, nurse Edith Cavell. When the covering was pulled off, the crowd stood in stunned silence.

'My God,' said Pryde. They've shot the wrong person.'

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