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 Henry James 
John Singer Sargent -- American painter  
National Portrait Gallery, London 
Oil on canvas  
85.1 x 67.3 in. 

Henry James (1843-1916), an expatriate American writer who settled in England and eventually became an British citizen.  He is considered by most to be one of the great english literary writers and among his best known works is The Ambassadors 

James lived for a period in Paris but hated it and finally found his home in London  and was a big supporter of JSS coming to England after the Madame X scandal. 

During his period at Broadway with Sargent in 1885, he was writing the Bostonians and The Princess (1884-1886). His reputation by then had already been well founded along with his age, being one of the oldest, made him by far the dean of this small colony of artists gathered there.  

It was James, who was one of the first to recognize Sargent, and praised him to American audiences. When Sargent eventually ventured to the United States in 1887 for his first portrait commissions on this side of the ocean, Henry James introduced Americans to this American painter in an unheard of (for such a young artist)  nine page spread extolling his talents for Harper's New Monthly Magazine. The clout that James had with Harper's and the generous appraisal from his friend, went a long way at promoting Sargent's career in the eyes of the public -- John would never forget that. 

When Sargent did this portrait of James, it was for his seventieth birthday (Sargent was 57). John had tried to paint James earlier in their friendship but both had felt the painting had been a failure. 

While the portrait is on display the following year (1914) at the Royal Academy, the painting was attacked by a women's suffragette in the attempt to bring notice to her cause. Sargent would later fix it.  

(see The London Times Article, May 5, 1914) 



John Singer Sargent, An Exhibition -- Whitney Museum, NY & The Art Institute of Chicago 1986-1987

Sargent and Italy, 2002-2003 


Subject: Sargent's influence on James 
From: fanny doumerc
fan ny
Date: Wed, 29 Nov 2000  

Hello Natasha, I am a French student who is doing a "mémoire de maîtrise" about Henry James and the visual arts and it turns out that in many an article that I have read about it, the name of Sargent is highly that I allow myself to ask you if you know about the influence of Sargent on the American author...?  

and I would add that your site is very well-done and instructive since we have access rapidly to paintings, which is rarely the case.. 

thank you in advance. 

From: Natasha 
Date: 12/01/00 

What an interesting question. The kind of questions I just love to dive into but I’m not sure I’m the one to answer this. I can offer my own personal thoughts and welcome anyone else opinions. 

Henry James (1843-1916) was thirteen years the senior to John S. Sargent (1856-1925). When they first met in Paris in 1884 -- John was 28, James would have been 41. 

A person can kind of see the influences of another artists on someone else when they are working within the same medium -- such as one painters influence on another painter; but what of a writer having an influence on a painter or vice versa? 

Interesting . . . .  

Since Sargent didn’t paint in allegorical terms (outside of his mural work) it’s hard to tell any editorializing that Sargent is saying in his work and therefore hard to say how James might have affected Sargent or vice versa. I mean, I sort of think James was trying to push Sargent more towards the Pre-Raphael Brotherhood, but I’m just guessing. 

I think we know (pretty well) what James thought of Sargent's art. I don't really know (very well) what Sargent thought of Jame's art (his books -- his plays). I do know that Sargent supported his friend (as he supported all his friends) -- and as a friend Sargent was furious in 1895 when James' play Guy Doniville flopped and the audiance booed him -- Sargent becames infuriated at the publics response. I know when he first met James, he didn't care much for his work (see Sargent's letter to Vernon Lee). That may or may not have changed. If it didn't -- he kept it to himself. 

I think if you look at it in terms of your own relationship with friends and people you admirer -- James is clearly the elder statesman of this  relationship -- he was vastly more famous than Sargent at the time they first met (this gap would close quite a bit towards the end of his life), and though it’s possible that Sargent could have influenced James and his work -- it’s probably very unlikely. I would imagine that James was pretty much set in his own ways by that time, and if there was any influencing to do -- it would have been James influencing Sargent. 

Still, you are a product of who you associate. I was talking with an artist friend of mine and they were telling me about how they wanted to get out of a particular art club because the other artists in the club were doing work they didn’t like or want to get into; and my friend told me they didn’t want to be influenced by them -- that their art would start to look like the club’s art if they stuck around -- and wasn't what they were after.  

It seems to me, and I’m really speaking kind of off the top of my head and I haven’t researched this, but from my memory of reading about James reviews of Sargent, it seems that James was probably more conservative about his taste in art (painting), and possibly, with Sargent’s helped, James was  able to broaden his appreciation with the more “experimental” French painting (which seems logical that a young artist would be pushing at the boundaries and an older gentleman would be more apt to follow more slowly into a more experimental style). 

It is possible that Sargent was able to introduce people to James whom he may not have known otherwise and thereby (in an indirect way) influence James’ work. For example, The Curtis family who owned a palazzo in Venice were cousins to Sargent and it would be from James’ visits to the Palazzo Barbaro that he would make the setting for his  book The Wings of the Dove. 

Still, it’s not clear to me if Sargent introduced James to the Curtises who had strong ties to the city of Boston. Henry James himself had strong ties to the city of Boston; and it was Henry James who introduced Sargent to Isabella Stewart Gardner (also from Boston) and Gardner had rented the Palazzo Barbaro from the Curtises, so I’m not sure that James 
wouldn't have known the Curtises without Sargent or not -- this is getting confusing. 

I’m not sure that answers your question and there maybe something I've clearly missed -- In fact I'm going to keep my eyes open on this because I clearly like the question. 

Would you be so kind as to let me know what you find out for your paper? 


By:  Natasha Wallace
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