Elucidation of a Mystery

Morgan-JamesMorgan-James3Colm Tobin, noted author and curator of Henry James & American Painting, introduced the show yesterday at the Morgan Museum and Library.

Henry James (1843-1916), ex-pat American writer and brother of William James, resided mostly in England. He had a circle of painter friends, among them John LaFarge, John Singer Sargent, and James McNeill Whistler, who as the show points out were important influences of his literary output.

The Morgan has assembled a strong array of over 50 works by these and other artists that connect some dots — giving greater insight, context and meaning to Henry Jame’s work, and the movements of Western art at the turn of the century.

An interesting footnote: On the occasion of Jame’s 70th birthday, his friends commissioned John Singer Sargent to make his portrait (top photo). Not long after the painting had been completed, a “peaceable looking lady wielding a meat-cleaver…cut three ugly gashes in it.” She was a militant suffragette, who on learning the value of the Sargent picture said she “had wished to show the public that they have no security for their property, nor for their art treasures, until women are given their political freedom.”

“Arrange as I would, and take the precautions I would, she always came out, in my pictures, too tall—landing me in the dilemma of having represented a fascinating woman as seven feet high…” Henry James, The Real Thing (1892)

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