John Singer Sargent (American, Florence 1856–1925 London)
Oil on canvas
33 1/2 × 26 1/2 in. (85.1 × 67.3 cm)
National Portrait Gallery, London
Not on view
Sargent and novelist Henry James (1843–1916) were the two greatest recorders of the transatlantic social scene in their respective arts and close friends for more than forty years. James remained an acute and supportive critic of Sargent’s work, while the artist paid tribute to his friend’s writings. In 1913, a group of James’s friends decided to commission a portrait in celebration of his seventieth birthday. Sargent was the obvious choice despite confiding to the novelist that having "stopped portraiture for these past three or four years, he had quite ‘lost his nerve’ about it." Sargent’s painting is a masterly study of an enigmatic literary genius and a sympathetic depiction of an aging friend. James’s pose, with his thumb hooked into the armhole of his vest, suggests studied informality. His domed head is luminous with intelligence.
Commissioned by subscription from friends and admirers of the novelist to celebrate his seventieth birthday, and presented to him, 1914; bequeathed by him to the National Portrait Gallery, London 1916 (1767).