Monday, July 31, 2017

Henry James and Friends at the Morgan Library

An Interior in Venice (The Curtis Family) by John Singer Sargent, 1898
The Morgan Library and Museum is one of my favorite places in New York, and the arts at the turn of the last century is an era I love so I has very happy to visit a new exhibit at the Morgan called Henry James and American Painting. The great American writer Henry James, who lived mostly in London and Venice, was fascinated by artists and sculptors; in fact earlier in his career he had dabbled in painting and went to law school before he became a writer.
While he worked as a writer, he remained influenced by artists, and painted his scenes with words instead of brushstrokes. The exhibition at the Morgan explores James' friendships with artists and how they affected him. The show is co-curated by Irish author Colm Toibin, who wrote one of my very favorite books, the novel The Master, which is based on Henry James. Displayed in one room at the Morgan, the exhibit includes approximately fifty objects including paintings, watercolors, photographs, sculptures and manuscripts by artists John La Farge, James McNeill Whistler, John Singer Sargent, and more.

Sargent painted this 1913 portrait of James upon the occasion of the writer's 70th birthday –

I also liked this portrait of James in a snappy polka dot bow tie by Ellen Gertrude Emmet Rand from 1900 –

Delightfully, James and Sargent were close friends. The writer and the artist shared much in common too; both were born in the United States and lived in Europe, captured the wealthy society of the day elegantly and deliciously in their respective media, and hid their homosexuality.

The connection between James and Sargent is evident in the gorgeous painting pictured at the top of this post. Sargent painted his cousin Daniel Sargent Curtis and his wife at home in Venice in the Palazzo Barbero where James was a guest. In fact, James wrote some of The Aspern Papers at a desk that is still housed in the palazzo today. James was a big fan of the palazzo's stunning Baroque interior and included a description of the salon in his novel The Wings of the Dove. The writer loved Sargent's romantic portrait of the Curtises, and wrote that he "absolutely and without reserve adored it." Alas, this gorgeous painting was not successful at the time. Mrs. Curtis felt it made her look too old and that her son was posed too casually so she did not accept the gift of the painting from the Sargent.
Can you imagine?
This and more stories abound in this entertaining exhibition. For a gentle trip back in time, visit the James exhibit at the Morgan Library, through September 10th.


Dean Farris said...

Loved this post !
The image of Henry James reminds me of our friend Mario Buatta!

That time in Venice was when it was still fashionable- now its being ruined by hordes of Cruise ship tourists! Yikes!

Still, as modern as NYC strives to be, it will always be a very 19th century city to me.

Dean Farris said...

And yes, sadly, the Rialto has a McDonalds!