The Mentor


John La Farge (1835–1910)
Henry James, 1862
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of the Century Association, New York
Photography by John Bigelow Taylor

La Farge painted this portrait of James in Newport, Rhode Island, when Henry was still in his teens. His relationship with the older artist set the tone for James’s early novel Roderick Hudson. La Farge had come to study with William Morris Hunt, with whom William James also studied. La Farge had lived in France and knew the work of writers such as Sainte-Beuve, Baudelaire, and Flaubert. James wrote: “He revealed to us Balzac. . . . To reread, even after long years, the introductory pages of Eugenie Grandet . . . is to see my initiator’s youthful face, so irregular but so re ned, look out at me between the lines as through prison bars.”


This is a portrait of Henry James by John La Farge. It normally hangs in the Century Club. It was made when I think La Farge and James were very close. La Farge had a great influence on James. He was several years older, and had traveled in Europe, and he really knew French literature. They went for long walks together.

While La Farge was a painter and James was becoming a young writer, I think the influence was, in a way, for James to see what an artist would look like. I think he used some of that relationship between himself and La Farge in his novel, Roderick Hudson. This was a portrait done of him by La Farge when James was a young man.