Henry James and American Painting

June 9 through September 10, 2017

In 1884, Henry James (1843–1916) wrote in The Art of Fiction:

The analogy between the art of the painter and the art of the novelist is, so far as I am able to see, complete. Their inspiration is the same, their process (allowing for the different quality of the vehicle), is the same, their success is the same. They may learn from each other, they may explain and sustain each other. Their cause is the same, and the honour of one is the honour of another.

Henry James and American Painting is the first exhibition to explore the author’s deep and lasting interest in the visual arts and their profound impact on the literature he produced.  Offering a fresh perspective on the master novelist, the show reveals the importance of James’s friendships with American artists such as John La Farge (1835–1910), John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), and James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903). While the author decided early on that the pictorial arts were not to be the arena in which he would work, the painterly quality of  his writing has enthralled readers for over a century.

Co-curated by acclaimed novelist Colm Tóibín and Declan Kiely, head of the Morgan’s Department of Literary and Historical Manuscripts, the exhibition includes a rich and eclectic selection of more than fifty paintings, drawings, watercolors, sculptures, photographs, manuscripts, letters, and printed books from two dozen museums and private collections in the United States, Great Britain, and Ireland. Together they weave an evocative story of fascinating artistic intersections.

Online exhibition
Listen to the exhibition audio guide narrated by co-curator and acclaimed novelist Colm Tóibín with an introduction by Colin B. Bailey, Director of the Morgan Library & Museum.

Henry James and American Painting is made possible with a lead gift from the Jerome L. Greene Foundation.

Major funding is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation.

Generous support is provided by Karen H. Bechtel, the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, and the Franklin Jasper Walls Lecture Fund, and assistance from Barbara G. Fleischman and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art.

JL GreeneHenry Luce Foundation

John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), Henry James, 1913, Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery, London; Bequeathed by Henry James, 1916. NPG 1767​.


Selected images