Meeting Rossetti in London


Henry James (1843–1916)
Autograph letter, signed, to John La Farge, 20 June 1869
Lent by the New-York Historical Society, La Farge Papers, New York; ms 360.

Writing from Lake Geneva in the summer of 1869, James recounted his recent  rst visit to England. There, he had met Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his studios, seen the work of Edward Burne-Jones, and visited the National Gallery in London. James admired Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne, which he called “a thing to go barefoot to see!” About Titian’s Ariosto, James wrote: “Ah, John! what a painter. For him, methinks, I’d give all the rest.” While in England, James’s friend Charles Eliot Norton took him to meet the “very amiable” John Ruskin, whose art criticism had deeply impressed James. Ruskin showed James his collection of works by Turner, though James admitted to La Farge that “I think I prefer Claude. He had better taste, at any rate.”

Henry James to John La Farge
Glion, Lake of Geneva, June 20th [1869]

Verso: I did see Rossetti, Chas. Norton having conducted me to his studio—in the most

Recto: delicious melancholy old house at Chelsea on the river. When I think what Englishmen ought to be, with such homes & haunts! Rossetti however, does not shame his advantages. Personally, he struck me as unattractive—poor man, I suppose he was horribly bored!—but his pictures, as I saw them in his room, I think decidedly strong. They were all large fanciful portraits of women, of the type que vous savez, narrow, special, monotonous, but with lots of beauty & power. His chief inspiration & constant model is Mrs. Wm. Morris, [wife of the poet] whom I had seen, a woman of extraordinary beauty of a certain sort—a face, in fact quite made to his hand. He has painted a dozen portraits of her—one, in particular, in a blue gown, with her hair down, pressing a lot of lilies against

Verso: her breast—an almost great work.