BOSTON, MA (July 2017) – This fall, Henry James and American Painting, an exhibition that is the first to explore the relationship between James’ literary works and the visual arts, opens at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. On view from Oct. 19 to Jan. 21, 2018, it offers a fresh perspective on the master novelist and the significance of his friendships with American artists John La Farge, John Singer Sargent, and James McNeill Whistler, and close friend and esteemed arts patron, Isabella Stewart Gardner.
Originating this summer at the Morgan Library and Museum, the exhibition includes a rich selection of more than 50 oil paintings, drawings, watercolors, photographs, manuscripts, letters, and printed books from 24 museums and private collections in the US, Great Britain, and Ireland. The Gardner Museum will also pay special attention to James’s enduring relationship with Gardner and their circle of mutual friends through archival objects and correspondence drawn from the Museum collection.
“Isabella Stewart Gardner’s bold vision for the Museum as an artistic incubator where all disciplines of art inform and inspire each other—from visual art to dance, literature, music, and the spoken word – is as relevant as ever in today’s fluid, multi-faceted culture,” said Peggy Fogelman, the Museum’s Norma Jean Calderwood Director. "In many ways, it all began in those grand salons with Gardner, James, Sargent, and Whistler.”
James, who had a distinctive, almost painterly style of writing, is best known for his books, Portrait of a Lady (1880), Washington Square (1880), The Wings of a Dove (1902), and The Ambassadors (1903). He was part of a creative circle of writers and artists in the late 1800s that were on the move between grand salons and artists’ studios in Boston, Florence, London, and Rome. A woman ahead of her time, Gardner was an influential part of the group, and her Museum vividly evokes one city that captivated all of them: Venice.
Gardner and her husband, Jack, spent considerable time in Venice where they rented the lavish Palazzo Barbaro on the Grand Canal from friends and fellow Boston expatriates, Daniel and Ariana Curtis. In 1892, James was a guest of the Gardners, and Palazzo Barbaro became the model for the palace in The Wings of the Dove. Sargent’s 1889 painting, An Interior in Venice, showcases the palazzo’s grand salon and is part of the exhibition, on loan from the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Gardner’s own meticulously crafted photo and travel albums record the profound impact that Venice, Palazzo Barbara, and her creative friends had on the formation of her Museum.
“With the Gardner Museum’s renowned collection of art, rare books, and archival material that detail how installations were inspired by great artists and writers of her time, we are the perfect partner with the Morgan for this exhibition,” said Christina Nielsen, the Gardner Museum’s Williams and Lia Poorvu Curator of the Collection who curated the Boston exhibition along with consulting curator Casey Riley of the Boston Athenaeum. “In fact, Isabella’s first serious acquisitions were books, and she was herself an avid reader who understood that words could paint vivid images in one’s mind. A strong and complex woman who sometimes followed—and sometimes flouted—social conventions, she had much in common with the most memorable of James’s heroines.”
Portraiture is a major theme in the exhibition. In less than one decade, James used the word “portrait” in three book titles, including his first literary masterpiece, The Portrait of a Lady. Fiercely protective of his privacy, James nevertheless sat for numerous portraits and photographs. Sargent’s 1913 portrait of James, a treasure on loan for the exhibition from the National Portrait Gallery, London, is perhaps the most famous painted image of the author on his 70th birthday. James described it - with his characteristic wit: “Sargent at his very best and poor old H.J. not at his worst; in short a living breathing likeness and a masterpiece of painting.” Photographs of James by Alice Boughton and Ellen Gertrude Emmet Rand are on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., for the exhibition. They will be featured alongside Sargent’s beloved Portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner, from the Gardner Museum—which James famously described as a “Byzantine Madonna”—and the Portrait of Mrs. Edward Darley Boit, on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Like Sargent, Whistler had long-lasting friendships with James and Gardner, and his Nocturne, Blue and Silver: Battersea Reach and his Little Note in Yellow and Gold, from the Gardner’s collection, are featured prominently in the exhibition. Notable women in the circle of friends are Lila Cabot Perry whose 1913 self-portrait, The Green Hat, will be positioned near landscapes painted by another friend, Elizabeth Boott Duveneck. Duveneck inspired characters in three of James’s most important works: Washington Square (1880), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), and The Golden Bowl (1904). On loan from the Cincinnati Museum of Art for the exhibition is a portrait of Duveneck with her father by her husband, American painter, Frank Duveneck – again illustrating the artistic connections between the influential friends.
Henry James and American Painting opened June 9 at the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan and runs through Sept. 10 before moving to Boston. It is co-curated by Colm Tóibín, the renowned Irish novelist and Jamesian specialist, and Declan Kiely, Robert H. Taylor Curator and Head of the Department of Literary and Historical Manuscripts at the Morgan. Marc Simpson, independent curator and a specialist in 19th- and early 20th-century American art, serves as consulting curator. An illustrated catalogue will include essays by Tóibín and Simpson.
The lead sponsors of the Henry James and American Painting exhibition are Maureen and Michael Ruettgers. Exhibition-related programming is also generously supported by the Abrams Foundation.
Additional support for this exhibition and related programs is provided by the Barr Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which receives funding from the State of Massachusetts and the National Endowment for the Arts. Media sponsor: The Boston Globe.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum - a magical creation of one woman's daring vision - invites you to awaken your senses and be transported. Modeled after a Venetian palazzo, unforgettable galleries surround a luminous courtyard and are home to masters such as Rembrandt, Raphael, Titian, Michelangelo, Whistler, and Sargent. The Renzo Piano wing provides a platform for contemporary artists, musicians, and scholars, and serves as an innovative venue where creativity is celebrated in all of its forms.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum • 25 Evans Way Boston MA 02215 • Hours: Open Daily from 11a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursdays until 9 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. • Admission: Adults $15; Seniors $12; Students $5; Free for members, children under 18, everyone on his/her birthday, and all named “Isabella” • $2 off admission with a same-day Museum of Fine Arts, Boston ticket • For information 617 566 1401 • Box Office 617 278 5156 • www.gardnermuseum.org
DIANA BROWN MCCLOY