Henry James and American Painting Exhibition at The Morgan Library, NYC
On View through Sept 10, 2017
Henry James (photogravure above in 1906 and painting of him in 1862) equated the art of the writer with that of the artist, declaring he saw no difference in their acts of creation. In The Art of Fiction, he wrote, “… the honour of one is the honour of another.” Fascinated with the visual arts, James often explored the artistic process, inspiration, and influence of art in his novels.
I thought I’d run in, glance at the Morgan Library exhibit for a half hour and be on my way, but I lingered for two hours. So engaged was I that I read the accompanying wall text—a rarity for me when many museum labels are often, in my humble opinion, a bullshit attempt to be erudite but are frequently just obtuse. Instead, I found myself absorbed in the text, laughing aloud at entertaining stories and James’ numerous observations about his artistic circle of friends such as James McNeill Whistler, John La Farge, and John Singer Sargent among others. Many of his friends were players in James’ novels, and their lives were fodder for his plots. Much of this is clearly evident in images and text selected.
Early in his career, James himself attempted to paint, but–determined to avoid mediocrity–opted instead to write painterly novels, clearly an inspiration to the co-curators, Declan Kiely, head of the Morgan’s Department of Literary and Historical Manuscripts, and novelist Colm Tóibín. They collected an enticing selection of artwork–paintings, drawings, watercolors, sculptures, photographs, as well as the written word–books, manuscripts, and letters from museums and private collections in the United States, Great Britain, and Ireland. They have assembled vivid stories of artistic connectivity. It’s an inspired exhibit.
To read more, check out the NYTimes review: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/06/arts/design/henry-james-a-poohbah-who-painted-with-words.html?mcubz=3&_r=0
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