Index > Library > Novels > Keep_the_Aspidistra_Flying > English > E-text

John Sargent and Henry James

Henry James (1843-1916)

Henry James, an expatriate American writer who settled in England and eventually became an British citizen. He is considered by most to be one of the great english literary writers and among his best known works is The Ambassadors.

James lived for a period in Paris but hated it and finally found his home in London and was a big supporter of JSS coming to England after the Madame X scandal.

During his period at Broadway with Sargent in 1885, he was writing The Bostonians and The Princess (1884-1886). His reputation by then had already been well founded along with his age, being one of the oldest, made him by far the dean of this small colony of artists gathered there.

It was James, who was one of the first to recognize Sargent, and praised him to American audiences. When Sargent eventually ventured to the United States in 1887 for his first portrait commissions on this side of the ocean, Henry James introduced Americans to this American painter in an unheard of (for such a young artist) nine page spread extolling his talents for Harper's New Monthly Magazine. The clout that James had with Harper's and the generous appraisal from his friend, went a long way at promoting Sargent's career in the eyes of the public -- John would never forget that.

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)

Sargent presented this charcoal portrait to King George V in 1916, two weeks after James's death (James died in July). James had been given The Order of Merit by King Edward VII previously, and this drawing has since been kept with a collection of other honorees.

[John Singer Sargent's Henry James (charcoal)]
Sargent's Henry James
Charcoal — 24 1/2 x 16 in.
Royal Library at Windsor Castle

The Order was founded by King Edward VII on his coronation in 1902 to give special recognition to those who had rendered exceptional service to the Crown or towards the advancement of the Arts, Learning, Literature and Science.

[John Singer Sargent's portrait of Henry James]
Sargent's Henry James
Oil on canvas — 85.1 x 67.3 in.
National Portrait Gallery, London

When Sargent did this portrait of James, it was for his seventieth birthday (Sargent was 57). John had tried to paint James earlier in their friendship but both had felt the painting had been a failure. This painting was attacked by a women's suffragette in the attempt to bring notice to her cause. Sargent would later fix it.

DAY MAY 5, 1914


Sargent Portrait of Henry James Damaged

A Woman In Custody

The militant suffragists added yesterday to their long list of outrages by a violent attack on Mr. Sargent's portrait of Mr. Henry James at the Royal Academy. The attack, as in the case of that upon the "Rokeby" Venus at the National Gallery, was made with a meat chopper. the assailant being an elderly woman of distinctly peaceable appearance. The picture, which was covered by glass, was badly cut in three separate places, on the left side of the head, on the right side of the mouth, and below the right shoulder. The cut were of a jagged character and the paint has been stripped from the canvas in places.

Story of the Outrage

Yesterday being the opening day of the Academy, the rooms and galleries were crowded with visitors. The outrage occurred about 1.25 PM. The picture was hanging in Room III. According to the accounts of witnesses the first indication of the attack was the sound of breaking glass. For a moment those in the neighbourhood of the picture were too surprised to take action and in that moment a second blow and then a third were struck by the woman who made not the slightest pause in her wok of destruction.

Immediately a rush was made and, after a slight struggle, she was secured, several ladies assisting. The noise attracted visitors from other rooms, who showed their resentment of the outrage so vehemently that the police, who in a brief interval had taken the suffragist in charge, had to hurry her from the gallery. Meanwhile, a man who attempted to defend her and who seemed to the crowd to be a sympathizer was roughly handled. His spectacles were broken over his nose (he has since preferred a claim for a new pair), and he was driven out of the building.

The scuffle lasted for several minutes and naturally aroused great excitement amongst the visitors. As soon as the prisoner had bee removed the room was cleared and the picture taken from its place on the wall. Thereafter the Council of the Academy was hastily summoned. Mr. Sargent was sent for and came down to the Academy.

Extent of the Damage

The picture is very severely damaged, but it is hoped that it may be possible to restore it. Mr. Lamb, the secretary of the Academy, told a representative of The Times that the picture was greatly admired by the King on Sunday during his informal visit. He could not say at at present what would be done. Pictures were not insured and hung at the artist's or the owner's risk. "I think" he added, 'that in future artists will require to paint their pictures on armour plate."

The suffragist, Mrs Mary Wood, was bought before Mr. Denman at Marlborough-street Police Court later in the afternoon and charged with wilfully damaging the picture. She is an old woman with white hair and wore a loose purple overcloak, in the ample folds of which a much larger implement than the chopper which was produced in Court, could have been hidden. Her behaviour throughout the proceedings was quiet,

Mr Maskett prosecuted

Mr Stuart Boyd, an artist, who was present at the time of the outrage described how he heard the smash and saw the prisoner deliver her second and third blows. He and another man at once restrained her.

On being asked if she had any question to put Mrs Wood declared in a loud voice, "No, thank you. There is really no good to go on. I acknowledge that I did it — as a protest." The prisoner later repeated this statement.

Another artist, an attendant from the Academy, and Police-constable Rabbetts, who made the arrest, then gave evidence. The constable said that in the hall the woman stated, "If they only gave women the vote this would never have happened,' and added,

What about Sir Edward Carson?

The prisoner (interrupting), — And Mr. Bonar Law, Mr. Walter Lamb, secretary of the Royal Academy. said that the picture measured 3 ft. by 2 ft., and so far as the Academy was concerned was the property of Mr. Sargent. He valued it at about £700. He thought that it could be repaired. It was difficult to assess the damage, but he put it between £100 and £200.

The prisoner was understood to say that if the picture had been painted by a woman its value would have been less than £700. She was committed for trial at the London Sessions.

This Brave Woman

Reference was made to the outrage at the weekly meeting of Women's Social and Political Union at Knightsbridge Hall, when a statement from Mrs Wood, described as "this brave woman" was read.

The letter opened with the following words: — "I have tried to destroy a valuable picture because I wish to show the public that they have no security for their property nor their art treasures until women are given political freedom."

The statement was recieved with applause, and names were called for for a deputation which is to be sent to the King. Lady Isabel Margresson declared that suffragists did not approve of damaging works of art, but were "driven to these straits".

May, 1914

Material and photos ‘taken’ from beautiful
‘Virtual John Singer Sargent Gallery’
by Natasha Wallace
E-mail: [email protected]
‘The Times’ article quoted from the National Portrait Gallery

Formatted by: O. Dag
Last modified on: 2019-12-29

‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’: [Index page]

Library [Eng] [Rus] > Novels [Eng] [Rus] ~ [CSS off]

[] [Home] [Biography] [Library] [A Life] [Info & (c)] [Links] [Site map] [Search] [Feedback]

© 1999-2023 O. Dag – ¡C. date: 2001-10-12 & L. mod.: 2019-12-29!