Tour of Exhibition Portrait Index Catalog and Traveling Exhibition
Henry James 18431916
Cecilia Beaux's 1911 portrait of Henry James was commissioned by their mutual friend Helena Gilder. It depicts the American-born author during his final trip to the United States. Recovering from a nervous breakdown, the novelist had recently endured the death of his brother, William. Despite these hardships and concerns for his physical health, Henry James felt a sense of hope as the year 1911 opened.

At the first sitting, Beaux found James "almost impossible to do. So delicate and spiritual in solid exterior." Beaux placed his magisterial head high on the page, downplaying his corpulent body. The drawing reflects the technical advice Beaux imparted to her students: place the eyes at the moment they are most interesting, do not lose the first impression, look for the large planes of shadow on the head, and since light falls like rain, look for the places on the head that would get wet. The portrait pleased James, who complimented the drawing's "astonishing . . . economy of means."

Cecilia Beaux (18551942)
Charcoal on paper, 1911
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery Home | Teacher's Guide | Credits | Comments | Copyright