Skip to main content

Henry James

Cecilia Beaux, 1 May 1855 - 17 Sep 1942
Henry James, 15 Apr 1843 - 28 Feb 1916
Charcoal on paper
Sheet: 50.7 × 38.5cm (19 15/16 × 15 3/16")
Mat: 71.1 × 55.9cm (28 × 22")
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Object number
Exhibition Label
Cecilia Beaux's portrait of Henry James was commissioned by their mutual friend Helena Gilder. It depicts James during his final trip to the United States, when he was recovering from a nervous breakdown and the death of his brother, William. At first, Beaux found James "almost impossible to do. So delicate and spiritual in solid exterior." Beaux reconciled the disparity of delicate mind and corpulent body by placing James's head high on the page and downplaying his torso. The drawing reflects Beaux's advice 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." James, much pleased, complimented the drawing's "astonishing. . . economy of means."
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
See more items in
National Portrait Gallery Collection