Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow


Henry James

Nationality: American
Date of birth: 1843.04.15
Place of birth: 2 Washington Place, New York, NY
Date of death: 1916.02.28
Place of death: Cheyne Walk, London
Category: writer


Henry James was a writer and art critic.


In 1877, having moved to London the previous year, James, when reviewing the Grosvenor Gallery, wrote enthusiastically of the work of Edward Burne-Jones but showed little interest in the works of Whistler, whom he described in 1878 as 'a queer little Londonized Southerner'.

In March 1881, four months after Whistler had left Venice, James arrived in Venice. His written descriptions of Venice complement Whistler's pictorial ones in pastel, drypoint and etching. Both benefitted from the hospitality of the American Bronson family at their home in the Ca' Alvisi.

James's comments on Whistler's work continued to be not entirely favourable. He wrote in 1882 concerning Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux y229, which was being shown at the Grosvenor Gallery, 'her hat doesn't fit; I also contest her flesh-colour, which has a light gray tinge, not usually remarked in the human complexion'.

However, Whistler and James became friends and it was James who introduced Whistler to Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac on 3 July 1885. In 1889 James was invited to a public dinner in honour of Whistler, and in 1891 James gave Whistler and his wife complementary tickets to see The American at a theatre in London (GUW #02402).

In February 1897 Whistler gave James an etching, Mairie, Loches [413], and James declared his feeling of kinship with the artist, 'The arts are one...', and described Whistler's work as 'exquisite' (GUW #02404).

Reviewing the Grafton Galleries exhibition of that year, James declared of Arrangement in Black, No. 3: Sir Henry Irving as Philip II of Spain y187, 'To turn from his picture to the rest of the show... is to drop from the world of distinction, of perception, of beauty and mystery and perpetuity, into - well, a very ordinary place.' In turn Whistler expressed admiration for James's writing.

James's character the sculptor Gloriani from his novel The Ambassadors was clearly based on Whistler.

Unlike Whistler, who although never returning to America did not renounce his citizenship, James became a British citizen in 1915.


James, Henry, Picture and Text, New York, 1893; Sweeney, J. L., The Painter's Eye, London, 1956; Winner, V. H., Henry James and the Visual Arts, Charlottesville, 1970; Tintner, A. R., The Museum World of Henry James, Ann Arbor, 1986; Tintner, A. R., Henry James and the List of the Eyes: Thirteen Artists in his Fiction, Baton Rouge, 1993; Tintner, Adeline, 'Henry James', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy.