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James Joyce

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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James Joyce

by Jacques-Emile Blanche
oil on canvas, 1935
49 1/4 in. x 34 1/2 in. (1251 mm x 876 mm)
Purchased, 1953
Primary Collection
NPG 3883

Sitterback to top

  • James Joyce (1882-1941), Novelist, poet and playwright. Sitter in 7 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Jacques-Emile Blanche (1861-1942), Painter and writer. Artist or producer associated with 8 portraits, Sitter in 3 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This portrait was painted in Paris. Blanche recorded in his autobiography that Joyce, who suffered from eye problems, was sensitive about the bulging left-hand lens of his spectacles.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Smartify image discovery app
  • 100 Writers, p. 90
  • Jeffares, A. Norman, Character Sketches: The Irish Literary Movement, 1998, p. 4
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 343
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 207 Read entry

    This portrait by Jacques-Emile Blanche (1861–1942) of James Joyce, one of the great modernist novelists of the twentieth century, was painted during a period of crisis in the sitter’s life. By then, Joyce was established as a writer of great originality, his reputation founded on his first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and its successor Ulysses (1922). The latter book courted controversy and was banned in the United States until 1933, and in Britain until 1934. He had commenced his complex novel Finnegan’s Wake (1939), a project that preoccupied him for seventeen years. But from the 1930s, Joyce’s health was precarious. In addition to attacks of colitis, the illness that would eventually kill him, he was beset with problems affecting his eyesight and worked with a magnifying glass. He was also gravely concerned about the mental state of his daughter, Lucia, who had been diagnosed with hebremia, a form of schizophrenia.

    In 1935, when this portrait was painted, Lucia’s increasingly violent behaviour led Joyce to recognise that she was in ‘the abyss of insanity’. With his left eye afflicted, and self-conscious about his spectacles, Joyce was depicted with his face turned to the side.

Placesback to top

Events of 1935back to top

Current affairs

Stanley Baldwin starts his third term as Prime Minister after Ramsay Macdonald resigns due to ill health. Coincidentally, Baldwin's first term in office also came about when the Prime Minister of the time, Bonar Law, stepped down due to illness in 1923.

Art and science

Robert Watson-Watt demonstrates Radar, showing how an aircraft can be tracked by detecting radio waves reflected off it. During the war, Watson-Watt established a network of machines and operators that helped detect the approach of enemy aircraft in the Battle of Britain.
Penguin publishes its first paperback books, making reading more portable and affordable to a wider audience.


Italy invades Abyssinia. The invasion of the country now known as Ethiopia was part of Mussolini's plan to create an Italian Empire. It was also an attempt to avenge Abyssinia's victory over the Italian army at Adowa in 1896.
Germany introduces conscription, breaking the disarmament clause of the Treaty of Versailles.

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