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Henry James; William James

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Henry James; William James

by Marie Leon
bromide print, early 1900s
7 7/8 in. x 5 7/8 in. (201 mm x 150 mm)
Given by Royal Historical Society, 1952
Photographs Collection
NPG x18720

Sittersback to top

  • Henry James (1843-1916), Novelist. Sitter in 16 portraits.
  • William James (1842-1910), Professor of philosophy. Sitter in 2 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Marie Leon (active circa 1901-1930), Photographer. Artist of 2 portraits.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 159 Read entry

    Although sometimes said to date from one of Henry James' trips to America, this photograph by the self-styled 'artistic photographer', Marie Leon of 30 Regent Street, London, was almost certainly taken at her London studio, perhaps in 1908 when James' elder brother, William, Professor of Philosophy at Harvard, was in England to deliver the Hibbert Lectures at Oxford.

    Born in New York, Henry James was in spirit a European, and settled in England in 1876. His finest novels, among them The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Wings of the Dove (1902) and The Golden Bowl (1904) all date from after his arrival, and several treat the subject of the impact of European civilization upon American life. At Harvard William James set up the first American laboratory of psychology, and founded in 1884 the American Society for Psychical Research. His Principles of Psychology was published in 1890, and The Varieties of Religious Experience in 1902. In later life heart disease made him an invalid, and in 1908 he spent some weeks in convalescence with his brother at his home, Lamb House, Rye in Sussex. Henry James wrote on 3 September to Edmund Gosse:

    the summer here fairly rioted in blandness & he (my brother) got 3 or 4 weeks of tranquil recuperative days (he had come to me unwell) largely in my garden.

    Although the brothers apparently got on well, there was an underlying ambivalence in their relationship. In 1905, for instance, William heard that he had been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, two months after the election of his younger brother, and he wrote to refuse the honour:

    I am the more encouraged in this course by the fact that my younger and shallower & vainer brother is already in the Academy.

    In Marie Leon's photograph the characters of the brothers are cleverly individualized. Neither looks at the camera: William, the philosopher and visionary, stares impassively into space, while Henry, the novelist and critic, leaning affectionately towards his brother, turns to observe what is going on around them. Little is known of Leon's career, but in the later 1920S she moved to 50 Park Road, Regent's Park, styling herself 'Madame' Leon.

Events of 1900back to top

Current affairs

The Conservatives return to power, after the Prime Minister Lord Salisbury calls a general election, known as the 'Khaki election', on the back of huge jingoistic support for the Boer War.
The Labour Representation Committee (LRC) is founded from a coalition of socialist groups; they win two seats in the 1900 election and Ramsay Macdonald is appointed secretary. The Labour politician Keir Hardie is also returned to Parliament for Merthyr Tydfilin Wales.

Art and science

German physicist Max Planck proposes the concept of the quantum theory. Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams is published. In the text, Freud outlines his theory of dream analysis, crucial to the study of the unconscious, and introduces key concepts in psychoanalysis, such as the Ego.
The Paris International Exhibition, attended by more than 50 million people and including over 76,000 exhibitors, marks the heyday of Art Nouveau.


In China the Boxer rebellion takes place. The Boxers were anti-imperialist and against foreign influence in trade, religion, politics and technology in the final years of the Manchu rule. The Boxers invade Beijing, killing 230 foreigners and Chinese Christians. The rebellion is suppressed by a multinational coalition of 20,000 troops, with China being forced to pay large war reparations, contributing to growing nationalist resentment against the Qing dynasty.

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