Thursday, July 6, 2017

Henry James, a Pooh-Bah Who Painted With Words

by Holland Cotter

New York Times

July 6, 2017

“Nothing in the world hears as many silly things said as a picture in a museum,” said the poet Wallace Stevens, quoting a 19th-century French source, in a 1951 lecture at the Museum of Modern Art. Which pictures attract what kind of chatter will change somewhat with fashion. But the link between art and words persists over time. Poets and novelists have traditionally moonlighted as art critics. And some have found such multitasking beneficial to all the media involved.

Stevens did, potentially at least. He went on: “I suppose that it would be possible to study poetry by studying painting or that one could become a painter after one had become a poet, not to speak of carrying on in both métiers at once, with the economy of genius, as Blake did.”

One distinctly uneconomical genius who began as a painter, wrote as an art critic and produced more than 20 major works of poetic, book-length prose fiction, is the subject of the exhibition “Henry James and American Painting” at the Morgan Library & Museum. Organized by Colm Toibin, the novelist, and Declan Kiely, head of the Morgan’s literary and historical manuscripts department, the show is a cross-disciplinary jumble of painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, printed matter and manuscripts, with no single form dominant and with James himself as a kind of multiport power plug at the center.


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