Henry James and the Visual Arts

deadline for submissions: 
March 31, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
University of Reading

Henry James and the Visual Arts

University of Reading, Thursday 29 June 2023

Henry James wrote in 1884 that ‘the analogy between the art of the painter and the art of the novelist is […] complete’. Deeply engaged with the contemporary art world, both professionally as a critic and personally, James was also attuned to the ways in which other artistic media informed his own writerly practices and the aesthetic worlds he recreated in his novels. From his first short story (‘A Landscape Painter’ (1866)) to his last complete novel (The Outcry (1911)), he depicted painters, sculptors, collectors, objets d’art,jewellery, dealers, galleries, museums, critics, copyists, artists’ models and printers. He met Ruskin, Pater, Burne-Jones, Whistler, Millais, Leighton and D.G. Rossetti, and was close to painters John Singer Sargent, William Morris Hunt and John La Farge, sculptors Hendrik Andersen and William Wetmore Story, and the cartoonist George du Maurier. His travel writing shows his keen interest in architecture.

Literature and visual arts such as painting, sculpture and architecture have always been ‘sister arts’ but in the nineteenth century this relationship became more adversarial. Literature colonized the visual arts: the rise of art criticism projected words onto images, objects and buildings, while novelists appropriated the vocabulary of painters to elevate the novel into a high art. But the visual arts fought back: just as the new realist novel pledged to record the world like never before, photography began to occupy the narrative space of the novel. While individuals were engaged in such border wars, wider movements tried to unite the arts, such as aestheticism and the many avant-gardes in its wake.

This one-day conference asks what the figure of James can tell us about the rivalry and co-operation between literature and the visual arts in the late-nineteenth century, and what insights this might offer us about our own age of the image in which the written word risks becoming marginalized. It seeks to bring together scholars working on James and more widely on the visual arts and literature during the nineteenth century.

Contributors are invited to reflect on any aspect of James’s writing on the visual arts, or on the ways in which the language and practice of those arts inform his writing. Speakers might address James’s relationship with painting, architecture, sculpture, and aesthetics more broadly.

Please submit abstracts of 250–400 words with 100 word bios to j.m.scholar@reading.ac.uk and giles.whiteley@english.su.se by Friday 31 March 2023.