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Portraits of Henry James

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james 3 a

In her review of Monopolising the Master, Anne Diebel briefly mentioned my father, Michael Swan. In a 1955 piece for the London Magazine, he’d quoted liberally – and without permission – from James’s letters to the sculptor Hendrik Andersen. The letters were astonishingly candid and indiscreet, and loaded with exclamation marks. It’s also astonishing that the London Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar, which reprinted the piece, weren’t sued by the estate.

Until Diebel’s review reminded me, I’d forgotten that I have a framed set of three photographs of James and Andersen. They were in an old green carrier bag, along with dozens of photographs from my father’s travels in South America, given to me by my cousin Julia in 2003, when I was researching my memoir Statues without Shadows.

james 2

My father interviewed Andersen’s sister, Lucia, among many others, for a BBC radio programme, Recollections of Henry James, broadcast in 1956. In Rome, Lucia, then in her seventies, showed my father an album of photographs she’d taken in her brother’s studio in spring 1907, when James was sitting for the bust Andersen was sculpting. I’m guessing she gave my father the photographs and he had them framed in London (the mounting is water damaged but the photographs are intact). One (at the top here) doesn’t appear to be already elsewhere online. I daren’t remove the fragile paper backing to see if they were signed by James or Andersen.

Of the forty or so radio programmes my father presented, only Recollections escaped the BBC purges of the 1970s. The interviewees include Max Beerbohm, Violet Bonham Carter, Compton Mackenzie, Ethel Sands, Ruth Draper, Theodora Bosanquet (James’s secretary) and Burgess Noakes, his valet. The ‘Toff’ would have wanted to be presentable when the doctor arrived, Noakes told my father. ‘There was one last service I was able to render Mr James – I shaved him just after he passed away.’

I’m ashamed to admit that for the past decade these photographs have been languishing in their dusty carrier bag at the back of a cupboard. I’d be happy to hear from any institution or collector who will do a better job of looking after them: anna@annaswan.co.uk

James 1

Comments on “Portraits of Henry James”

  1. jwaphd says:

    Marvelous photographs. Especially because of the emotional importance of this relationship to HJ. I recommend you email the Houghton Library at Harvard, which houses the great collection of James Papers. Probably they would at least arrange the costs of your sending the pictures there, and then they would be preserved and would be available to scholars. I’ve found them to be reliable about replying to emails. Here is the email address of co-acting director,
    Rachel Howarth:

    Thank you for sharing the photos.
    James W. Anderson, Ph.D., Northwestern University

    • Anna says:

      Many thanks James. The response has been terrific – I’ve received emails from various institutions, including the Houghton Library. Next step is to consult a conservation expert to see if the photographs have been signed. Thanks again for your reply. All best, Anna

  2. jwriter says:

    Dear Anna, thanks so much for posting these photos! I’m in the midst of reading Toibin’s The Master for the fourth time, and it is just wonderful to see Mr. James as he appeared in his later years. Do you know if any of your father’s radio interviews from the 1950’s are available anywhere, like youtube, or perhaps in transcript form? I would absolutely love to hear his interview with Theodora Bosanquet, James’ last emanuensis, as I’m musing on writing a novel about her and her eminent employer. I actually just had published this year a book about John Singer Sargent, a great friend and protege of Henry James, in which James appears as a character–it was such fun writing him in! (The book is titled Portraits of an Artist.) Anyway, please do let me know if a transcript or audio version of your father’s interviews are available anywhere. Thanks again. mary f. burns

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