Sir William Nicholson

Portrait of a Man of Letters: W.E. Henley

1901

Artist
Sir William Nicholson 1872–1949
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 375 x 298 mm
frame: 593 x 508 x 82 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Bequeathed by Mrs W.E. Henley 1925
Reference
N04087

Not on display

Display caption

W.E.Henley (1849-1903) was a poet and writer on modern art. He edited the magazine 'New Review', for which he commissioned in 1897 Nicholson's well known woodcut of Queen Victoria. This portrait of Henley, painted in the last years of his life, was probably paid for by a group of his friends. He was the model for the pirate Long John Silver in Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Treasure Island'. He walked with a stick, shown here on a table in front of him.
In another picture Nicholson sought to capture Henley's personality by painting his lopsided hat, on its own.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

N04087 PORTRAIT OF A MAN OF LETTERS: W.E. HENLEY 1901

Inscr. ‘Nicholson 1901’ b.l.
Canvas, 14 3/4×11 3/4 (37·5×30).
Bequeathed by Mrs W.E. Henley 1925.
Exh: International Society, October–December 1901 (79, repr.), as ‘Portrait of a Man of Letters’; Art and Industrial Exhibition, Wolverhampton, 1902 (144), as ‘Man of Letters W. E. Henley, Esq.’; National Gallery, January 1942 (82).
Lit: Steen, 1943, p.63; Browse, 1956, p.38.
Repr: Art Journal, 1906, p.34; S. K[ennedy] N[orth], William Nicholson, 1923, pl.6; Nichols, 1948, pl.6.

William Ernest Henley, 1849–1903, the poet, critic and, in collaboration with Robert Louis Stevenson, dramatist. Portrayed in Stevenson's essay Talk and Talkers as ‘Burly’ and also reflected in the character of ‘Long John Silver’. Among other activities edited The Magazine of Art, 1882–6, championing Rodin and Whistler, and The New Review, 1894–8; commissioned a series of portraits for the latter from William Nicholson and wrote verses for the artist's series of London types published in 1898.

The date has hitherto been read as ‘1900’. A woodcut version is repr. Steen, 1943, facing p.19 (in colour). Nicholson also painted a picture of Henley's distinctive hat (see Browse, op. cit., p.122).

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II

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