Item #2630 Photograph of James Joyce. JAMES JOYCE, GISÈLE FREUND.
Photograph of James Joyce
Photograph of James Joyce

Photograph of James Joyce

Gisèle Freund “is noted for being one of the greatest portrait photographers ever […] She shot the first color portraits of Simone de Beauvoir, Paul Valéry, Colette, André Breton, Virginia Woolf, and numerous writers and artists that will remain unforgettable in our memory.” — Dr. Maria Ruiter, Director of the Galerie Clairefontaine

ICONIC PHOTOGRAPH – AND RARE COLOR PHOTOGRAPH – OF JAMES JOYCE, signed by photographer Gisèle Freund. From the famous Time Magazine photoshoot.

In the spring of 1939, Time Magazine approached Gisèle Freund, asking her is she would be able to photograph James Joyce in color for an upcoming issue scheduled to coincide with the publication of Joyce’s highly anticipated Finnegans Wake. This was not an easy task, for Joyce famously hated being photographed as he was particularly sensitive to bright lights in his eyes. (Ellman 715). In order to receive Joyce’s permission, Freund consulted Sylvia Beach, who encouraged her to use her married name, Blum (Bloom) because “Joyce was a very superstitious man,” as Freund recounts in her autobiography, Gisèle Freund, Photographer (89), and the obvious connection to Joyce’s Leopold Bloom could only help.

Joyce finally agreed to the photoshoot and in the session from which this photograph was taken, “Joyce [is] neatly attired in tie and vest, seated in front of shelves of books, quietly studying a poem with the aid of his magnifying glass […] These portraits, therefore, depict and then reiterate the sedentary, contemplative life of a man in a suit with failing eyesight and a lively mind” (Photo-textualities Reading Photographs and Literature edited by Marsha Bryant 71). Freud captures Joyce’s failing eyesight in this photo, which represents a duality of clarity and blurriness (seen, for instance, in the indecipherable book titles on the shelf behind Joyce). Sylvia Beach details Joyce’s reliance on a magnifying glass due to his poor vision; when he inspected a subsequent printing of Ulysses for errors, she writes that he “eagerly scrutinised the first pages with the help of two pairs of glasses plus a magnifying glass—and I heard an exclamation. Three errors already!” (97-98). 

In Freund’s autobiography, recounts that after setting up her lighting equipment at Joyce’s living quarters at the Rue Edmond Valentin, “he bumped his head into a lamp that hung from the ceiling and he let out a cry: ‘I’m wounded, you’re trying to kill me!’ And he dropped into the chair I had set for him. His wife, Nora, was in the next room. ‘Lend me a pair of scissors,’ I asked her, remembering my childhood and how they had comforted me in similar circumstances. I pressed the cold metal to the writer’s forehead at the almost imperceptible spot where he had touched the lamp. Joyce, having calmed down, posed while reading a book with his special eyeglasses and also with the help of a magnifying glass” (Freund, 88).

Freund thought the pictures from this sitting were irretrievable, since she got into a car accident on her way home. She “immediately telephoned Joyce and said to him, ‘Mister Joyce, you’re the one who’s trying to kill me! I’m almost dead, my taxi had an accident, and the pictures are ruined. Are you satisfied! You’ve put a hex on me!’ Joyce sighed. Then he said, ‘Come back tomorrow.’ So I’d been right. Next day everything went fine. It took me very little time. When the films were developed, I discovered to my great surprise that the ones from the first sitting had not been damaged after all. I thus had two series of color photographs of Joyce. When Joyce saw the picture on the cover of Time, he was very pleased. He told his friends: ‘Gisèle is stronger than the Irish. I didn’t want to be photographed in color, but she took possession of me, not once but twice!’” (88).

The photograph was are offering varies only slightly from the one that was featured on the cover of Time for May 8, 1939, just four days after the publication of Finnegans Wake.

Size: Image = 8x11.5 in; Matte = 14.5x18.5; Framed = 16x20 in.

Paris, 1939. Chromogenic print; printed later (likely c.1970s). Signed by Freund on matte beneath the photo; with Freund’s stamped address and credit on verso and Freund’s blindstamp at bottom right of image. Elegantly framed with archival matting and UV-protecting museum glass. Fine condition.


Sylvia Beach. Shakespeare and Company. United States, University of Nebraska Press, 1991.

Richard Ellman. James Joyce: New and Revised Edition. Oxford University Press, 1982. 

Catherine Flynn. James Joyce and the Matter of Paris. United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Gisèle Freund. Gisèle Freund, Photographer. United States, Harry N. Abrams, 1985. 

Martina Nicholls. The Paris Residences of James Joyce. N.p., Cambridge Scholars Publishers, 2020.

Price: $4,900 .

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