Item #2691 Photograph of James Joyce. JAMES JOYCE, BERENICE ABBOTT.
Photograph of James Joyce
Photograph of James Joyce
Photograph of James Joyce

Photograph of James Joyce


Berenice Abbott’s (American, 1898 - 1991) sensitive portrait of the Irish writer James Joyce (1882 - 1941) is considered a defining image of the author known for his experimental ‘stream of consciousness’ novels Ulysses and Finnegans’ Wake. A former dark room assistant to Man Ray, Abbott took this portrait in 1926, the same year she established her own portrait studio where she photographed André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Jean Cocteau and other luminaries of Paris’ literary and visual avant-garde. Although Abbott’s early portraits are indebted stylistically to Man Ray's, she brought to them a sympathetic eye that was very much her own. In this portrait of Joyce she reveals a complex and sympathetic character.

Abbott photographed Joyce on two separate occasions, the first in 1926 at his home in Paris, the second in 1928 at her studio. She also created portraits of Joyce’s wife Nora and their daughter Lucia. The earlier portraits taken in Joyce’s home undoubtedly offer a more intimate view of the author. In fact, Abbot described a nearly identical photograph from the 1926 sitting as the latest and most authentic portrait of James Joyce. At the time he was laboring on Finnegans’ Wake while suffering from painful eye problems and blindness in his left eye. In this particular exposure Joyce assumes a relaxed pose in an armchair with his right hand behind his head. Abbott employed soft, diffused lighting to suggest a complex, introverted nature.

Companion exposures from the 1926 portrait sitting can be found at the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and National Portrait Gallery, London, among other institutions. At some point the negative cracked in the upper right hand corner. Some prints reveal the visible crack, but for this print Abbott chose to crop it, subsequently omitting Joyce’s left hand.

Signed by Abbott on the right of the matte, just below the image. With Abbott's "50 Commerce St. New York 14 N.Y." stamp on verso.

Size: Image = 9 1/2 x 7 5/8 inches (240 x 196 mm); with original matte = appox. 11x14 in.

Take in 1926 (Paris); likely printed 1970s (New York). Gelatin silver print. A few smudges to extreme edges of matte; image fine.

Price: $3,900 .

See all items in Art & Photography, Literature
See all items by ,