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Gallery Text

Sargent was one of the leading portraitists in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Born in Florence to expatriate parents, he spent his career shuttling between the major American and European capitals. He painted this penetrating portrait of the Boston banker, philanthropist, and Civil War veteran Henry Lee Higginson while visiting the United States to install his mural cycle at the Boston Public Library.

In 1899, Higginson donated funds to build the Harvard Union (now the Barker Center), and the portrait was commissioned to hang in this new building. Cast in somber tones reminiscent of the Old Masters, the portrait emphasizes Higginson’s military service. The sitter’s Civil War cavalry cloak is spread across his lap, and a battle scar is visible on his right cheek.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
John Singer Sargent, American (Florence, Italy 1856 - 1925 London, England)
Henry Lee Higginson (1834 - 1919)
Henry Lee Higginson (1834-1919)
Other Titles
Former Title: Major Henry Higginson
Work Type
Creation Place: North America, United States, Massachusetts, Boston
Persistent Link
Level 2, Room 2100, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, Centuries of Tradition, Changing Times: Art for an Uncertain Age
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Physical Descriptions
Oil on canvas
246.1 x 153.7 cm (96 7/8 x 60 1/2 in.)
framed: 277.5 x 185.7 x 17.8 cm (109 1/4 x 73 1/8 x 7 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: l.l.: John S. Sargent 1903
  • label: bottom edge of frame, brass, inscription: Portrait of/MAJOR HENRY LEE HIGGINSON/Fellow of Harvard College 1893-1919,/painted by John Singer Sargent/at the request and as the gift of/many students of the College/that it might hang in the Harvard Union,/given and dedicated in 1901 by Major Higginson.
Student subscription to the Harvard Union, gift; to Harvard University, 1903
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard University Portrait Collection, Gift by student subscription to the Harvard Union, 1903
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

Royal Cortissoz, "John S. Sargent", Scribner's Magazine (November 1903), vol. XXIV, no. 5, pp. 514-532, pp. 514-532

Charles H. Caffin, "John S. Sargent: The Greatest Contemporary Portrait Painter", The World's Work 7 (November 1903), pp. 4099-4116, repr. (n.p.)

[Unidentified article], The Harvard Graduates' Magazine, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, December 1903), vol. XII, p. 213

Mrs. Alice Christiana (Thompson) Meynell, The Work of John S. Sargent, R. A., W. Heinemann, Ltd/C. Scribner's Sons (London, England and New York, NY, 1903), repr. full page, b/w [unpaginated]

Richard Watson Gilder, Letters of Richard Watson Gilder, ed. Rosamond Gilder, Houghton Mifflin Company (Boston and New York, 1916), p. 354-355

Bliss Perry, Life and Letters of Henry Lee Higginson, Atlantic Monthly Press (Boston, MA, 1921), pp. 358-359, 385, 420, frontispiece

Forbes Watson, "John Singer Sargent", The Arts, Hamilton Easter Field (Brooklyn, N.Y., 1924), V (March), pp. 140, 149, ill. p. 140

Leila Mechlin, "The Sargent Exhibition: Grand Central Art Galleries New York", The American Magazine of Art (April 1924), vol. XV, no. 4, pp. 168-190, p. 170, ill. p. 176

Nathaniel Pousette-Dart, John Singer Sargent, Frederick A. Stokes Company (New York, 1924), ill. viii

Retrospective Exhibition of Important Works by John Singer Sargent, exh. cat., Grand Central Art Galleries (New York, NY, 1924), repr. p. 24

A Catalogue of the Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the Late John Singer Sargent, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, MA, 1925), no. 84, repr.

William Howe Downes, John S. Sargent, His Life and Work, Little, Brown & Company (Boston, MA, 1925), pp. 206-207, ill. opp. p. 240

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, A Catalogue of the Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the Late John Singer Sargent (Boston, 1926), no. 86, repr.

Memorial Exhibition of the Work of John Singer Sargent, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY, 1926), no. 44, repr.

Evan Charteris, John Sargent, Charles Scribner's Sons (New York, NY, 1927), p. 270

Mary Caroline Crawford, Famous Families of Old New England, Little, Brown & Company (Boston, MA, 1929)

Charles Moore, The Life and Times of Charles Follen McKim, Houghton Mifflin Company (Boston, MA, 1929), pp. 287-288

Laura M. Huntsinger, Harvard Portraits: A Catalogue of Portrait Paintings at Harvard University, ed. Alan Burroughs, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1936), p. 72, ill. p. 71

F. O. Matthiessen and Kenneth B. Murdoch, The Notebooks of Henry James, Oxford University Press (UK) (New York, NY, 1947), pp. 315, 317, 323

Charles Merrill Mount, John Singer Sargent: A Biography, W. W. Norton & Company (New York, NY, 1955), pp. 237, 254-56, 394, 437

David McKibbin, Sargent's Boston, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, MA, 1956), cat. no. 35, p. 69; p. 44, repr. in b/w fig. 26

Henry James, The American Scene (Bloomington, IN, 1968 (1907))

Richard Ormond, John Singer Sargent: Paintings, Drawings, Watercolors, Harper & Row (New York, NY and London, England, 1970), Pl. 86

Adeline R. Tintner, "Sargent in the Fiction of Henry James", Apollo (August 1975), pp. 128-32, fig. 8, p. 132

Janet Baker-Carr, "Vita: Henry Lee Higginson", Harvard Magazine (Cambridge, MA, November 1977 - December 1977), p. 45, p. 45

John Singer Sargent, His Own Work, exh. cat., Coe Kerr Gallery, Inc. (New York, NY, 1980), in checklist, unpaginated

Henry B. Adams, The Letters of Henry Adams, ed. J. C. Levenson, Eleanor Pearre Abbot, and Jayne N. Samuels, Belknap Press (Cambridge, MA, 1982 - 1988), pp. 473, 479, 495-496

Carol Troyen and Pamela S. Tabbaa, The Great Boston Collectors: Paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, 1984), fig. 5

Gary A. Reynolds, "Sargent and the Grand Manner Portrait", The Magazine Antiques, Straight Enterprises (New York, November 1986), vol 130, pp. 982-83, pp. 982-983, fig. 2

Trevor J. Fairbrother, John Singer Sargent and America, Garland Publishing, Inc. (New York, NY, 1986), pp. 290-294, fig. 76

Stanley Olson, John Singer Sargent: His Portrait, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY, 1986), p. 226

Trevor J. Fairbrother, Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., William L. Vance, and Erica E. Hirshler, The Bostonians: Painters of an Elegant Age, 1870-1930, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, MA, 1986), no. 4, repr.

Elaine Kilmurray and Richard Ormond, John Singer Sargent, exh. cat., Tate Gallery Publishing Limited (London, England, 1998), cat. no. 62, pp. 162 - 164, repr. in color

Carol Troyen, "Sargent and Major", Harvard Magazine (1999), May-June, p. 74

Jane Turner, The Encyclopedia of American Art before 1914, Macmillan Publishers Limited (London, England, 2000), p. 450

Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: The Later Portraits, Yale University Press (New Haven CT and London England, 2003), no. 448, repr.

John T. Bethell, Richard M. Hunt, and Robert Shenton, Harvard A to Z, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 2004), p. 277

Warren Adelson, William H. Gerdts, and Elaine Kilmurray, Sargent's Venice, Yale University Press (U.S.) (New Haven and London, 2006), p. 158, fig. 161

Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., Virginia Anderson, and Kimberly Orcutt, ed., American Paintings at Harvard, Volume Two, Paintings, Drawings, Pastels and Stained Glass by Artists Born 1826-1856, Harvard Art Museums and Yale University Press (U.S.) (Cambridge, MA and New Haven, CT, 2008), p. 322-23, cat. 341, ill. p. 323

Bernard Barryte, ed., Rodin and America: Influence and Adaptation, 1876-1936, exh. cat., Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts (Stanford, CA, 2011), pp. 320-321, fig. 215

Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends, exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery (London, 2015), p. 175, repr. p. 176 as fig. 22

Rebecca Zurier, Thinking Like a Painter: Method and Manhood in Three Works by Thomas Eakins, Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2015), pp. 64-76, pp. 71-73, repr. p. 72, fig. 5

Richard Ormond, John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Charcoal, exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery and The Morgan Library & Museum (New York, 2019), p. 121

Exhibition History

Retrospective Exhibition of Important Works of John Singer Sargent, Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, 02/01/1924 - 03/31/1924

John Singer Sargent Memorial Exhibition, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 10/01/1925 - 11/30/1925

Memorial Exhibition of Works by John Singer Sargent, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 01/04/1926 - 02/14/1926

(Anniversary Celebration), Symphony Hall, Boston, 12/10/1930 - 01/04/1931

The American Spirit in Portraiture, 1675 - 1900, Fogg Art Museum, 01/19/1951 - 02/24/1951

Sargent's Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 01/03/1956 - 02/07/1956

The Bostonians: Painters of an Elegant Age, 1870-1930, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 06/11/1986 - 09/14/1986

John Singer Sargent, Tate Britain, London, 10/15/1998 - 01/17/1999

32Q: 2100 19th Century, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

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