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Painted full portrait of a white man in a brown suit and white shirt seated in a wooden chair.white

Painted in warm hues, light enters from the left illuminating the man’s (Henry Lee Higginson) face and hands. With a slightly greying moustache and beard, he looks directly at us, not smiling, his face in shadow on right. Higginson sits off center in the chair with his left arm hugging the top of the chair and gripping the chair’s arm. His right hand rests on a dark coat draped over his lap. Background is undescribed, a desk is in the shadows on the left. The painting is vertically oriented and there’s a lot of space above his head.

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

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.


Recorded Ownership History
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 - 07/24/2023

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

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