When Abbott photographed James Joyce (1882-1941) in 1926 he was one of the most important writers in Paris and at the center of the expatriate literary circle that frequented Sylvia Beach's bookshop Shakespeare and Company. Beach had published Joyce's revolutionary work Ulysses in 1922 and was doubtless responsible for arranging this session with the young American photographer who had begun her career the previous year as a darkroom assistant to Man Ray, but who, like him, was now also becoming a favorite photographer of the avant-garde expatriate set in Paris. At the time of the sitting, Joyce was engaged in his most ambitious undertaking, Finnegans Wake, and was suffering both from criticism that it was unreadable and from a painful eye condition that kept him home at 2 Square Robiac (where this portrait was made) and required him to wear an eye patch. Abbott's portrait is more like a mirror reflection than a professional portrayal, revealing a complex and sympathetic character Djuna Barnes so aptly described as "the Grand Inquisitor come to judge himself."
Inscription: Signed in pencil on print, recto BR: "ABBOTT // PARIS // 1926"; inscribed in unknown hand in ink on print, verso C: "Portrait de James Joyce // by // Berenice Abbott"; inscribed in pencil on print, verso C: "[illegible inscription]"
Surrealist poet Pierre de Massot; Micheline Kunosi (received as a gift from de Massot); Monsieur Winkelmeyer (Kunosi's grandson); [Galerie Zabriskie, Paris, 1995]; [Galerie Zur Stockeregg, Zürich, 1995]; [Christie's, New York, October 4, 1999 sale, lot 33, to MMA]
Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. "L'Ecole de Paris," November 29, 2000–March 11, 2001.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Johnson Gallery, Selections from the Collection 30," September 24, 2001–January 20, 2002.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Portraits: A Century of Photographs," September 10, 2002–January 13, 2003.