Is This A Portrait of Henry Miller?
American painter John Nichols spent some time with the artists’ colony at Woodstock, New York, before going to Paris in 1930. There, the 31-year old painter befriended Henry Miller. That year, a bearded Miller (a temporary experiment) sat as a model for Nichols. He may have posed for other paintings, as well. Nichols left Paris in 1932, but his time there would be permanently recorded as the character Mark Swift in Tropic Of Cancer. For an overview of the relationship between Nichols and Miller, see my blog posting from a few years ago, “John Nichols and Miller’s Beard.”
It would have also been helpful if there was a more convincing resemblance to Miller in the painting itself. The pale blue eyes, and maybe the lips, are suggestive of Miller, but the hair is a complete fiction. Miller was bald in his 20s (he was around 40 when he had his portrait painted, and his beard had spots of grey). No amount of testosterone-evident beard growth could have sparked the youthful mane that we see in this Nichols' painting.
The name “Henry Miller” has been written on the back of the wooden frame, but only after “Man With Beard – John Nichols” and in different handwriting. I would need to know more about the provenance of this artwork to be able to evaluate who added this identification and when. After 40 years of painting, I imagine that Nichols' had plenty of opportunity to paint any number of bearded men. I will, however, offer some considerations to support the arguement that this could be Miller.
2. Nichols painted Miller more than once, and each a little differently. In March 1931, Miller wrote that Nichols and his wife Frances were working on “more portraits of him.” The collector from Woodstock says that he has a few other portraits from the “Man with a Beard” series, each done in a different style. This one is said to be the most “masterful” (if he has just a single bald one, that would go a long way to suggesting the model was Miller).
3. Nichols was not exactly the king of capturing likenesses. According to the collector, he owns self-portraits of Nichols that are “completely different.” In Miller’s description of Nichols’ portrait of him in Tropic of Cancer, he does mention that his head is “out of proportion” but was still a “man with a beard” (p.221).
|John Nichols, |
Standing Female Nude
There is a Nichols portrait of Miller at the UCLA Archives, although I have never seen the image. It would be fascinating to compare. Interestingly, the item mentions that it was signed by "Kate Nichols for Henry Miller.”
Anyhow, there is still an association between Nichols and Miller, and that makes Nichols a significant character in the Miller universe. Do your own research, contact the seller/auction house if you are interested. Sorry for the short notice, but the auction for this particular John Nichols “Man With Beard” painting is September 26, 2011, at Hudson Valley Auctioneers.