The painting is usually dated to 1910, but in a letter written 27 August 1911, Henry James states that “Mrs. S. is also doing – finishing – the portrait of me that she pushed on so last year.” James is referring to the period 14 May to 1 June, 1910, when, during a period of severe depression, he was staying with the Hunters at Hill House.
“… the novelist and his sister-in-law visited Mrs. Charles Hunter’s at Hill House, in Epping Forest,* where she had a perpetual salon. It was a splendid house, ninety minutes from London. Regular meals, good walks, a great deal of company helped HJ but his depression lingered. He watched his old friend John Singer Sargent decorate a portion of the house, met Sargent’s sisters, Mrs. Ormond and Emily, listened to the Australian virtuoso Percy Grainger play the piano – “a very attractive youth” – encountered George Moore, whom he pronounced “unimportant,” and saw other notables, Lord Ribbesdale, the actress Viola Tree, the young Harold Nicholson. He sat for his portrait, during the eighteen days he spent there, to Annie L. Swynnerton … .”
* Hill House was a centre of literary and artistic society in the 1890s and 1900s.
Source: Leon Edel & Lyall H. Powers (1987) The Complete Notebooks of Henry James. Oxford University Press. pp312-313.
An article by Inigo Thomas in the London Review of Books journal also throws light on the circumstances surrounding this painting.