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WILLIAM JAMES (1842-1910)
by John La Farge (1835-1910)
William James earned his medical degree at Harvard in 1869. Although an important figure in the then-infant discipline of psychology, James was also drawn to philosophy. By the 1890s, he was a leading exponent of the school of thought known as American pragmatism, which holds that truth can only be derived through experience and that as human experience changes, so can truth.

James had toyed with the idea of becoming a painter, and while taking lessons in the Newport, Rhode Island, studio of William Morris Hunt in 1859 and 1860, he and his younger brother and fellow student Henry met John La Farge, who had recently returned from studying art in Paris. The beginning of their long friendship is documented by this early portrait of William in the act of painting.
Oil on cardboard, circa 1859
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Gift of William James IV
NPG.91.6
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