From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Huneker was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He arrived in Paris during the last weeks of the World Fair of 1878. He studied piano under Leopold Doutreleau and audited the Paris piano class of Frédéric Chopin's pupil Georges Mathias. He came to New York City in 1885 and remained there until his death. In the USA he studied with Franz Liszt's student Rafael Joseffy, who became his friend and mentor.
In his younger years, he was a cosmopolitan. He was married to Josephine Huneker.
Huneker is mostly remembered now for his music criticism. He was a music critic who familiarized Americans with then modern European artistic movements and wrote in a highly subjective style, full of metaphorical descriptions.
Huneker wrote the analysis and commentary on the complete works of Chopin for Schirmer's music publishing company. His analysis of all the piano solo works of Johannes Brahms, written shortly after that composer's complete works were published after his death, is highly regarded.
Art and literary criticism
The following from An Age Of Criticism 1900 1950:
- It is Huneker, more than any other critic, who has made Americans aware of Wagner, Strauss, Rodin, Degas, Stendhal, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Nietzsche, Hauptmann, and Ibsen. He wrote tirelessly for newspapers and magazines. [...] His books, Iconoclasts (1905), Promenades of an Impressionist (1910), Ivory, Apes, and Peacocks (1915), and the others did not sell well, even though they were influential among those interested in the currents and whirlpools of modernism. Huneker, a modest, humble man, was also highly respected, not merely by his American colleagues, but by Remy de Gourmont and Georg Brandes.
- Within its limits, Huneker's chatty, allusive, and impressionistic manner is successful.
- Around Huneker, there formed an influential group of critics: H. L. Mencken, George Jean Nathan, Benjamin De Casseres, Carl Van Vechten, Lawrence Gilman, and Paul Rosenfeld. Most of them were interested in painting, drama, music, and literature.
American decadent movement
Huneker contributed to M'lle New York, a magazine of American Decadence founded jointly with Vance Thompson. While this was a remarkable magazine in many ways, its written content and its illustrations occasionally express the casual anti-Semitism of the period, but these could not have been written by Huneker (most likely they flowed from Thomson's pen), for Huneker was well known for espousing the opposite view, that the Jews were perhaps the most talented race in the world.
- What some distinguished writers have said of them :
- Maurice Maeterlinck wrote, May 15, 1905: "Do you know that Iconoclasts is the only book of high and universal critical worth that we have had for years to be precise, since Georg Brandes. It is at once strong and fine, supple and firm, indulgent and sure."
- And of "Ivory Apes and Peacocks" he said, among other things: "I have marvelled at the vigilance and clarity with which you follow and judge the new literary and artistic move ments in all countries. I do not know of criticism more pure and sure than yours." (October, 1915.)
- "The Mercure de France translated the other day from Scribner's one of the best studies which have been written on Stendhal for a long time, in which there was no evasion of the question of Stendhal's immorality. The author of that article, James Huneker, is, among foreign critics, the one best acquainted with French literature and the one who judges us with the greatest sympathy and with the most freedom. He has protested with force in numerous American journals against the campaign of defamation against France, and he has easily proved that those who participate in it are ignorant and fanatical." "Promenades Litteraires" (Troisieme Serie), Remy de Gourmont. (Translated by Burton Rascoe for the Chicago Tribune.)
- Paul Bourget wrote, Lundi de Paques, 1909, of "Egoists": "I have browsed through the pages of your book and found that you touch in a sympathetic style on diverse problems, artistic and literary. In the case of Stendhal your catholicity of treatment is extremely rare and courageous."
- Dr. Georg Brandes, the versatile and profound Danish critic, wrote: "I find your breadth of view and its expression more European than American; but the essential thing is that you are an artist to your very marrow."
Following Huneker's comment in reference to Chopin's Études that "Small souled men, no matter how agile their fingers, should avoid [them]," Douglas Hofstadter, in his book I Am a Strange Loop, named the unit by which "soul size" is measured the huneker (lower case).
List of works
His books include:
- Mezzotints in Modern Music (1899)
- Chopin: The Man and His Music (1900)
- Melomaniacs (1902)
- Overtones: A Book of Temperaments (1904)
- Iconoclasts: A Book of Dramatists (1905)
- Visionaries (1905)
- Egoists: A Book of Supermen (1909)
- Promenades of an Impressionist (1910)
- Franz Liszt (1911)
- The Pathos of Distance (1913)
- Old Fogy (1913)
- Ivory, Apes, and Peacocks (New York, 1915)
- New Cosmopolis (1915)
- Unicorns (1917)
- Bedouins (1920)
- Steeplejack (1921)
- Variations (1921)
- Letters of James Gibbons Huneker (1922)
- Painted Veils (1930)
List of texts on Huneker
- James Gibbons Huneker Critic of the Seven Arts (1963) by Arnold T. Schwab, published by Stanford University.
- Steeplejack (1921), autobiography
- An Age Of Criticism 1900 1950 (1952) by Van Oconnor William