Henry Davis SleeperWallace Bryant
Henry Davis Sleeper Residence
This photograph depicts the sitting room of the Sleeper family home at 336 Beacon Street in Boston’s Back Bay. This is the same house where Wallace Bryant painted his oil portrait of Henry Davis Sleeper sitting in the library. Both rooms were densely crowded with costly furniture, objets d’art, and memorabilia, and their walls were virtually covered with framed works of art. Growing up in such an elaborately decorated environment helped inspire Henry Sleeper to create his own richly furnished interiors at Beauport.
Modern viewers may be surprised to find that it was primarily reproductive prints, rather than original paintings and drawings, that adorned the walls of the Sleeper family’s sitting room. High-quality printed reproductions of European masterworks—especially mezzotints with their rich velvety-black inks—were both fashionable and expensive in America during this period. Note also the cabinet crowded with ceramics—a method of display that Henry Sleeper used at Beauport, including the one filled with Paul Revere’s silver depicted in this gallery.
Note also the artfully arranged books resting on the chair. The professional photographer who made this image—which presumably was “art-directed” by Henry Sleeper and possibly his mother—has made it seem as if one of the residents has just set the books down and left the room.
Like other privileged Bostonians, Henry Davis Sleeper (1878–1934) was photographed regularly throughout his life. There is a selection of photographs in the gallery below.
Sleeper Through the Years
Henry Davis Sleeper’s inner life remains an enigma, and his life at Eastern Point seems to have centered on developing Beauport and socializing with his next-door neighbor, the Harvard economist A. Piatt Andrew, and what Wheaton College art historian R. Tripp Evans calls the “collection of personalities” drawn to Andrew. Evans continues, “Beyond Andrew’s considerable intellectual gifts, he was an impressive athlete, a connoisseur of the arts, an indefatigable host, and a man blessed with movie-star good looks… For his part, Sleeper—four years younger than Andrew, and possibly his most ardent acolyte—often looks strangely ill at ease in the photographs” of Andrew’s gatherings. Evans notes that Andrew’s “demonstrative attitude toward male guests might suggest same-sex desire to modern viewers, yet we must place these images within their period context: a time when affectionate friendships between men were far more easily expressed.” In 1915, Andrew sailed to France to establish the American Field Service, for which Sleeper soon volunteered.
Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann HouseGloucester, Massachusetts
Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House, a National Historic Landmark, was the summer home of one of America’s first professional interior designers, Henry Davis Sleeper. Perched on a rock ledge overlooking Gloucester Harbor, Beauport was Sleeper’s retreat, backdrop for entertaining, and professional showcase, and an inspiration to all who visited.
After Sleeper’s death, Beauport was purchased by the McCanns, who left it largely intact. Visit Beauport and see Sleeper’s lifetime collection of curiosities, colored glass, folk art, china, and silhouettes in every nook and alcove. Each of the forty rooms is distinguished by a historical or literary figure, theme, color, shape, or object. No two rooms are the same, and each is more visually dazzling than the last. Get to know Sleeper, a gay man living in the early twentieth century; his housekeeper, Mary Wonson; his fascinating neighbors; and the house’s many colorful guests.
Beauport is located at 75 Eastern Point Boulevard, Gloucester, Massachusetts.