Robert Henri

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Robert Earle Henri
Robert Henri 1897.jpg
Robert Henri, 1897
Robert Henry Cozad

(1865-06-24)June 24, 1865
DiedJuly 12, 1929(1929-07-12) (aged 64)
New York City, New York
Education Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts,
Académie Julian,
École des Beaux Arts
Known forPainting
Movement Ashcan School

Robert Henri ( /ˈhɛnr/ ; June 24, 1865 July 12, 1929) was an American painter and teacher. He was a leading figure of the Ashcan School of American realism and an organizer of the group known as "The Eight," a loose association of artists who protested the restrictive exhibition practices of the powerful, conservative National Academy of Design.

Ashcan School American art movement

The Ashcan School, also called the Ash Can School, was an artistic movement in the United States during the early 20th century that is best known for works portraying scenes of daily life in New York, often in the city's poorer neighborhoods.

National Academy of Design professional honorary organization with a school and museum

The National Academy of Design is an honorary association of American artists, founded in New York City in 1825 by Samuel Morse, Asher Durand, Thomas Cole, Martin E. Thompson, Charles Cushing Wright, Ithiel Town, and others "to promote the fine arts in America through instruction and exhibition."


Early life

Robert Henri was born Robert Henry Cozad in Cincinnati, Ohio to Theresa Gatewood Cozad and John Jackson Cozad, a gambler and real estate developer. [1] [2] Henri was a distant cousin of the painter Mary Cassatt. [3] In 1871, Henri's father founded the town of Cozaddale, Ohio. In 1873, the family moved west to Nebraska, where John J. Cozad founded the town of Cozad. [3] [4]

Mary Cassatt American painter and printmaker

Mary Stevenson Cassatt was an American painter and printmaker. She was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, but lived much of her adult life in France, where she first befriended Edgar Degas and later exhibited among the Impressionists. Cassatt often created images of the social and private lives of women, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children.

Cozaddale, Ohio human settlement in Ohio, United States of America

Cozaddale is an unincorporated community in southeastern Hamilton Township, Warren County, Ohio, United States. It is about one mile south of Comargo, one mile southeast of Hickory Corner, and two miles west of Pleasant Plain, and three miles north of Goshen, Ohio.

Nebraska State of the United States of America

Nebraska is a state that lies in both the Great Plains and the Midwestern United States. It is bordered by South Dakota to the north; Iowa to the east and Missouri to the southeast, both across the Missouri River; Kansas to the south; Colorado to the southwest; and Wyoming to the west. It is the only triply landlocked U.S. state.

In October 1882, Henri's father became embroiled in a dispute with a rancher, Alfred Pearson, over the right to pasture cattle on land claimed by the family. When the dispute turned physical, Cozad shot Pearson fatally with a pistol. Cozad was eventually cleared of wrongdoing, but the mood of the town turned against him. He fled to Denver, Colorado, and the rest of the family followed shortly afterwards. In order to disassociate themselves from the scandal, family members changed their names. The father became known as Richard Henry Lee, and his sons posed as adopted children under the names Frank Southern and Robert Earl Henri (pronounced "hen rye"). In 1883, the family moved to New York City, then to Atlantic City, New Jersey, where the young artist completed his first paintings. [5]

Atlantic City, New Jersey City in Atlantic County, New Jersey, U.S.

Atlantic City is a resort city in Atlantic County, New Jersey, United States, known for its casinos, boardwalk, and beaches. In 2010, the city had a population of 39,558. It was incorporated on May 1, 1854, from portions of Egg Harbor Township and Galloway Township. It borders Absecon, Brigantine, Pleasantville, Ventnor City, Egg Harbor Township, and the Atlantic Ocean.


In 1886, Henri enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where he studied under Thomas Anshutz, a protege of Thomas Eakins, and Thomas Hovenden. [6] In 1888, he traveled to Paris to study at the Académie Julian, [7] where he studied under the academic realist William-Adolphe Bouguereau, came to admire greatly the work of Francois Millet, and embraced Impressionism. "His European study had helped Henri develop rather catholic tastes in art." [8] He was admitted into the École des Beaux Arts. He visited Brittany and Italy during this period. At the end of 1891, he returned to Philadelphia, studying under Robert Vonnoh at the Pennsylvania Academy. In 1892, he began teaching at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. "A born teacher, Henry enjoyed immediate success at the school." [9]

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts museum and art school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is a museum and art school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1805 and is the first and oldest art museum and art school in the United States. The academy's museum is internationally known for its collections of 19th- and 20th-century American paintings, sculptures, and works on paper. Its archives house important materials for the study of American art history, museums, and art training.

Philadelphia Largest city in Pennsylvania, United States

Philadelphia, known colloquially as Philly, is the largest city in the U.S. state and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the sixth-most populous U.S. city, with a 2018 census-estimated population of 1,584,138. Since 1854, the city has been coterminous with Philadelphia County, the most populous county in Pennsylvania and the urban core of the eighth-largest U.S. metropolitan statistical area, with over 6 million residents as of 2017. Philadelphia is also the economic and cultural anchor of the greater Delaware Valley, located along the lower Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, within the Northeast megalopolis. The Delaware Valley's population of 7.2 million ranks it as the eighth-largest combined statistical area in the United States.

Thomas Pollock Anshutz American painter and teacher

Thomas Pollock Anshutz was an American painter and teacher. Co-founder of The Darby School and leader at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Anshutz was known for his award-winning portraiture work and working friendship with Thomas Eakins.


In Philadelphia, Henri began to attract a group of followers who met in his studio to discuss art and culture, including several illustrators for the Philadelphia Press who would become known as the "Philadelphia Four": William Glackens, George Luks, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan. They called themselves the Charcoal Club. Their gatherings featured life drawing, raucous socializing, and readings and discussions of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Émile Zola, Henry David Thoreau, William Morris Hunt, and George Moore.

William Glackens painter from the United States

William James Glackens was an American realist painter and one of the founders of the Ashcan School of American art. He is also known for his work in helping Albert C. Barnes to acquire the European paintings that form the nucleus of the famed Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. His dark-hued, vibrantly painted street scenes and depictions of daily life in pre-WW I New York and Paris first established his reputation as a major artist. His later work was brighter in tone and showed the strong influence of Renoir. During much of his career as a painter, Glackens also worked as an illustrator for newspapers and magazines in Philadelphia and New York City.

George Luks American painter

George Benjamin Luks was an American realist artist, painter, comics artist and illustrator. His vigorously painted genre paintings of urban subjects are examples of the Ashcan School of American art.

Everett Shinn American painter

Everett Shinn was an American realist painter and member of the Ashcan School. He also exhibited with the short-lived group known as "The Eight," who protested the restrictive exhibition policies of the powerful, conservative National Academy of Design. He is best known for his robust paintings of urban life in New York and London, a hallmark of Ashcan art, and for his theater and residential murals and interior-design projects. His style varied considerably over the years, from gritty and realistic to decorative and rococo.

Ashcan School

By 1895, Henri had come to reconsider his earlier love of Impressionism, calling it a "new academicism." He was urging his friends and proteges to create a new, more realistic art that would speak directly to their own time and experience. He believed that it was the right moment for American painters to seek out fresh, less genteel subjects in the modern American city. The paintings by Henri, Sloan, Glackens, Luks, Shinn, and others of their acquaintance that were inspired by this outlook eventually came to be called the Ashcan School of American art. They spurned academic painting and Impressionism as an art of mere surfaces. Art critic Robert Hughes declared that, "Henri wanted art to be akin to journalism. He wanted paint to be as real as mud, as the clods of horse-shit and snow, that froze on Broadway in the winter, as real a human product as sweat, carrying the unsurpressed smell of human life." [10] Ashcan painters began to attract public attention in the same decade in which the realist fiction of Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, and Frank Norris was finding its audience and the muckraking journalists were calling attention to slum conditions. [11]

Impressionism 19th-century art movement

Impressionism is a 19th-century art movement characterized by relatively small, thin, yet visible brush strokes, open composition, emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities, ordinary subject matter, inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human perception and experience, and unusual visual angles. Impressionism originated with a group of Paris-based artists whose independent exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s.

Robert Studley Forrest Hughes AO was an Australian-born art critic, writer, and producer of television documentaries. His best seller The Fatal Shore (1986) is a study of the British penal colonies and early history of Australia. He was described in 1997 by Robert Boynton of The New York Times as "the most famous art critic in the world."

Broadway (Manhattan) street in Manhattan

Broadway is a road in the U.S. state of New York. Broadway runs from State Street at Bowling Green for 13 mi (21 km) through the borough of Manhattan and 2 mi (3.2 km) through the Bronx, exiting north from the city to run an additional 18 mi (29 km) through the municipalities of Yonkers, Hastings-On-Hudson, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, and Tarrytown, and terminating north of Sleepy Hollow in Westchester County.

Snow in New York, 1902, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC Snow in New York.jpg
Snow in New York, 1902, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

For several years, Henri divided his time between Philadelphia and Paris, where he met the Canadian artist James Wilson Morrice. [12] Morrice introduced Henri to the practice of painting pochades on tiny wood panels that could be carried in a coat pocket along with a small kit of brushes and oil. This method facilitated the kind of spontaneous depictions of urban scenes which would come to be associated with his mature style.

In 1898, Henri married Linda Craige, a student from his private art class. The couple spent the next two years on an extended honeymoon in France, during which time Henri prepared canvases to submit to the Salon. [13] In 1899 he exhibited "Woman in Manteau" and La Neige ("The Snow"), which was purchased by the French government for display in the Musée du Luxembourg . [14] He taught at the Veltin School for Girls beginning in 1900 [15] and at the New York School of Art in 1902, where his students included Joseph Stella, Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, George Bellows, Norman Raeben, Louis D. Fancher, and Stuart Davis. In 1905, Linda, long in poor health, died. [14] Three years later, Henri remarried; his new wife, Marjorie Organ, was a twenty-two-year-old cartoonist for the New York Journal. [16] (Henri's 1911 portrait of Marjorie, The Masquerade Dress, is one of his most famous paintings and hangs in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

In 1906, Henri was elected to the National Academy of Design, but when painters in his circle were rejected for the Academy's 1907 exhibition, he accused fellow jurors of bias and walked off the jury, resolving to organize a show of his own. He would later refer to the Academy as "a cemetery of art."

The Eight

Salome, 1909, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida Henri Robert Salome.jpg
Salome, 1909, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida

In 1908, Henri was one of the organizers of a landmark show entitled "The Eight" (after the eight painters displaying their works) at the Macbeth Galleries in New York. Besides his own works and those produced by the "Philadelphia Four" (who had followed Henri to New York by this time), three other artists who painted in a different, less realistic style—Maurice Prendergast, Ernest Lawson, and Arthur B. Davies—were included. The exhibition was intended as a protest against the exhibition policies and narrowness of taste of the National Academy of Design. The show later traveled to several cities from Newark to Chicago, prompting further discussion in the press about the revolt against academic art and the new ideas about acceptable subject matter in painting.

Henri was, by this point, at the heart of the group who argued for the depiction of urban life at its toughest and most exuberant. Conservative tastes were necessarily affronted. About Henri's Salome of 1909, critic Hughes observed: "Her long legs thrust out with strutting sexual arrogance and glint through the over-brushed back veil. It has far more oomph than hundreds of virginal, genteel muses, painted by American academics. He has given it urgency with slashing brush marks and strong tonal contrasts. He's learned from Winslow Homer, from Édouard Manet, and from the vulgarity of Frans Hals". [17]

In 1910, with the help of John Sloan and Walt Kuhn, Henri organized the Exhibition of Independent Artists, the first nonjuried, no-prize show in the U.S., which he modeled after the Salon des Indépendants in France. Works were hung alphabetically to emphasize an egalitarian philosophy. The exhibition was very well-attended but resulted in few sales. [18] The relationship between Henri and Sloan, both believers in Ashcan realism, was a close and productive one at this time; Kuhn would play a key role in the 1913 Armory Show. Biographer William Innes Homer writes: "Henri's emphasis on freedom and independence in art [as demonstrated in the Exhibition of Independent Artists], his rebuttal of everything the National Academy stood for, makes him the ideological father of the Armory Show." [19]

The Armory Show, American's first large-scale introduction to European Modernism, was a mixed experience for Henri. He exhibited five paintings but, as a representational artist, he naturally understood that Cubism, Fauvism, and Futurism implied a challenge to his style of picture-making. In fact, he had cause to be worried. A man, not yet fifty, who saw himself in a vanguard was about to be relegated to the position of a conservative whose day had passed. Arthur B. Davies, an organizer of the show and a member of The Eight, was particularly disdainful of Henri's concern that the new European art would overshadow the work of American artists. On the other hand, some Henri scholars have insisted that the reputation Henri earned in later histories as an opponent of the Armory Show and of Modernism in general is unfair and vastly overstates his objections. [20] They point out that he had a keen interest in new art and recommended that his students avail themselves of opportunities to study it. [21] Art historian Sarah Vure notes that "[as] early as 1910, Henri advised students to attend an exhibition of works by Henri Matisse and two years later he urged them to see the work of Max Weber, one of the most avant-garde of American moderns." He urged painter Charles Sheeler to visit the Albert C. Barnes collection of modern art in Pennsylvania. [22]

Never a conservative politically, Henri admired anarchist and Mother Earth publisher Emma Goldman and taught from 1911 at the Modern School. Goldman, who later sat for a portrait by Henri, described him as "an anarchist in his conception of art and its relation to life." [23]

Ireland and Santa Fe

Mary Agnes, one of the children of Dooagh (1924) Mary Agnes by Robert Henri (1865 - 1929).jpg
Mary Agnes, one of the children of Dooagh (1924)

Henri made several trips to Ireland's western coast and rented Corrymore House near Dooagh, a small village on Achill Island, in 1913. Every spring and summer for the following years he would paint the children of Dooagh. Henri's portraits of children, seen today as the most sentimental aspect of his body of work, were popular at the time and sold well. In 1924, he purchased Corrymore House. [24] During the summers of 1916, 1917 and 1922, Henri went to Santa Fe, New Mexico to paint. He found that locale as inspirational as the countryside of Ireland had been. He became an important figure in the Santa Fe art scene and persuaded the director of the state art museum to adopt an open-door exhibition policy. He also persuaded fellow artists George Bellows, Leon Kroll, John Sloan and Randall Davey to come to Santa Fe. [25] In 1918 he was elected as an associate member of the Taos Society of Artists. [26]

Death and burial

While traveling to the United States after visiting his summer home in Ireland in November 1928, Robert Henri suffered an attack of neuritis, which crippled his leg. (The underlying cause was metastatic prostate cancer.) [27] He was hospitalized at St. Luke's Hospital in New York. Gradually he became weaker, until he died of cardiac arrest early in the morning of July 12, 1929. His illness was not generally known, and came as a surprise in art circles. [28] Upon his death, artist and pupil Eugene Speicher said "not only was he a great painter, but ... I don't think it too much to call him the father of independent painting in this country." [28] At his death, it was reported that he was cremated, and his ashes buried in the family vault in Philadelphia. [29] [lower-alpha 1]

Influence and legacy

From 1915 to 1927, Henri was a popular and influential teacher at the Art Students League of New York. "He gave his students, not a style (though some imitated him), but an attitude, an approach, [to art]." [32] He also lectured frequently about the theories of Hardesty Maratta, Denham Waldo Ross, and Jay Hambidge. [33] (Henri's interest in these men, whose ideas were in fashion at the time but were not taken seriously later, has proved to be "the most misunderstood aspect of [Henri's] pedagogy"). [34] Maratta and Ross were color theorists (Maratta manufactured his own system of synthetic pigments), while Hambidge was the author of an elaborate treatise, Dynamic Symmetry, that argued for a scientific basis for composition. Henri's philosophical and practical musings were collected by former pupil Margery Ryerson and published as The Art Spirit (1923), a book that remained in print for several decades. Henri's other students include George Bellows, Arnold Franz Brasz, Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, Henry Ives Cobb, Jr., Lillian Cotton, John Sloan, Minerva Teichert [35] [36] and Yasuo Kuniyoshi.

The significance and often formative influence of Henri as a teacher and mentor to women artists was acknowledged in American Women Modernists: The Legacy of Robert Henri (2005). Comparing the work of Henri's female students to their male Ashcan School contemporaries, Marion Wardle asserts, "An examination of their experiments in many media illuminates a much broader application of Henri's modernist ideals. ...Henri's women students contributed significantly to the structure of American modernism. They produced a large body of work, exhibited widely, won major art awards, belonged to and administered arts organizations, and taught art classes across America." [37]

In the spring of 1929, Henri was named as one of the top three living American artists by the Arts Council of New York. Henri died of cancer that summer at the age of sixty-four. He was eulogized by colleagues and former students and was honored with a memorial exhibition of seventy-eight paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Forbes Watson, editor of The Arts magazine wrote, "Henri, quite aside from his extraordinary personal charm, was an epoch-making man in the development of American art." [38]

Fittingly, among Henri's most enduring works are his portraits of his fellow painters. His 1904 full-length portrait of George Luks (in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa) and his 1904 portrait of John Sloan (in the collection of The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.), for example, exhibit all the classic elements of his style: forceful brushwork, intense (if dark) color effects, evocation of personality (his and the sitter's), and generosity of spirit.

The Robert Henri Museum in Cozad, Nebraska occupies one of Henri's former homes and focuses on his work.



  1. There is also a listing for Robert Henri (along with Richard and Theresa Lee) in the database of Providence, Rhode Island's Swan Point Cemetery. [30] A 1957 AP news story suggests that Henri's father John Cozad/Richard Lee was disinterred and reburied in Rhode Island. [31]

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  1. Homer (1969).
  2. Perlman (1991).
  3. 1 2 Perlman (1991), p. 1.
  4. Henshaw (1957): "Cozad, Nebraska, finally has found its founder after, lo, these many moons."
  5. Homer (1969), p. 7.
  6. Homer (1969), pp. 25–27.
  8. Homer (1969), p. 65.
  9. Homer (1969), p. 71.
  10. Hughes, Robert (February 5, 2002). "The Wave from the Atlantic". American Visions. Episode 5 of 8. BBC.
  11. Hunter (1959), pp. 28–40.
  12. Homer (1969), p. 86.
  13. Homer (1969), pp. 90–94.
  14. 1 2 Homer (1969), p. 119.
  15. Bennard B. Perlman; Arthur Bowen Davies (1998). The Lives, Loves, and Art of Arthur B. Davies. SUNY Press. pp. 113–114. ISBN   978-0-7914-3835-0.
  16. Homer (1969), p. 146.
  17. Hughes (1997), p. 325.
  18. Homer (1969), pp. 152–156.
  19. Homer (1969), p. 155.
  20. Rose (1975) refers to Henri as "blind and hostile" to Picasso and Matisse (p. 30).
  21. Homer (1969), p. 174.
  22. Vure (2009), p. 57.
  23. Goldman, Emma (1931). "Chapter 40". Living My Life. Volume two. New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc. Retrieved April 17, 2015.
  24. Perlman (1991), p. 133.
  25. Leeds, Valerie Anne (1998). Robert Henri in Santa Fe : His Work and Influence. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Gerald Peters Gallery. ISBN   0935037837.
  26. White, Robert R. (1998). The Taos Society of Artists. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico. ISBN   0826319467.
  27. Perlman (1991), p. 135.
  28. 1 2 "Robert Henri Dies; Ill Eight Months" (PDF). The New York Times . July 13, 1929. Retrieved April 17, 2015. Robert Henri, eminent American artist, died early yesterday morning at St. Luke's Hospital. Although he had been a patient at the institution since November, his illness was not generally known and his death came as a surprise to art circles.
  29. "Robert Henri's Funeral" (PDF). The New York Times . July 14, 1929. Retrieved April 17, 2015. The ashes will be buried in the family vault at Philadelphia this week.
  30. "Burial Information". Swan Point Cemetery. Retrieved April 16, 2015.
  31. Henshaw (1957): "Lee-Cozad died (with his boots off of pneumonia) in New York City in 1906. He was buried in Pleasantville, NJ. Later his remains were disinterred and reburied in Providence, RI."
  32. Homer (1969), p. 269.
  33. Homer (1969), pp. 184–194.
  34. Vure (2009), p. 60.
  35. Jan Underwood Pinborough, Minerva Kohlhepp Teichert: With a Bold Brush
  36. Wardle (2005), p. 206.
  37. Wardle (2005), p. 4.
  38. Homer (1969), p. 209.


Further reading