Robert Henri

Artist Biography

Robert Henri (1865–1929)

Paint what you feel. Paint what you see. Paint what is real to you. —Robert Henri

By Chelsea DeLay

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Notes
VII. Suggested Resources

I. Biography

In 1865, American artist Robert Henri was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, with the birth name of Robert Henry Cozad. The entire Cozad family changed their name to protect their identity after Henri’s father shot and killed a drunken cattleman in Nebraska. By the time the family moved to New Jersey in 1883, the artist was already known as Robert Henri.[1]

Henri enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1886. Although the realist Thomas Eakins had recently departed, his influence reached Henri through the teachings of Thomas Anshutz (1851–1912), who instilled in Henri a profound appreciation for Eakins’s style of expressive Realism. After three years at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Henri left for Paris to continue his studies at the Académie Julian, and his subsequent work demonstrated a significant influence from his time abroad. While traveling, he encountered paintings by the same European artists who had deeply affected Eakins—Velazquez, Hals, Rembrandt, and Ribera—and was quick to adapt similar elements of their approach, as evidenced in Henri’s early incorporation of a dark, monochromatic palette, unrestrained Realism, and a newfound interest in the working class.

Henri returned to the United States in 1891 and accepted a teaching position at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women; one year later, he resumed his studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and began to split his time between teaching and attending classes. While teaching at the academy, he met and befriended a group of Philadelphia-based artists that would become future members of “The Eight”: William Glackens, George Luks, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan. Henri was lured to New York City in 1901 by a teaching opportunity at the New York School of Art, where he taught for the following five years. The streets of New York provided Henri with unlimited access to subjects that were perfectly suited to his observational approach to painting. He began producing arresting portraits of street urchins and gritty scenes of the Lower East Side—brutally honest depictions of downtown urbanity that became characteristic of the “Ashcan School”—which shocked critics and American audiences who had been conditioned by nineteenth-century ideals of traditional aesthetic beauty.

As a teacher, Henri’s influential curriculum was considered liberal in its blatant disregard for traditional aesthetic standards, and also taught a progressive approach that leaned away from “art for art’s sake” and more toward an the immediate and expressive observation of life. Henri’s quest towards developing a truly national style of art was a reflection of his interest in literature, specifically the works of American transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman, who were proponents of the same self-respecting notion of individualism that Henri championed to his pupils. Guy Pène du Bois recognized Henri’s emerging position as the leading figure of a movement that would revolutionize American art:

The Henri class in full momentum was one of the outstanding manifestations of its period…Henri himself believed that he was creating a class of men. The student of art must be a man first, with a good strong conscience and the courage to live up to it.[2]

Henri was elected to membership of the National Academy of Design in 1906, but clashes of aesthetic opinions between the progressive artist and the conservative organization came to a head one year later. When the academy rejected submissions from Henri and members of his circle for the annual 1907 exhibition, an outraged Henri declared:

This action…shows that the academy is hopelessly against what is real and vital in American art. What the outsiders must now do is hold small or large group exhibitions, so that the public may see what the artists who have something important to say are doing.[3]

As a result, Henri, along with Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, George Luks, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast, John Sloan, and Everett Shinn, assembled a display of work that was exhibited the following year at MacBeth Galleries, famously titled The Eight.

Henri continued to be a key figure in organizing landmark exhibitions of modern art: he helped organize The Exhibition of Independent Artists, which included work by all members of The Eight except for Luks, in 1910. Several of Henri’s works were selected for the 1913 Armory Show, and as an appointed member of the Committee on Foreign Exhibits, he also aided in selecting the best representations of European Modernism to be displayed in the exhibition. Henri returned to teaching in 1915 when he accepted a position at the Art Students League, where he continued to work until 1928.

As both an American realist and a renowned professor of artistic method, Robert Henri had a profound influence on the trajectory of twentieth-century American painting. Today his works are priceless additions to the permanent collections of esteemed institutions, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Academy Museum, National Gallery of Art, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and Telfair Academies.

II. Chronology

1865 Born as Robert Henry Cozad in Cincinnati, Ohio
1886 Enters the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts as a student; studies under Thomas Anshutz
1888–91 Travels to Europe; studies at the Académie Julian under Adolphe-William Bouguereau and Tony Robert-Fleury; spends the summer of 1888 painting in Brittany; admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1891
1891–94 Returns to the United States; accepts teaching position at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women
1892 Resumes classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
1898 Marries Linda Craige
1900 Travels to Spain; returns to the United States
1901 Settles in New York; meets Maurice Prendergast in the fall
1902 Accepts an offer to hold a one-man exhibition at MacBeth Galleries
1902–8 Teaches at the New York School of Art
1903 Elected membership to the Society of American Artists; serves on the jury for several shows at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
1905 Wife Linda passes away
1906 Elected membership to the National Academy of Design; leads a summer study abroad class in Spain; travels to Azores, Gibraltar, Algecircas, Seville, Granada, and Córdoba before arriving in Madrid in June; returns to New York in October
1907 Leads a summer study abroad class in Holland; submission to the National Academy of Design annual exhibition is rejected, assembles members of his circle to organize an independent exhibition
1908 Exhibition of The Eight held at MacBeth Galleries in February; marries second wife, Marjorie Organ; leads a summer study abroad class in Spain
1910 Travels to Holland and Madrid with wife Marjorie in August, remains until October; organizes the first Exhibition of the Independent Artists held at the Grand Central Palace in New York
1912 Leads a summer study abroad class in Spain
1913 The International Exhibition of Modern Art held in New York City; is appointed to the Committee on Foreign Exhibits
1914 The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquires The Spanish Gypsy
1915–28 Teaches at the Art Students League
1921 Summers in Woodstock, New York, with George Bellows, Eugene Speicher, and Leon Kroll
1923 Travels abroad to Europe, visits Paris and Madrid; a collection of his notes, lectures, and writings entitled The Artist’s Sprit is published
1924 Purchases a home on Achill Island, Ireland
1926 Takes final visit to Spain; returns to Achill Island, Ireland
1929 Passes away at the age of sixty-four

III. Collections

The Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, Arkansas
The Arkell Museum at Canajoharie, New York
The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
Ball State University Museum of Art, Muncie, Indiana
The Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland
Boca Raton Museum of Art, Florida
Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania
Brooklyn Museum, New York
The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
The Canton Museum of Art, Ohio
Cantor Arts Center, Palo Alto, California
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Winter Park, Florida
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia
Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas
The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Jacksonville, Florida
The Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire
Dallas Museum of Art, Texas
de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California
Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, Delaware
Denver Art Museum, Colorado
Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan
Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis, Indiana
Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York
Flint Institute of Arts, Michigan
George Walter Vincent Smith Museum, Springfield, Massachusetts
Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, Georgia
Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina
Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca, New York
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia
Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana
Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas
The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska
Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel, Mississippi
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California
Lowe Art Museum, Coral Gables, Florida
Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College, Lynchburg, Virginia
Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Massachusetts
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, New York
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis, Tennessee
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin
Minnesota Museum of American Art, St. Paul, Minnesota
The Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Alabama
Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Museum of Art, Utica, New York
Museum of Art at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, Nova Southeastern University, Florida
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida
Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff, Arizona
Museum of the Southwest, Midland, Texas
National Academy Museum, New York, New York
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico
New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana
Newark Museum, New Jersey
Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida
Ogunquit Museum of American Art, Maine
Parrish Art Museum, Watermill, New York
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona
Portland Museum of Art, Maine
Robert Henri Museum, Cozad, Nebraska
San Antonio Museum of Art, Texas
The San Diego Museum of Art, California
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California
Seattle Art Museum, Washington
Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, Kansas
Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas
Staten Island Museum, New York
Tacoma Art Museum, Washington
Telfair Museums, Savannah, Georgia
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut
The White House, Washington, D.C.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut

IV. Exhibitions

1878 National Academy of Design, New York
1892–1929 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; gold, 1914, 1929
1896–97, 1899 Salons of the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts, Paris
1901 Pan American Exposition, Buffalo, New York; medal
1902 MacBeth Galleries, New York; solo exhibition
1904 St. Louis Exposition, Missouri; medal
1905 The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; prize
Society of American Artists, New York
1907–8 Boston Art Club, Massachusetts
1907–28 Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1908 MacBeth Galleries, New York,
1909 Art Club of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; gold
1910 Buenos Aires Exposition, Argentina; medal
Grand Central Palace, New York
1913 The International Exhibition of Modern Art, New York
The MacDowell Club, New York
1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, San Francisco, California; medal
1919–29 Society of Independent Artists, New York
1925 MacBeth Galleries, New York; solo exhibition
1931 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; memorial exhibition
1995 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
2013 Telfair Museums, Savanna, Georgia; San Diego Museum of Art, California; Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson

V. Memberships

American Painters & Sculptors
Boston Art Club
Los Angeles Modern Art Society
National Academy, 1906
National Arts Club
New Society of Artists
National Institute of Arts and Letters
Portrait Painters
Society of American Artists, 1903
Society of Independent Artists
Taos Society of Art
Woodstock Art Association

VI. Notes

1. William Innes Homer, Robert Henri and His Circle (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1969), 7.
2. Guy Pène du Bois, Artists Say the Silliest Things (New York: American Artist Group, 1940), 83.
3. Homer, 128.

VII. Suggested Resources

Berman, Avis. Rebels on Eighth Street. New York: Atheneum, 1990.
Falk, Peter Hastings. Who Was Who in American Art, 1564–1975: 400 Years of Artists in America. Vol. II, G–O. Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1999.
Henri, Robert. The Art Spirit. New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1923.
Homer, William Innes. Robert Henri and His Circle. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969.

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