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Robert Henri

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Robert Henri
(Cincinnati, Ohio, 1865 - 1929, New York, New York)

Robert Henry Cozad was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on June 24, 1865 to John Jackson and Theresa Gatewood Cozad. (1) His father was a gambler and real estate speculator who founded the town of Cozad, Nebraska in 1873. Initially, the rest of the Cozad family remained in Cincinnati where Robert attended the Chickering Classical and Scientific Institute, though he spent summers with his father in Cozad. In 1879, however, the entire family moved to Nebraska. The venture ended in tragedy when John Cozad shot and killed a man in an argument. The family was forced to flee to Denver, Colorado where they took on assumed names. Thus, Robert Henry Cozad became Robert Earl Henri.

Henri began drawing at an early age, including writing and illustrating his own stories, but it was not until 1886 that he began formally studying art under Thomas Anshutz at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Subsequently, Henri traveled to Paris in 1888 where he enrolled at the Académie Julian under William-Adolphe Bouguereau. He also studied with private tutors. In addition to his academic training, Henri began to visit museums where he studied and copied the works of artists such as Edouard Manet, Frans Hals, and Diego Velázquez. He spent his summers traveling throughout Europe and painting at locations such as Concarneau on the Brittany coast.

In 1891, Henri returned to Philadelphia and began teaching at the Philadelphia School of Design. Five years later, his first one-man exhibition was held at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. That same year, he met and married Linda Craige of Philadelphia. The couple returned to Paris where Henri opened a private art school and began the frustrating process of trying to establish an international reputation. His efforts were rewarded in 1899 when four of his works were accepted into the Paris Salon. The French government later purchased one of these works, "La Neige", which firmly established Henri as an artist of renown.

The Henris returned to the United States in 1900, going first to Philadelphia, then settling in New York where Robert began teaching at the Veltin School and the New York School of Art. In addition to his regular teaching duties, Henri held weekly open houses at his studio where he offered drawing opportunities and critiques, as well as social events. Henri's studio quickly became a gathering place for his students and other artists, including the men who later became known as The Eight. Despite this busy teaching and social schedule, Henri also continued to paint, particularly during his summer travels to Maine and Holland. Macbeth Galleries held a solo exhibition of much of this work in 1902.

In 1905, Henri was shattered and deeply depressed by the death of his wife, Linda. Within a year, however, he began to work with redoubled effort, teaching, organizing exhibitions, and serving on juries, in addition to painting at a furious rate. He began traveling again as well. In 1906, he discovered Spain and fell in love with the people and the art history of the country. Over the years, he returned to Spain several times, producing a distinctive group of portraits of Spanish subjects in the style of the Spanish Old Masters.

Henri was elected a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1906. The following year, however, he withdrew his works from the National Academy Spring Annual Exhibition in protest over the exclusion of a number of young artists (many his students and friends) whose realist subjects and loose, expressive brushwork clashed with the Academy's conservative standards. As a result of this event, Henri, and a group of seven other artists (John Sloan, George Luks, William Glackens, Everett Shinn, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast, Arthur Davies), decided to hold an independent exhibition of their work. The show, which came to be known as "The Eight Exhibition", opened in February, 1908 at Macbeth Galleries. The show was a popular success and received extensive press coverage, establishing the articulate Henri as the leader and spokesperson of a new, revolutionary movement in art.

In 1908, Henri married Marjorie Organ, an illustrator and cartoonist who was also a former student. The following year he opened the Henri School of Art which he ran until 1912. Also in June of that year, Henri met the artist and color theorist, Hardesty Maratta, and began to experiment with Maratta's system of painting. (2) Henri continued his role as the promoter of independent exhibitions, organizing the 1910 Independent, non-juried show. In 1911, he secured funds to open the MacDowell Club of New York, an organization dedicated to offering exhibitions that were open to all entrants and involved no judging or prizes.

In 1915, Henri began teaching at the Art Students League, where he remained for the next 12 years. The following summer, he discovered Santa Fe, New Mexico and became absorbed in producing portraits of the native peoples. He returned to Santa Fe in the summers of 1917 and 1922. During the 1920s, Henri and his wife Marjorie, began traveling extensively in Europe eventually discovering Achill Island, off the coast of Ireland. They purchased a large farmhouse, called Corrymore, and spent every spring or summer there from 1924 to 1928. During these trips, Henri painted the local people, particularly the children of the nearby village of Dooagh. In 1929, Henri was diagnosed with advanced cancer of the pelvis. He died soon thereafter on July 12, 1929. (3) The Metropolitan Museum of Art held a memorial retrospective of his work in 1931. (4)

(1) There have been numerous books, articles, and catalogs published on Henri's work. The information in this essay was compiled from the following sources: Information on file, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama; Robert Henri, 1865-1929, Chapellier Galleries, New York, not dated; Robert Henri, The Art Spirit, compiled by Margery Ryerson, J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 1923; Mahonri Sharp Young, The Eight: The Realist Revolt in American Painting, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 1973; Robert Henri 1865-1929, Chapellier Galleries, Inc., New York, 1976; Helen Goodman, "Robert Henri, Teacher", Arts Magazine 53:158-160, September 1978; Bruce W. Chambers, Robert Henri (1865-1929), Selected Paintings, Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., New York, 1986; Changing Perceptions: The Evolution of Twentieth Century American Art, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 1990; Elizabeth Milroy, Painters of a New Century: The Eight and American Art, Milwaukee Art Museum, 1991; Robert Henri: Nebraska's Favorite Son, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 1992; H. Barbara Weinberg, Doreen Bolger, and David Park Curry, American Impressionism and Realism: The Painting of Modern Life, 1885-1915, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994; Valerie Ann Leeds, My People: The Portraits of Robert Henri, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1994; Valerie Ann Leeds, "The Portraits of Robert Henri: Context and Influences", American Art Review, April-May, 1995, pp. 92-97; Jessica F. Nicoll, "Robert Henri and His Circle: The Allure of the Maine Coast", American Art Review Vol. VII no. 4, September, 1995; Rebecca Zurier, Robert W. Snyder, and Virginia M. Mecklenburg, Metropolitan Lives: The Ashcan Artists and Their New York, National Museum of American Art, 1995.

(2) Hardesty Gillmore Maratta (1864-1924) was an artist and color theorist who developed the idea of manufacturing and packaging paints in the colors of the spectrum. The group of 12 pigments in his palette were equally spaced along the spectrum. Maratta also developed a system whereby the 12 colors of his palette corresponded to the notes in a musical octave allowing paintings to be "composed" on the basis of musical chords and harmonies (Michael Quick, "Robert Henri: Theory and Practice", My People: The Portraits of Robert Henri by Valerie Ann Leeds, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1994, pp. 49-51).

(3)Chapellier Galleries in New York served as the gallery agents for Henri's estate, most of which went to Henri's wife, Marjorie Organ, who assigned each work an Organ Estate number. The estate later passed to Marjorie's sister, Violet Organ, and then to Marjorie's nephew, John LeClair and eventually, his wife, Janet (10 Gramercy Park South, New York, NY 10003). Many of Henri's record books, scrapbooks, and diaries remain in the possession of Janet LeClair. The Beinecke Library at Yale University is a major repository for Henri's correspondence and the Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego also owns a number of Henri's letters. The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Nebraska owns two Henri notebooks.

(4)Robert Henri Memorial Exhibition, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1931.

Margaret Bullock
Kapelanski Scholar
April 18, 1997

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