Click on photos to enlarge.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Robert Henri

Cumulus Clouds, East River, 1901-02, Robert Henri
Robert Henri Self-portrait, 1903
Quite a number of times I've written on the American painting style called "Social Realism," (04-26-12) as well as the Ashcan School (11-05-10) and the Group of Eight (02-07-11) painters from the latter years of the 19th century. And individually, I've written on most of the painters making up this migrant mélange of macho malcontents. And though I've obviously mentioned him many times, just today, however, I realized I'd somehow skipped the leader of the group--Robert Henri (pronounced Hen-rye). The reason for this oversight may revolve around the fact that, except perhaps for Ernest Lawson, Henri may be the least well known of the eight, which includes such outstanding American painters as Maurice Prendergast, George Luks, Everett Shinn, John Sloan, William Glackens, and Arthur B. Davies. Of course, even among such an illustrious, illustrative group, it's to be expected that fame is seldom spread evenly.
The Laughing Boy (Jobie), Robert Henri.
Few artist delight in painting children as
much as did Henri. Few paint them so well.
And fewer still paint them laughing.
Of this group, Robert Henri might well be considered the most thoroughly and most academically trained. Henri was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1865, the son of a heavy gambler and real estate developer (something of a redundancy, perhaps). Robert's last name was originally Cozad. After the war, his father founded Cozaddale, Ohio, then moved his family, first to Nebraska, where he founded the town of Cozad. Then, after a homicidal brush with the law, the Cozad family moved on to Denver, Colorado, where they ditched the besmirched family name in favor of Lee, while Robert and his brother chose the last names Henri and Southern. In 1883, the family moved back east to New York City, before finally settling in Atlantic City, New Jersey. There Robert managed to stay put long enough to finished high school. After high school, Henri studied under Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts followed by a two-year stint in Paris at the Academie Julian, where he studied under William-Adolphe Bouguereau (an academician) and was exposed to Impressionism. He also made brief visits to Italy and Brittany in the north of France. It's quite obvious he was likewise exposed to the work of Franz Hals. By 1892 he was back in Philadelphia teaching at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women.
Patience, Robert Henri. There's no
indication as to whether that was her name
or what it took to capture her on canvas.

It was starting about this time, and through much of the 1890s that the Group of Eight artists known as the Philadelphia Four--newspaper illustrators, Glackens, Luks, Sloan, and Shinn--began to form around Henri's studio where they drew from life and studied the philosophies of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and Emile Zola. As a result of these encounters and the group's gradual move to New York, Robert Henri, the genteel academic became what writer/publisher, Emma Goldman, termed: "an anarchist in his conception of art and its relation to life." (She ought to know, being an anarchist herself.)

Young Sport, Robert Henri
The list of artists Henri influenced, often as the result of his teaching position at New York's Art Students' League includes such notables as George Bellows, Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent and of course the younger, more impressionable, members of the Group of Eight. Henri was very much a leader, organizing shows on a yearly basis, including the famous Armory Show of 1913, which were just as regularly panned by many New York critics. "The Eight" were deemed "the Apostles of Ugliness," and accused of "exhibiting our sores." To eyes used to "pretty" pictures, the coarse, often vulgar, painterly social realism of the Group of Eight, was offensive. Collectively, they were termed by critic, Art Young, in 1934 as the Ashcan School. The name stuck, and while quite descriptive, and perhaps even accurate, it was not meant as a compliment.

Willy Gee, Robert Henri,
as dignified as a banker.
The Laundress, 1916, Robert Henri.
Henri painted adults too, though
even at that, seemed to have had
a fondness for "characters."

No comments:

Post a Comment