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Robert Henri
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Cincinatti, Ohio
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
New York, N.Y.
A realist painter and leader of the Ashcan School who is known for his landscapes and portraits, Robert Henri was also one of the most influential American art instructors of the early 20th century. When born in Cincinnati in 1965, Henri was named Robert Henry Cozad. His father founded a town named Cozad in central Nebraska in 1873. After spending summers in Nebraska, the family moved to Cozad in 1879, and two years later relocated to Denver. His father was indicted for murder after killing a man in Cozad in 1882, which led the family to adopt new identities and escape to Atlantic City. Robert adopted the name Robert Earle Henri, later dropping the middle name. Having shown artistic ability, Henri entered Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) in the fall of 1886, where he studied under Thomas Anshutz (1851-1912), among others. After two years Henri went to Paris, where he enrolled in the Académie Julian and traveled extensively. Henri finally gained entrance to the École des Beaux-Arts in 1891. He returned to Philadelphia in the fall of 1891, re-entered PAFA the following January, and began teaching at Philadelphia’s School of Design for Women. He also met John Sloan (1871-1951), who became a life-long friend. Through Sloan he met William James Glackens (1870-1938), with whom he began sharing a studio in 1894. The next summer Henri, Glackens and two other friends traveled to Paris. After a bicycle trip through Belgium and Holland, Henri taught art classes in Paris and studied Old Master artists, particularly Frans Hals (ca. 1581-1666) and Diego Velázquez (1599-1660). Henri returned to Philadelphia in 1897 to oversee three solo exhibitions of his works, one at PAFA, a second in New York City organized by William Merritt Chase (1849-1916), and a third at New York’s Macbeath Gallery. Later that year he married his former student Lind Craige (1875-1905). They promptly went to Paris for two years, supported by his art classes and gifts from his parents, although one of four of his paintings exhibited in the 1899 Paris Salon was purchased for the Musée National du Luxembourg. A trip to Madrid in 1900 to study paintings in the Prado Museum, particularly Velázquez, was the first of seven trips Henri made to Spain. After returning home Henri and his wife settled in New York City, where he taught at the Veltin School and painted scenes of the East River. He received his first prize for a painting from Buffalo’s 1901 Pan-American Exposition, a silver medal. He later received silver medals from expositions in St. Louis (1904) and Buenos Aires (1910) and San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Henri began teaching at Chase’s New York School of Art in 1902, a year in which he enjoyed three one-man shows, at the Macbeath Gallery, PAFA and Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. The next year he was elected a member of the Society of American Artists. In 1904 Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institution purchased a painting, his first to enter an American museum. His wife Linda died the following year. In 1906 Although Henri had been elected an associate member of the National Academy in 1905 and a full member in 1906 and was on the jury for the Academy’s 1907 spring exhibition, he withdrew his submissions in a dispute over admission of works by his friends. With Glackens and Sloan, he made plans for an exhibition of their works and those of five other young artists, which was held at the Macbeth Galleries in February 1908. Dubbed by the press as a show of “The Eight,” the well-attended exhibition traveled to PAFA and the Art Institute of Chicago later that year, and went on to seven other cities. Later that year Henri married the illustrator Marjorie Organ (1886-1930). They honeymooned in Madrid with a class of Henri’s art students. Henri resigned from the New York School of Art at the end of the year in a salary dispute, and the next year opened his own art school, where he taught for three years. Henri was one of the organizers (with Glackens, Sloan and others) of the Exhibition of Independent Artists in 1910. Henri exhibited five works at the 1913 Armory Show, but was not one of the organizers of the show. Later that year he and Marjorie sailed to Ireland, where they rented a house on Achill Island on the west coast. Henri continued to spend winters in New York City, with summers in Europe or diverse American locations (Maine, San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Woodstock N.Y.) until they purchased a house on Achill Island in 1924. Henri fished and painted, mostly portraits of children, spending summers there until 1928. Henri taught at the Art Students League from 1915 to 1927 and continued painting. He received a gold medal from PAFA in 1929. Suffering from prostate cancer, he died in New York City later that year. (TNB 2/2015) Selected bibliography: Perlman, Bennard B. Robert Henri: His Life and Art. New York: Dover Publications, 1991. Leeds, Valerie Ann, and Courtney A. McNeil. Spanish Sojurns: Robert Henri and the Spirit of Spain. Exhibition catalog, with essays by M. Elizabeth Boone and Holly Koons McCullough. Savannah: Telfair Books, 2013.