Robert Henri (1865–1929), Figure in Costume Posted on July 21st, 2014 by

Figure in CostumeRobert Henri (1865–1929)
Figure in Costume, undated
Oil on paper, 15 ¾ x 9 ¼ inches
Gift of the Reverend Richard L. Hillstrom

Henri was very influential as a teacher, at the New York School of Art and, in particular, at the Art Students League. He was also important as the leader of The Eight, the modernist group of artists who, in protest to the restrictive and conservative policies of the National Academy of Design, held a breakaway exhibit in February 1908 at the Macbeth Galleries in New York City. The rebellious spirit of the group was important in the subsequent history of American art, including in the development of the Ashcan School of modern, urban realism. Henri’s works were mainly landscapes and, especially, portraits, and images of colorful people from all walks of life were a mainstay of his art. He referred to them in writings as “my people,” persons “through whom dignity of life is manifest.” This oil sketch of a woman in a costume shows the artist’s characteristic bravura handling of paint, which lends immediacy to his works. One of the important artistic influences for Henri was French Impressionist Édouard Manet (1832–1883), whose practice of creating images with few half tones, and instead building up forms principally via contrasts of lighter and darker color, is reflected in this work. Another important influence on Henri was the Spanish seventeenth-century painter Diego Velázquez (1599–1660), whom he studied and copied during several trips he made with students to Spain, one of his favorite places to visit and paint. This sketch may date from that period, and bears general similarity to some of the many engaging portraits done in that country, such as the fine full-length, large portrait of Modiste of Madrid in the Minnesota Museum of American Art that Henri painted in July of 1906. This sketch was, according to dealer Antoinette Kraushaar, once owned by Henri’s friend and fellow member of The Eight, John Sloan (1871–1951).

Text from the catalogue for the exhibition The Eight, The Ashcan School, and The American Scene in the Hillstrom Collection, presented in the Hillstrom Museum of Art February 25 through April 21, 2013.


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