Robert Henri was born Robert Henry Cozad in Cincinnati, in 1865, the son of a professional gambler and businessman. In 1881 he accompanied his family to Denver. When his father was indicted for manslaughter a year later the Cozads changed their name and fled to Atlantic City, New Jersey.
In 1886 Henri enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he studied under Thomas Anshutz, Thomas Hovenden, and James B. Kelly. In 1888 he went to Paris and enrolled at the Académie Julian under Adolphe-William Bouguereau and Tony Robert-Fleury. During the summers he painted in Brittany and Barbizon, and visited Italy prior to being admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1891. He returned to Philadelphia late that year, and in 1892 resumed studying at the academy.
He also began his long and influential career as an art teacher at the School of Design for Women, where he taught until 1895. During this period he met the young newspaper illustrators who would later achieve fame as members of The Eight: John Sloan, William Glackens, George Luks, and Everett Shinn. He made regular trips to Paris where he was particularly influenced by Edouard Manet, Frans Hals, and Diego Velázquez. In 1899, one year after his marriage to Linda Craige, one of his paintings was purchased for the Musée National du Luxembourg.
In 1900 Henri settled in New York and taught at the New York School of Art from 1902 to 1908. He gradually began to reject the genteel traditions of academic painting and impressionism, and turned his attention to urban realist subjects executed in a bold, painterly style. In 1906 he was elected to the National Academy of Design, and that summer he taught in Spain. When the academy refused to exhibit works by Henri's circle in its 1907 annual show, he resolved to organize an independent exhibition. The result was the famous show of The Eight held at the Macbeth Gallery in February 1908.
That year he married his second wife, the illustrator Marjorie Organ. In 1910 he organized the first "Exhibition of Independent Artists," between 1911 and 1919 he arranged jury-free exhibitions at the MacDowell Club, and in 1913 he helped the Association of American Painters and Sculptors organize the Armory Show. Henri's influence began to wane after the ascent of European modernism, although he continued to win numerous awards. He taught at the Art Students League from 1915 until 1927.
Although Henri was an important portraitist and figure painter, he is best remembered as a progressive and influential teacher. His ideas on art were collected by former pupil Margery Ryerson and published asThe Art Spirit(Philadelphia, 1923). He died in 1929 at the age of sixty-four.
Girl Seated by the Sea Robert Henri, 1865 - 1929
1893, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 (45.7 x 61),
Collection of Margaret and Raymond Horowitz
In the summer of 1893, Robert Henri served as instructor in oil
painting at the Avalon Summer Assembly in Avalon, New Jersey. The
"Assembly," a Chautauqua-like educational program, had been organized
"to afford teachers and others practical means for training themselves
to a broader understanding of those subjects commonly taught, or which
should be taught, in primary, grammar, and secondary schools."1
Henri's invitation to participate came shortly after he had returned
from an extended period of study abroad. The paintings he produced in
Avalon, including Girl Seated by the Sea, clearly reflect his brief but intense enthusiasm for European impressionism.
As early as 1887, Henri confessed in a letter to his parents that he
had contracted "Paris fever" and that he hoped to visit the French
capital within the year.2
A few months later he set sail and shortly thereafter enrolled at the
Académie Julian in Paris. Although he continued to study at the academy
for some time, Henri became disenchanted with the conservative approach
promoted by the artists who critiqued his work. Following the example of
the impressionists, whose work he had seen in galleries and
exhibitions, Henri began experimenting with strokes of pure color
juxtaposed in the impressionist manner.
In the fall of 1891 Henri returned to Philadelphia, enrolled at the
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and began studying with Robert
Vonnoh, another American artist who had traveled to Paris and become
intrigued with the technical innovations of the impressionists.
Girl Seated by the Sea is an experimental work that reflects
Henri's brief fascination with the palette and painting technique of the
impressionists. The figure at the center of the composition (perhaps
one of his students at Avalon) sits in isolation looking at the sea and
the ship on the horizon. Almost generic in her anonymity, she is less
the focus of the composition than the warm, bright light Henri uses to
define figure, shore, and sea. Adopting the "rough" strokes of color he
admired in Monet's haystack paintings, Henri created a surface that
conveys the "lucid" light he sought. Ironically, within a short period
of time Henri would emerge as the leader of the so-called ashcan school
-- a group of painters whose urban realism was often expressed with
colors so dark they were sometimes called the "black gang."
Associate curator of American and British paintings