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Robert Henri (American, 1865-1929)


Also known as:  Cozad, Robert Henry

Birth Place: Cincinnati (Hamilton county, Ohio, United States)

Robert Henri was born Robert Henry Cozad in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1865, later changing his name in 1882 after his father was indicted for murder. After moving around and living in several different cities, his family settled in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In 1886, Henri enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1886, where he studied under Thomas Anshutz, Thomas Hovenden, and James B. Kelly. He went to Paris in 1888 and studied with the Académie Julian under Adophe-William Bougeureau and Tony Robert-Fleury. Travelling during his summers, he fell in love with the landscapes of France, Italy, and coastal Ireland, a subject in which he utilized throughout his artistic career. He became greatly influenced by artists such as Edouard Manet, Diego Velázquez, and Frans Hals from his regular trips to Paris. In 1891, Henri was admitted to the exclusive Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and it was shortly after when became a teacher for the School of Design for Women, beginning his influential and long career of teaching.

Henri moved and settled in New York in 1900, teaching at the New York School of Art from 1902 to 1908. He gradually transitioned into a bold and painterly style, focusing on urban realist subjects, rejecting and questioning impressionism and the academic tradition of painting. When the National Academy of Design refused to exhibit the works by Henri’s circle in 1907, he created his own independent exhibition, producing the famous show held at the Macbeth Gallery, “The Eight,” in February 1908. In the years following, Henri he arranged jury-free exhibitions, and he helped organize the first Armory Show with the Association of American Painters and Sculptors in 1913.

The representational style of Henri is a sense of spontaneity and quick execution, emphasizing the essence and joyous energy of ordinary subjects. Henri greatly encouraged experimentation in his teachings, asserting that painting is not only a skill to gain and perfect, but that it is a way of living and admiring the beauty of the world. Although he was an important portraitist and figure painter, painting mostly children later in his life, he is probably most well-known for the book in which a former pupil of his, Margery Ryerson, compiled his teachings and ideas on art entitled The Art Spirit (Philadelphia, 1923). He passed away in 1929, but Henri’s progressive ideas continue to influence artists today.

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