DescriptionROBERT HENRI (American, 1865-1929)
Lucinda, Mexican Girl, 1916
Oil on canvas
24 x 20 inches (61.0 x 50.8 cm)
Signed lower left: Robert Henri
Mr. Philip M. Sharples, West Chester, Pennsylvania, 1917;
By descent to the present owner.
Chicago Arts Club, Chicago, Illinois, 1916;
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, "One Hundred and Twelfth Annual Exhibition," 1917 (label verso).
We wish to thank Dr. Valerie Ann Leeds for her gracious assistance in cataloguing this painting, listed in the record book as no. J 244.
The people I like to paint are "my people," whoever they may be, wherever they may exist, the people through whom dignity of life is manifest, that is, who are in some way expressing themselves naturally along the lines nature intended for them.1
In 1916 when Robert Henri painted this fetching portrait, Lucinda, Mexican Girl, he was at the height of his success, wearing several large hats: he was an outstanding teacher at the New York School of Art and the "Manet of Manhattan," so nicknamed for his realist, sensitive portraits executed with vigorous brushwork and spontaneity. Portraiture was Henri's true calling, and he wrote and lectured extensively about identifying ideal subjects, what he termed "his people," whose outward expressions and demeanor connoted inner strength and spirituality. Although Henri found many of "his people" in New York, he actively traveled throughout the United States and Europe in search of distinctive ethnic types. It was on one of these early trips to Southern California in 1914 that Henri first painted Hispanic and Native American sitters, finding in them exotic beauty and stately character.
I was not interested in these people to sentimentalize over them. . . . I am looking at each individual with the eager hope of finding there something of the dignity of life. . . . I do not wish to explain these people. I do not wish to preach through them, I only want to find whatever of the great spirit there is in the Southwest. If I can hold it on my canvas I am satisfied.2
During this same trip to San Diego in 1914, Henri met the catalyst for his most important series of Southwestern paintings, Dr. Edgar L. Hewett, Director of both the School of American Archaeology and the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe. Dr. Hewett urged Henri to come experience Santa Fe and offered him the use of a downtown studio in the old Palace of the Governors. From July through October 1916, Henri and his wife, Marjorie, settled there and, with Dr. Hewett, met local Indians, attended ceremonial dances at Taos and Acoma, and visited the Taos and Laguna pueblos. Santa Fe, with its light-filled landscapes and colorful native populations, quickly became one of Henri's favorite homes away from home. He made three working trips there, in 1916, 1917, and 1922, producing around 245 paintings, mostly portraits, of exceptional and original quality. Indeed, this Santa Fe period was unquestionably one of the strongest in his career.
I have never respected any man more than I have some children. In the faces of children I have seen a look of wisdom . . . with . . . such certainty that I knew it . . . was the expression of a whole race.3
The great majority of Henri's Santa Fe portraits focus on Hispanic and Native American children and teenagers, in whom he saw especial dignity and vitality. Unlike his hallmark Ashcan School portraits of children, which feature dark, Old Master-inspired palettes and simple backdrops, the Santa Fe portraits exhibit vibrant coloration and ethnic costumes and accessories, such as blankets, jewelry, and pottery. Henri painted many of his young models numerous times -- Gregorita, ten portraits; Juanita, ten; Tilly, eleven; and Francisco, four -- and some of them on multiple trips to Santa Fe -- Julianita, six portraits in 1917 and four in 1922. By far, his most imaged, and thus likely his most beloved, model was Lucinda, a six-year-old Mexican girl, whom he painted twenty-two times, ten in 1916 and twelve in 1917. The current lot, Lucinda, Mexican Girl from 1916, is a superior example. As in others from the Lucinda series, Henri depicts the girl in native costume with loose pigtails and full lips, and he suggests a geometric ethnic textile for the backdrop (much like the Native American blankets that offset his Indian subjects). In some of her portraits, Lucinda appears more demure and pensive, her head turned aside and her eyes averted. Yet, here, she is audacious, almost defiant, as she stares directly at the viewer and crosses her arms. Henri hinted at Lucinda's strong personality in a letter from 1917: "Lucinda is a fine little saffron colored queen of about six years. Last year she was not an enthusiast about posing but this year she likes to come."4
I believe that great pictures can be painted with the use of most pure colors, and that these colors can be so transformed to our vision that they will seem to have gradations which do not actually exist in them. This will be brought about by a science of juxtaposition and an employment of areas that will be extraordinary.5
Gesture expresses through form and color the states of life. Work with great speed. . . . Finish as quickly as you can. There is no virtue in delaying. Get the greatest possibility of expression in the larger masses first. . . . Do it all in one sitting if you can. In one minute if you can. . . . The most vital things in the look of a face. . . endure only for a moment.6
In Lucinda, Mexican Girl, Henri brilliantly underscores the strong-willed disposition of the sitter through bold color and energized brushwork. Since 1909, he had been practicing Hardesty Maratta's color theory, which organized colors, like musical notes, in chords, or triads. Henri's early portraits exhibit simplified, tonal palettes injected with an occasional primary color. Yet Santa Fe brought out a new vibrancy in his palette, exemplified here in the principal triad of bright orange-red, yellow-orange, and blue. The cool blue of the background cloth dynamically juxtaposes the warm orange-reds and yellows of Lucinda's striped Mexican shawl, forcing the eye to seek relief in the earth tones of her face. Like these pulsing hues, the gestural brushstrokes -- the vertical stripes of the shawl and the diagonal lines of the background cloth -- direct attention to her visage at the center of the composition. For Henri, the more spontaneous and gestural the brushwork, the likelier he was to capture the fleeting essence of the sitter's expression and inner spirit. The brushwork in Lucinda, Mexican Girl, a true tour de force in its movement, impasto, and sheen, appears so freshly executed that the paint could almost be drying - and viewers almost meeting Lucinda in the flesh.
I advise you to enjoy every minute you have left of beautiful Santa Fe and make up your mind that while you will come bodily to New York, you will remain in the spiritual remoteness and aloofness which may be possible in Santa Fe. 7
Henri's positive experience in Santa Fe impacted other artists, as well as the broader New Mexico community. Thanks to his encouragement, artists from his New York circle came to Santa Fe: George Bellows; Leon Kroll; John Sloan, who spent one season there for the next thirty years; and Randall Davey, who ultimately settled just outside of the town. Henri also worked with Dr. Hewett and the Santa Fe Museum to establish more democratic exhibition policies for contemporary artists. Most significant, Santa Fe left a lasting imprint on Henri himself. As the art historian Valerie Ann Leeds writes, "[Henri] never again attained the fresh originality of the 1916 and 1917 Santa Fe portraits. Santa Fe, therefore, represents the last important phase in the development of [his] portraiture."8
1: R. Henri, The Art Spirit, New York, 1951, p. 107.
2: Ibid., p. 112.
3: V. Leeds, Robert Henri in Santa Fe: His Work and Influence, Santa Fe, 1998, p. 14.
4: Ibid., p. 17.
5: Henri, p. 41.
6: Ibid., p. 10-11.
7: Leeds, pp. 26-7. From a 1920 letter from Henri to fellow artist John Sloan.
8: Ibid., p. 36.
Estimate: $400,000 - $600,000.
The canvas is lined, yet the surface remains heavily impastoed, with textural brushstrokes; the only area of very fine craquelure appears in the 3" black stripe, lower right corner; under UV examination, a 1" stroke of in-painting along the right edge, center, and a 1.5" stroke on the black edge of the sitter's left sleeve (lower right canvas); two possible small touches of in-painting along the left edge. Framed Dimensions 32 X 28 Inches
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