My People: The Portraits of Robert Henri

I've decided to adopt a master and study their work this year. My choice for 2018 is Robert Henri! The reason I think this is a good idea, and one you should consider too, is because I want to look beyond the surface and understand what makes another artist's work so compelling. 

For example, Robert Henri ( pronounced Hen-rye. ) made a shift from a dark, somber palette influenced by the style of painters like Goya and Velasquez to paintings filled with color and light. That's a big transition, how and when did it happen? 

I also love Henri’s lively brushwork and fresh, simple approach to the figure that is rich and painterly. Below is an example from his excellent series of children’s portraits. 

In My People -The Portraits of Robert Henri, Valerie Lee Leeds states “ The particular triumph of Robert Henri as a portrait painter rests with his ability to extract the spiritual essence and personality of a subject without flattery and translate it into paint. “ Yes, and note how simple, direct and fresh!

Mrs H. by Robert Henri

The Young Woman by RH

Henri was part of the Ashcan School and a mentor to artists such as George Bellows, John Sloan and Edward Hopper. His gritty paintings of everyday life in the city are well known. But I think it’s Henri’s portraits of people that are his best work and what he's best remembered for. Because Henri travelled extensively, and considered it important to his artistic process, he painted people from all walks of life.

Po Tse By Robert Henri

Tam Gan by Robery Henri

Tam Gan by Robery Henri


Coming back to my initial inquiry about Henri’s transition to more color and light in his paintings. Henri and artists like John Sloan became fascinated with the visual effects produced from regulated color harmonies. Always the student, Henri studied and was influenced by the work of artist and color theorist Hardesty Maratta.  Maratta’s system associated particular colors with specific musical notes and instructed painters to organize their palettes based on harmonious chords. 

Because travel was essential to Henri, the paintings from his visits to New Mexico and California ( above ) also influenced his palette in a more colorful direction. Below are examples of Henri’s earlier work influenced by the aesthetics of Hals, Goya, Velaquez and Manet.

Caleros by Robert Henri

Caleros by Robert Henri

Eva Green by Robert Henri

The Laughing Boy ( Jobie van Slouten ) by Henri

I will write more in the future about Robert Henri as I journey deeper into his work. If you are curious about this wonderful artist then I highly recommend The Art Spirit, an art classic full of wisdom about painting and life from Robert Henri. Another wonderful read is Henri’s essay on portraiture titled My People by Robert Henri. 

So consider adopting a master this year, see how they inform your process and share your insights with others! Thanks for stopping by and letting me talk shop. Please share, like or comment below.