Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

HENRI, ROBERT (1865-1929)

Robert Henri was a renowned American painter and teacher in the late nineteenth century and first quarter of the twentieth century. He was born Robert Henry Cozad in Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 24, 1865. His father, John J. Cozad, a riverboat gambler and land speculator, settled and developed present-day Cozad, Nebraska. Robert spent his early years on the family ranch and attended school in Cozad. The family hastily left the Plains in 1882 when Robert's father killed one of his workers in self-defense.

Robert Henri–the name he adopted because of fear of repercussions from the Cozad incident–enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1886 and studied under Thomas P. Anshutz. In 1888 he made the first of a number of visits to Europe when he studied with Adolphe William Bouguereau at the Académie Julian in Paris. He found the teaching in Paris to be stifling, but he was inspired by the masterpieces in the Louvre and, subsequently, by the works of Diego Velázquez and Frans Hals.

Henri taught in Philadelphia, New York, and Paris. He encouraged his students to seek the freedom of individual expression and to break from the European academies' and the National Academy of Design's conformity to tradition. Young artists who were influenced by his teaching include William Glackens, George Luks, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan, later members of the Eight, or Ashcan school. Stuart Davis, George Bellows, and Edward Hopper were also inspired by his teaching.

Although Henri's reputation was based mainly on his teaching, he painted many fine landscapes, cityscapes, and portraits, including hundreds of portraits of Irish children. He painted with energetic brushwork, using a dark palette with sharp contrasts of light and shade, as seen in Girl in Wedding Gown (1910). Henri continued to receive honors for his work right up until his death on July 12, 1929, in New York.

Gary Zaruba University of Nebraska at Kearney

Henri, Robert. The Art Spirit. New York: Harper and Row, 1984.

Homer, William Innes. Robert Henri and His Circle. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1969.

Robert Henri. Exhibition Catalog. Lincoln: Nebraska Art Association, 1971.

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