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Robert Henri and His Influence

October 26 - December 31, 2002



The Minnesota Museum of American Art presents the exhibition Robert Henri and His Influence, through December 31, 2002. It features paintings, prints, and works on paper from Robert Henri and 11 artists associated with the first American modern movements in the 20th century, the Ashcan School and The Eight. (left: William Glackens (1870-1938), Beach Scene, Isle Adam, date painted unknown, oil on canvas, MMAA Margaret MacLaren Bequest)

This exhibition represents the tremendous aesthetic diversity that characterized these movements, from portraiture to street scenes, and the role Henri had in shaping their direction. Included are works by Henri and the other members of The Eight -- Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan -- and other artists Henri influenced, including George Bellows, Arthur B. Carles, William Merritt Chase, and Walt Kuhn.

Henri had a profound impact on American art. A popular teacher and advocate of adventurous styles of painting, he shaped The Eight and the Ashcan School. His dynamic presence as an artist and educator and his enthusiasm for the details of life brought a new confidence to American artists. With Henri as the unofficial leader, the innovative group of artists known as "The Eight" was formed in 1907. Influenced by the newspaper illustrators among them, they were determined to realistically portray city life. At the time, America was torn between economic extremes; industrialists accumulated great fortunes while massive immigration led to urban poverty. The accuracy of their paintings of New York slums led to the nickname "Ashcan School." Although The Eight held only one exhibition as a group in 1908, several members were instrumental in organizing the famous 1913 New York Armory Show that revolutionized American modern art. (left: Everett Shinn (1876-1953), The Old Bus, 1904, pastel on paper, MMAA Weyand Fund Purchase)

Robert Henri and His Influence was organized from the collection of the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery in Lincoln, Nebraska, and is supplemented by works from the Minnesota Museum of American Art and private collections.


Artist Biographies


The Eight and the Ashcan School represented a tremendous aesthetic diversity that came to characterize the history of modern art in the United States. They functioned essentially as an exhibiting group with a shared philosophy, rather than a shared artistic style. Members of The Eight were instrumental in organizing and promoting the famous New York Armory Show of 1913, America's first dose of European modernism, which represented a major watershed in American art and culture. Representing the full spectrum of artistic styles that manifest the scope of Robert Henri's influence, George Bellows, Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, Walt Kuhn, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan are all associated with this initial American foray into modernism in the twentieth century.


Robert Henri

Originally Robert Henry Cozad, Robert Earl Henri was born on June 25, 1865, in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father, John Jackson Cozad, was a former gambler turned real estate developer, and his mother, Theresa Gatewood Cozad, was a housewife. In 1873, he and his family moved west to the great plains of Nebraska, where his father founded the town of Cozad. The town was inhabited primarily by farmers and, because their farms occupied choice grazing land, Henri's father had difficulties with the established cattle ranchers who had been there for many years. One evening, in 1882, one of the cattle ranchers attacked Henri's father with a knife. In self-defense, he mortally shot him with a pistol, then fled. Although he was later cleared of any wrong doing, he never returned. Instead, he settled in Denver, Colorado, where his family later reunited with him. In order to disassociate themselves from the scandal, each of the family members changed their names, and Robert Henry Cozad became Robert Earl Henri (pronounced Hen-rye). (left: Robert Henri (1865-1929), Self Portrait, 1903, oil on canvas, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Gift of Mrs. Olga N. Sheldon)

Although successful in Denver, the Cozads, now the Lees, knew it offered few opportunities for their sons' educations and futures, so they moved east and settled in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1883. While there, Henri produced his first two paintings and, when seen by a friend, he was encouraged to seek formal art training. The following year, Henri enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA), the oldest art institution in the United States, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The curriculum was rigorous. It included the study of anatomy, many hours of drawing, painting, and modeling the human figure, and classes in composition, perspective, and portraiture. With time, Henri improved his artistic skills and won the admiration of his instructor, Thomas Anshutz.

After two years at the PAFA, Henri realized he would have to go to Europe if he wanted full formal art training. So, in 1888, Henri went to Paris and attended the Académie Julian, and later transferred to the École des Beaux-Arts, one of the most famous and well-respected art schools in the world.

In 1891, Henri returned to Philadelphia and, the following year, began his long career as an art instructor; his first job was at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. He also continued formal art training at the PAFA.

During this time, Henri met and befriended a group of young artists and newspaper illustrators who admired him for his talent and the fact that he was one of few artists in Philadelphia to have studied in Paris. Henri invited these
men to his studio for weekly discussions on art, ethics, literature, music, and politics, which, consequently, created a dynamic artistic environment. More importantly, however, he lectured on the role of artists in the United States. Henri firmly believed that serious artists should develop their own means of expression, and not be pressured into following - and perpetuating - aesthetic conventions.

Of those who attended the weekly discussions, four were newspaper illustrators, namely William Glackens, George Luks, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan, who, collectively, were known as the "Philadelphia Four." Although three of the four had studied at the PAFA, they did not aspire to be serious artists. Henri, however, encouraged them to paint. He never imposed a style upon them because he wanted them to develop their own means of expression. He did offer advice, though:

"Paint what you feel. Paint what you see. Paint what is real to you."

During the latter-half of the 1890's, Henri divided his time between Philadelphia and Paris. He believed Philadelphians, compared to Parisians, were not as accepting of his works. In order to gain acceptance and recognition in Philadelphia, or anywhere in the United States, he first had to prove himself as a successful artist in Paris. And that he did. In 1896, one of Henri's works was accepted for the Salon and, in 1899, three more of his works were accepted. The following year, Henri returned to the United States and settled in New York, where the "Philadelphia Four" also settled.

In 1902, Henri accepted a teaching position at the New York School of Art. He was an extremely popular instructor, and quickly found himself receiving awards and serving on juries at various institutions, including the relatively conservative National Academy of Design. Although Henri disagreed with the Academy and its stance on art, he hoped he could reform it from within. Although his works were often accepted for the Academy's annual exhibition, largely because they were portraits, works by other young artists, such as Glackens, Luks, Shinn, and Sloan, were not.

In 1907, after years of fighting with the Academy, Henri withdrew two of his works from the annual exhibition, citing an unfair attitude towards young artists, and organized his own exhibition, featuring his and his friends' works. The result was the exhibition of "The Eight" (i.e. Henri, Glackens, Luks, Shinn, Sloan, Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson, and Maurice Prendergast) at the Macbeth Gallery in New York. The exhibition, which opened on February 3, 1908, was an immediate success, not only because of its publicity, which was provided for by the "Philadelphia Four," but also because the works were more accurate and livelier representations of life in the United States than anything selected for exhibition by the Academy. In all, over 7,000 visitors attended the exhibition and about $4,000 worth of works were sold. Reaction from the critics was mixed; although some disliked their coarse, vulgar subjects and lack of technique, others praised their creativity and truthfulness regarding the diversity and social conditions of the United States, as well as their individuality without being confined to the Academy's conservative standards. (left: Robert Henri (1865-1929), Gypsy Girl in White, 1916, oil on canvas, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Howard S. Wilson Memorial)

The exhibition of "The Eight" marked a turning point in the art world, particularly in the United States. It proved, once and for all, that a group of progressive artists could hold an exhibition that was successful with both the amount of people it attracted and the amount of money it generated. And it was only a starting point. Its success gave "The Eight," as well as other progressive artists, the courage and determination to continue their fight against the Academy by holding larger and more radical exhibitions of both American and European art. Such was the case with the Armory Show of 1913, where Henri exhibited five works.

After several years of teaching at the New York School of Art, Henri opened his own school, the Henri School of Art, where he taught such artists as Patrick Henry Bruce, Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, and Yasuo Kuniyoshi, all of whom are represented in the Sheldon's permanent collection. He also taught at the educationally and politically radical Ferrer Modern School, where Man Ray and Leon Trotsky attended his classes and, later, at the Art Students' League. In 1923, Henri's importance and influence were carried beyond the classroom with the publication of his book The Art Spirit, a collection of his lecture notes, criticisms, and other remarks on art. It is still in print today.

During the latter years of his life, Henri taught during the school year and traveled throughout the United States and Europe during the summer, often looking for subjects for his works. He grew particularly fond of Achill Island, off the coast of Ireland, where he spent many summers. Its simple way of life, not yet corrupted by civilization, was of great interest to him.

Henri died from cancer on July 12, 1929. He was 64.


George Bellows

Born in Columbus, Ohio, George Bellows was a major American artist of the early 20th century, known for his paintings of boxing match figures and for his lithographs of his paintings. Bellows cemented his place in American art with his series of works depicting urban life in New York City, circa 1910. He enjoyed much critical acclaim during his life, and was elected to the National Academy of Design. At the height of his career, Bellows died from appendicitis at the age of 42.


Arthur B. Carles

Arthur B. Carles was one of the first American proponents of Abstract Expressionism. He spent most of his life in Philadelphia where he studied, taught and exhibited at the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts. Carles' paintings span turn-of-the-century academic impressionism, early American modernism, and the mid-century emergence of Abstract Expressionism. Regarded as a pioneer early in the century, he became an innovator. By the end of his career he was well ahead of his time.


William Merritt Chase

William Merritt Chase is one of the most famous of all 19th century American painters, both as a painter coming out of the Munich tradition into modern impressionism and as a talented teacher. He studied painting in Munich for six years, and upon his return to the United States in 1878, quickly established himself as one of the foremost Impressionist painters in New York. Originally known for portraiture and still life work, he also gained a reputation for landscape painting.


Arthur B. Davies

Arthur B. Davies gained a reputation for ethereal figure paintings that expressed lightness and mysticism. He was also a principal organizer of the 1913 Armory Show. Davies developed a style that combined Symbolism with elements of Tonalism, Art Nouveau, and Cubism, and became increasingly interested in expressing a feeling of lightness in figural compositions. His involvement with the Modern artists is reflected in his production of cubist-inspired works during the period. He also did printmaking, producing some two hundred graphic works between 1916 and his death in 1928.


William Glackens

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, William Glackens became one of the Realist painters following Henri. His first job was as an artist-reporter for the Philadelphia Record. He then moved to the Philadelphia Press where Luks, Shinn, and Sloan were also employed. In 1919, he began sharing a studio with Henri, who encouraged Glackens to pursue a full-time career as a professional artist. Early in his painting career, he painted numerous scenes of Washington Square and Central Park. Glackens also adopted Impressionism and did many paintings of seaside resorts on Cape Cod and Long Island.


Walt Kuhn

A painter and major organizer of the Armory Show, Walt Kuhn is perhaps best known for his circus figure/clown depictions. He also painted still lifes and landscapes. Kuhn was inspired and influenced by many artists, most notably Paul Cézanne. He was a key figure in forming the American Association of Painters and Sculptors, which organized the Armory Show of 1913. Kuhn was executive secretary of the Association and traveled abroad to select entries for that exhibition.


Ernest Lawson

Working in a near-pure Impressionist style, Ernest Lawson's works often featured the urban landscape of New York. Lawson was born in Kansas City and studied at the Art Students League in New York City. Following brief study in Paris, Lawson stayed close to his home near Washington Heights, where he painted his most important canvases. In contrast to the other members of The Eight, who were all considered Social Realists, Lawson was the only member who exhibited pure landscapes. He worked in an Impressionistic style, and many of his works focus on the influence of human beings on the landscapes.


George Luks

George Luks was a leading figure in the New York art world in the early part of the 20th century. He did lively portraits and genre paintings of everyday people engaged in activity, rather than self-consciously posed. He studied in Europe for several years and was much influenced by the paintings of Rembrandt and Frans Hals. He then worked for the Philadelphia Press, doing quick, accurate reportorial sketches, a method that became his forte. In Philadelphia he became friends with Sloan, Henri, Glackens and Shinn. In 1896 he moved to New York City, where he painted the people he saw on the street and joined with the Henri circle in depicting social realism.


Maurice Prendergast

Maurice Prendergast is known as a neo-impressionist rather than an Ashcan painter who was a member of The Eight. He is known for his lively, playful scenes that combine bold contoured forms with decorative surface patterning and bright, prismatic color. For most of his career he worked primarily in watercolor, but in the mid 1910s began to paint more in oil. He also made over 210 monotypes. By the time of his death in 1924, Prendergast had become one of the most famous American painters, well known for his views of the coastlines, beaches and parks in and around New England and Italy.


Everett Shinn

Everett Shinn was a Social Realist painter who focused on lower-class urban themes. He was also a cartoonist and illustrator. With the encouragement of Henri, Shinn moved to New York City, where he continued illustration work for various publications, and began exhibiting his paintings in fine art venues. Shinn's early paintings and pastels reflect his interest in the depiction of city living. His artwork also reveals an enchantment with the more glamorous aspects of urban life. In particular, Shinn's obsession with the theater may be seen in many dynamic works, which depict actresses, singers, and dancers on the stage, often compositionally related to the pastels of Edgar Degas.


John Sloan

John Sloan was a member of the Ashcan School and was an illustrator, painter, and printmaker. He became one of the major early 20th century figures in the Social Realist movement. He began his career as a newspaper illustrator for the Philadelphia Inquirer Sloan enrolled in a drawing class at the Academy taught by Thomas Anshutz, and eventually began renting Henri's studio, which became a meeting place of other young newspaper illustrators. After the 1913 Armory Show, Sloan experimented with more radical painting styles. Although he considered himself a professional artist, he continued to support himself as a commercial illustrator until 1916. Sloan was also an early eastern painter in the Southwest, active in the Santa Fe colony and in getting other eastern artists to head west.


Following is additional text excerpted from panels placed on the walls of the exhibition:


As an artist, art teacher, and advocate for modern art, Robert Henri influenced, and continues to influence, generations of artists with not only his artworks but also through his book, The Art Spirit, published in 1923, which remains in print and is still in high demand today. Henri's philosophy of art was an important catalyst in the history and development of international modern art in the United States. His philosophy was derived from romantic humanism, modernism, and American pragmatism, a blend that made European modern art less threatening to an art audience skeptical of abstraction and avant-gardism.
Henri's interest in developing the artist's individual expressive freedom enabled artists to enter the international art world in an unprecedented manner. In fact several members of The Eight were instrumental in organizing and promoting the famous Armory Show of 1913, Americas first dose of European modernism, which represented a major watershed in American art and culture. This exhibition, of which Henri took part, had an inescapable effect, both directly and indirectly, on him, challenging his artistic beliefs and personal leadership. Representing the full spectrum of artistic styles that manifest the scope of Henri's influence, George Bellows, William Merritt Chase, Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, Walt Kuhn, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan are all associated with this initial American foray into modernism in the twentieth century.
The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden presents Henri's work in the context of the many important artists he influenced in the first decades of the twentieth-century. Many of these artists were associated with both The Eight and later with the so-called Ashcan School, both of which were shaped and sustained by the energies of Henri. The Eight, which exhibited during the first decade of the twentieth century, included artists William Glackens, George Luks, Everett Shinn, John Sloan, Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast, and Robert Henri. Functioning essentially as an exhibiting group or community and not because of a similar style or aesthetic art form, these artists represented a tremendous aesthetic diversity that came to characterize the history of modern art in the United States. The term Ashcan School, which first appeared in a 1934 book by Alfred Barr and Holger Cahill, describes some of The Eight who were interested in the banal and mundane subject matter and usually painted them in a dark palette derived from the Munich School. Indeed, the interrelationship of The Eight and the Ashcan School are due to Henri's strong involvement with both groups. With thirty paintings and works on paper and a collection of archival materials, the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery collection is the most comprehensive public assembly of Henri's oeuvre.


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