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A Year: Day to Day Men: 24th of June, Solar Year 2018

Window Seat on Life

June 24, 1865 was the birthdate of the American Realism painter and teacher, Robert Henri.

In 1886 Robert Henri enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and studied under Thomas Anshutz and Thomas Hovenden. He traveled to Paris in 1888 to enroll at the Academie Julian, where he studied under William-Adolphe Bouguereau and embraced the Impressionist movement. At the end of 1891, he returned to Philadelphia to study and began teaching at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women in 1892.

By 1895, Henri reconsidered his earlier love of Impressionism and urged his friends and proteges to create a new, more realistic art that spoke to the present time and experience. He believed artists should seek out fresh, less genteel subjects in the modern cities of America. The paintings produced by Henri, John Sloan, William Glackers, George Luks, Everett Shinn and others became known as the Ashcan School of American Art. They spurned academic painting and Impressionism as the art of “surface” painting.

Art critic Robert Hughes, known for his television series on modern art, “The Shock of the New” and for his position as art critic with Time magazine, stated that “Henri wanted art to be akin to journalism. He wanted paint to be as real as mud, as the clods of horse-shit and snow, that froze on Broadway in the winter, as real a human product as sweat, carrying the un-suppressed smell of human life.”

In 1908, Henri was one of the organizers of a landmark show entitled “The Eight” at the Macbeth Galleries in New York. Besides his own works and those produced by Glackens, Luks, Shinn and Sloan, three other artists who painted in a different, less realistic style- Maurice Prendergast, Ernest Lawson, and Arthur B Davies- were included. The exhibition was intended as a protest against the exhibition policies and narrowness of taste of the National Academy of Design. The show later traveled to several cities from Newark to Chicago, prompting further discussion in the press about the revolt against academic art and the new ideas about acceptable subject matter in painting.

In the spring of 1929, Henri was named as one of the top three living American artists by the Arts Council of New York. Henri died of cancer that summer at the age of sixty-four. He was eulogized by colleagues and former students and was honored with a memorial exhibition of seventy-eight paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Fittingly, among Henri’s most enduring works are his portraits of his fellow painters, exhibiting the classic elements of his style: forceful brushwork, intense dark color effects, evocation of his and the sitter’s personality, and generosity of spirit.

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