Robert Henri

Spanish Girl of Segovia, 1918

Oil on canvas

John Butler Talcott Fund


Robert Henri (1865-1929)
Spanish Girl of Segovia, 1912

Robert Henry Cozad spent his childhood in Cozaddale, Ohio, and Cozad, Nebraska, pioneer towns founded by his father, a gambler and land promoter. When his father shot a workman during a dispute in 1882, the family fled and changed their names. In 1886 the renamed Robert Henri left home in Atlantic City and began art studies, first at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and then at the Académie Julian in Paris. After returning to Philadelphia in 1891, Henri taught at the Women's School of Design (now the Moore College of Art) and befriended William Glackens, John Sloan, Everett Shinn, and George Luks, the young newspaper illustrators who would later become his compatriots in the Ashcan School.

Henri's reputation is based as much on his efforts as an anti-establishment rebel and teacher as on his artistic achievements. Elected to the National Academy of Design in 1905, he served on the institution's juries but, frustrated by its conservatism, organized exhibitions at alternative venues. His most successful and notorious show, The Eight, was held at New York's Macbeth Galleries in 1908. Thoroughly covered in the press, the exhibition added to Henri's reputation as an insurgent and challenged the hegemony of the academy.

Henri's charismatic personality made him a popular teacher. After moving to New York in 1900, Henri taught at the New York School of Art (1902-1909), the Henri School of Art (1909-1912), the Modern School of the Ferrer Society (1911-1916), and the Art Students League (1912-1928). In 1923 he published The Art Spirit, a still-influential collection of his teachings and sayings compiled by his student, Margery Ryerson. He taught both realists and modernists and encouraged them to pursue directions in their art that he did not choose for himself. His countless students included Stuart Davis, Rockwell Kent, Man Ray, Andrew Dasburg, George Bellows, and Edward Hopper.

Although he often painted landscapes and cityscapes, Henri was best known for his portraits. These included both large-scale, formal studio portraits and smaller, more informal studies of anonymous ordinary folk, whom he came to call "my people." For him, these types from different cultural and national backgrounds captured the essential spirit of their culture and of humanity in general. Henri first began his portrait studies around 1907, painting fishermen, musicians and performers, gypsies, and street children.

He found most of these faces during his travels. Beginning in 1906, Henri regularly took his New York art class to Madrid for summer study. Spanish Girl of Segovia was painted in Henri's Madrid studio during one of these excursions, in 1912. Painted in dark tones and executed in broad brushstrokes, the portrait typifies Henri's realist style and evokes the canvases of Frans Hals and Edouard Manet, the painters Henri revered. A meticulous record keeper, Henri kept books in which he numbered all of his paintings and listed the exhibitions at which they were shown. This work is number 87H.

For further reading:

William Innes Homer, Robert Henri and His Circle, rev. ed. (New York: Hacker Art Books, 1988)
Bennard B. Perlman, Robert Henri: His Life and Art (New York: Dover Publications, 1991)


This essay has been condensed from a larger manuscript written by Bruce W. Chambers for the museum's collection catalogue.

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