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by Danielle Peltakian

Painter Robert Henri was America’s premier art instructor at the turn of the 20th century. He was a visionary leader, responsible for the Ashcan School and assisting in the planning of the revolutionary Armory Show.

Table of Contents


Robert Henri was born Robert Henry Cozad to Theresa Gatewood and John Jackson Cozad in Cincinnatti, OH. He was the youngest son in a prominent family and was first cousins with American Impressionist Mary Cassatt. In 1883, a murder scandal involving the Cozad father forced the Cozads to change their names, relocate and break all ties with their extended family, including Cassatt. Robert Henry Cozad was renamed Robert Earle Henri and was sent to a boarding school in New York, while his parents moved to Atlantic City, NJ.

In a letter of 1885, Henri first revealed his interest in art to a close relative. He was enthusiastic about embarking upon a career as an artist and wrote that he wished to simply become a “picture painter.” In October of 1886, he enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (PAFA), where he was introduced to Thomas Eakins. Henri became a great admirer of Eakins and was influenced by the innovations that the older artist had introduced to the Academy, which included the study of the nude, dissection, and clay modeling from life. By 1897, Henri acquired enough instruction to exhibit his paintings at to the Annual Exhibition of the PAFA.

In the following year, the young artist fulfilled a lifelong dream by traveling to Paris and enrolling at the Academie Julian under the Academic painter William-Adolphe Bougereau. During his years as a student in Paris, he quickly adopted the Impressionist style and even held private art lessons. In 1892, he briefly returned to Philadelphia where he completed one more year of study at the PAFA, taught at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, and established the Charcoal Club, whose members later became known as the “Philadelphia Four.”

By 1894, Henri was once again in Paris, where he earned a living as a private art instructor. In 1898, he married one of his former students, Linda Craige. Henri’s paintings were well received abroad, and in 1899, the French government purchased his painting La Neige (The Snow) for the Musee du Luxemborg.

In 1902, Henri accepted a position at the New York School of Art (formerly known as the Chase School of Art, after artist William Merritt Chase). It was here that Henri would establish himself as the pre-eminent art teacher in America at the turn of the century. In his years as an instructor, he taught some of the greatest artists of the younger generation, including Edward Hopper, Stuart Davis, Man Ray, Adolph Gottlieb, Glen Coleman, Rockwell Kent and Yusuo Kuniyoshi among others. He was also an art teacher to the poet Vachel Lindsay, actor Clifton Webb, writer Ariel Durant and Marxist theorist Leon Trotsky. In 1909, he established his own school of art, appropriately named the Henri School of Art.

By 1907, Henri became an Academician of the National Academy of Design (NAD). However, Henri left the Academy in that same year following a dispute with the selection jury of the NAD Annual Exhibition. In protest to the jury’s rejection of several artists within his circle, Henri withdrew both of his paintings from the annual exhibition and formed an alternative, landmark group exhibition, which was held at the Macbeth Gallery in New York City. The group of eight artists whose works were displayed included the Philadelphia Four and several other followers of Henri. In 1934, the artists Robert Henri, Arthur B. Davies, Maurice Prendergast, Ernest Lawson, William Glackens, Everett Shinn, John French Sloan, and George Luks were labeled “The Eight” (also known as the Ashcan School).

Determined to fulfill his vision for the American art world, Henri organized a jury-free, prize-free exhibition in 1910, which closely resembled the Salon des Independents of Paris. Although aging, Henri embraced modern art of the early 20th century and took part in the planning of the Armory Show of 1913, in which five of his paintings were included. In the years following 1913, Henri went on to teach at the Art Students League in New York. After a painful struggle with cancer, he died in 1929 in New York City.

8" x 10"
Oil on board
Exhibited: Landscapes: New and Old, Now and Then, 2004

In this work, Henri's preference for loose brushwork and the appearance of a rapid execution lend the work a tremendous sense of the New England atmosphere.


In 1934, a writer for the Chicago Daily News stated the following: “Robert Henri might have developed into America’s greatest painter had he not chosen to become America’s greatest art teacher.” While for many, Henri will forever be remembered as a teacher, his role as an artist should not be overlooked. As art historian Bennard B. Perlman argued in his monograph on the artist, Robert Henri’s paintings are an example in themselves of the change from 19th century academicism to twentieth-century self-expression in American art.

During his attendance at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (PAFA) in the early 1890s, Henri’s exposure to Thomas Eakins greatly influenced his painterly style for the remainder of his career. Similar to Eakins, Henri rebelled against the Academy’s rigid program and yearned for more artist involvement in the planning of the school’s annual exhibition. He often took it upon himself to better the state of the Academy’s educational system. The ambitious, young artist lobbied and won several requests for extra studio hours and more life drawing classes. Adhering to the teachings of Eakins, Henri became a strong proponent of Realism in art.

While studying in Paris during the mid-1890s, Henri began to adopt the Impressionist style; however, he never quite abandoned certain realistic conventions, which he learned from his years as a student in Philadelphia. In 1895, he almost completely abandoned the Impressionist style, referring to it as a “new academism.” He adopted a somber color palette and changed the direction of his subject matter to both urban and rural peasant life.

Henri’s honesty in which he painted would attract many followers over the next few years. In 1908, he organized the first and only group exhibition of “The Eight,” who were later termed the “Ashcan School.” Although each of these artists maintained their own, individual style, it was their similar interest in depicting the everyday life of poor, urban neighborhoods that ultimately united them as a school.

Over the period of 1900 to the early 1910s, Henri eventually abandoned painting landscape and cityscapes. Today, it is his portraits from this period that are largely responsible for his reputation today. Drawing from the style of 17th century masters such as Diego Velazquez, Henri forged a portrait style all his own. While William Merritt Chase and John Singer Sargent outrivaled him in the American portrait genre during his time, Henri’s portraits standout in the evocative sincerity in which they are painted. Henri once wrote, “The people I like to paint are “my people,” whoever they may be, wherever they may exist, the people through whom all dignity of life is manifest, that is, who are in some way expressing themselves naturally along the lines Nature intended for them.”

From the rigid Realism advocated by the Academy to the fleeting effects of light and color learned from French Impressionism, Robert Henri’s paintings are a link between the academic world of the 19th century to the landmark Armory Show of 1913. He never ceased to question his own style, and he encouraged his students of the younger generations to continue to produce what they believe art should be. He once stated, “All I can hope to do for you is to incite you to do something for yourself-- to create something. What it is, I can’t guess. I’m eager to see.” Looking back on his own work, Henri’s paintings are in themselves a legacy of his teachings.


  • 1865 Born Robert Henry Cozad to Theresa Gatewood and John Jackson Cozard
  • 1882 Father is indicted for murder and Cozads move to Denver and change names. Robert Henry Cozad adopts the name Robert Earle Henri.
  • 1883 Parents move to Atlantic City, NJ and he is placed in a boarding school in New York
  • 1884 Completes his first painting
  • 1886 Enrolls at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA)
  • 1888 First exhibition of his works at the PAFA and travels to Paris to enroll at the Academie Julian
  • 1891 Returns to the U.S. and lives in Philadelphia with his brother and sister-in-law
  • 1892 Begins teaching at the School of Design for Women in Philadelphia
  • 1893 Elected president of the Charcoal Club
  • 1894 Travels to France
  • 1896 Holds a private art class at Moret-sur-Loing, near Paris
  • 1897 Returns to Philadelphia and holds first one-man show at the PAFA
  • 1898 Accepted into the National Academy of Design Annual exhibit and marries Linda Craige
  • 1899 Paints La Neige which is purchased for the Musee National du Luxemborg, Paris
  • 1900 Forms private art classes in Paris and returns to the U.S., where he begins to teach at the Veltin School, NY
  • 1901 Awarded his first art prize at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY
  • 1902 Organizes an exhibit of “The Four” and begins teaching at the New York School of Art
  • 1903 Elected to the Society of American Artists
  • 1904 His painting Girl in White Waist becomes his first sale to a U.S. Museum
  • 1905 Elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design
  • 1906 Elected an Academician of the National Academy of Design
  • 1907 Announces formation of The Eight and travels to Holland with New York School of Art Class
  • 1908 The Eight show opens at the PAFA and travels to the Art Institute of Chicago and seven other cities
  • 1909 Opens the Henri School of Art in the Lincoln Arcade, NY, NY and teaches there until 1912
  • 1910 Henri secretly sells the Henri School of Art to Homer Boss, while continuing to provide classroom critiques
  • 1911 Commences instruction at The Modern School of the Ferrer Society and is invited to join the Association of American Painters and Sculptors
  • 1912 Instructs his last class at the Henri School of Art
  • 1913 Five of Henri’s paintings are included in the Armory Show of 1913 in NY, NY
  • 1914 Travels to San Diego and La Jolla, CA
  • 1915 Begins teaching at the Art Students League of New York
  • 1916 Travels to Santa Fe, NM to help open new museum
  • 1929 In spring, Henri is chosen as one of the top three living American artists by the Arts Council of New York. In summer, he dies of cancer in NY.
  • 1931 Memorial Exhibition is held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

  • Art Institute of Chicago, IL
  • Butler Institute of American Art, OH
  • Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY
  • Cincinnati Art Museum, OH
  • Crocker Art Museum, Sacrameto, CA
  • Cummer Museum of Art
  • Delaware Art Museum
  • Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA
  • High Museum of Art, GA
  • Hunter Museum of American Art
  • Gilcrease Museum, OK
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
  • Milwaukee Art Museum, WI
  • Montclair Art Museum, NJ
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
  • National Academy of Design, NY, NY
  • National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  • Newark Museum, NJ
  • New Britain Museum of American Art, CT
  • Orange County Museum of Art, CA
  • Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, PA,
  • Phoenix Art Museum, AZ
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA
  • Ringling Museum of Art, FL
  • San Diego Museum of Art, CA
  • Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
  • Springfield Museum of Art, OH
  • Stark Museum of Art, TX
  • Walker Art Center, MN
  • Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, NY

    Major Solo-Exhibitions

  • 1897, 1902 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Philadelphia, PA
  • 1903 St. Louis, MO
  • 1902, 1919, 1925, Macbeth Gallery, NY
  • 1902 Pratt Institute, NY
  • 1907 New York School of Art, NY
  • 1907 McClees Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
  • 1919 Art Institute of Chicago, IL (Traveling Exhibition)
  • 1926 Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, NY
  • 1931 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • 1956 Museum of New MExico Art Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
  • 1976 Chapellier Galleries, New York, NY
  • 1984 Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington DE (Traveling Exhibition)
  • Major Group-Exhibitions

  • 1878, 1903 National Academy of Design, NY, NY
  • 1892-1929 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, PA
  • 1901 Cincinnati Art Museum, OH
  • 1901, 1905 Art Institute of Chicago, IL
  • 1903 23rd Street Galleries, NY
  • 1904 New York School of Art, NY
  • 1904 Nebraska Art Association, Lincoln, NE
  • 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition, Portland, OR
  • 1905 Newark Free Library Gallery, NJ
  • 1906 M. O’Brien’s Sons Art Gallery, Chicago, IL
  • 1907 Worcester Art Museum, MA
  • 1908 Museum of Classical Archeology of the University of Missouri, MO
  • 1911 Rome, Italy
  • 1913 Armory Show, New York, NY
  • 1914, 1918 McDowell Club, New York, NY
  • 1915 San Diego Museum of Art, CA
  • 1926 Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  • 1982 Phoenix Art Museum, AZ (Traveling Exhibition)
  • 1986 Center for the Arts, Vero Beach, FL

  • Associate Member of the National Academy of Design
  • Boston Art Club
  • Los Angeles Modern Art Society
  • National Arts Club
  • National Institute of Arts and Letters
  • Society of American Artists
  • Society of Independent Artists
  • Woodstock Art Association

  • 1914, 1929 Gold medal, Pennsylvania Academy of FIne Art
  • 1901 First Prize, Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY
  • 1904 Medal, St. Louis Exposition
  • 1909, Gold medal, Art Club of Philadelphia
  • 1910, Medal, Buenos Aires Exposition
  • 1915 Medal, Pan-Pacific Exposition, San Francisco, CA
  • 1920 Society of the Fine Arts, Wilmington, DE
  • VIII. Bibliography

    1. 1. Homer, William Innes. Robert Henri and His Circle. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1969.
    2. 2. Perlman, Bernard B. ed. Revolutionaries of Realism: The Letters of John Sloan and Robert Henri. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.
    3. 3. Perlman, Bennard B. Robert Henri: His Life and Art. New York, Dover Publications, Inc., 1991.
    4. 4. Robert Henri and the Ashcan School. Savanah, GA: Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1989.
    5. 5. Robert Henri: Painter. Wilmington, DE: Delaware Art Museum, 1984.
    6. 6. Robert Henri: 1865-1929.  New York, NY: Chapellier Galleries, 1976.
    7. 7. John Sloan/ Robert Henri: Their Philadelphia Years: 1886- 1904. Philadelphia, PA: Moore College of Art, Gallery, 1976.
    8. 8. Robert Henri. New York, NY: Hirschl and Adler Galleries, 1958.