Monday, April 23, 2012


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Robert Henri an American painter and art educator was born in Cincinnati Ohio in 1865. He was educated at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Academie Julian and the Ecole des Beaux Art in Paris. In 181 he began to paint and teach in Philadelphia, where he met the painters John Sloan, William Glackens and George Luks. He inspired them to paint American life with vigorous dramatic realism. The Group moved to New York City, they joined other painters to form the Eight or the so-called Ashcan school. Henri broke with academic tradition, especially in his portrayals of the crude vigor of city life. He was not content to paint portrait s of the Aristocrats but he paint portraits of everyday poor people living in the city.

Henri was known for his warm, vibrant portraits, particularly of children. In his painting the Portrait of Willie Gee, oil on canvas, 104, his robust, free brushwork and strong compositions can be seen. Willie Gee was a newspaper boy who delivered Henri’s paper at his Sherwood Studio at Sixth Ave. and 57th street.

Willie Gee is a naturalistic portrait where in most of the outlines are blurred and the colors are muted. Dark colors are use throughout the painting with the exception of the apple that was painted red. The red apple could be seen against the dark tones of colors and these contrasts draw my attention to the significant of the apple. This apple according to the artist is an inexpensive form of nourishment given by a benevolent society to newsboy. White color was used to depict Willie’s eyes and his tie. Henri captures Willie Gee form when he placed him against a dark background. He uses heavy strokes with his brushes and each can be seen on the painting. He subordinated the background by not placing any objects there, so that all the Emphasis could be focus on Willie’s face and the red apple in his hand. These I believe were the focal point of the painting.


The painting is not detail except for Willie’s face where Implied light was used. The source of light cannot be seen but from the way the shadows fall it catches Willie’s face on the right side. Willie’s eyes are bright and hold a lot of sadness not found often in children. The red apple in his hand, did not take the tired, sad look out of his eyes. The light that falls on Willie’s face seems to fall on the apple in his hand. The hand holding the apple was not shown, the apple seems to be balancing on air. The top half of the painting is somewhat detail while the bottom half is not detail. Directional lines also play an important role in the portrait of Willie’s Gee. The sad look in his eyes drew my attention first to his face and then to the apple. This links the painting together so that our eyes will look from his face to the apple and from the apple to his face.

What captured my attention about this painting was the look on Willie’s face. The colors used give an emotional effect so I have a direct emotional response to it. This painting was a reality not a sense of someone posing for a picture but real life. Everything about the painting depicted the time and what was going on with poverty and the poor. Many artists did not paint the poor and poverty but they usually paint the rich.

Henri taught at the Art Students League and other schools in New York City, championed juryless exhibitions, and traveled widely. The Art Spirit, a compilation of Henri’s lectures, was published in 1 and is still read. The Portrait of Willie Gee can be seen at The Newark Museum. The painting is 1 1/4x 6 ¼. He died in 1.

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