In addition to his role as a leader of the Ashcan school and an influential teacher, Robert Henri is perhaps best remembered as an artist for his spirited portraits of children. In the present work, Henri depicts a young Irish girl in the artist's classic style, a portrait of a single figure gazing confidently at the viewer. His subject is Mary Ann Cafferty, shown three-quarter length, and painted in dashing strokes of color.
Pegeen is part of a remarkable group of portraits produced by Henri late in his career. This striking series focused on children from the Irish villages on Achill Island. According to Valerie Leeds, Mary Ann Cafferty was a favorite model of Henri and he was known to have painted her portrait on a number of occasions. The present work was painted in Corrymore in August of 1926. Leeds further comments that "the late Irish portraits are devoted almost entirely to children, a theme Henri began to concentrate on in the early 1920s. Echoing in the numerous portraits painted toward the end of his career are his own words: 'If you paint children, you must have no patronizing attitude toward them. Whoever approaches a child without humility, without wonderment, and without infinite respect, misses in his judgement of what is before him...Paint with respect for him...He is the great possibility, the independent individual.' Emblematic of his universal and positive view of humankind, children had a particular spirit and sense of optimism that had powerful allure for Henri." (My People, The Portraits of Robert Henri, Seattle, Washington, 1994, p. 41)
Additional paintings depicting Mary Ann Cafferty are in the collections of the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, Nebraska; Currier Gallery, Manchester, New Hampshire; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.