Robert Henri (1865-1929)
Robert Henri (1865-1929)

Nelson Cooper--Gypsy Boy

Robert Henri (1865-1929)
Nelson Cooper--Gypsy Boy
signed 'Robert Henri' (lower left)--signed again and inscribed '83/J/Gipsy Boy--Profile' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm.)
Painted in 1915.
Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Lucas, Jr., Charlotte, North Carolina, by 1966.
Kodner Gallery, Saint Louis, Missouri.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1998.
Mint Museum of Art, Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Lucas, Jr., exhibition catalogue, Charlotte, North Carolina, 1966, n.p., no. 23, illustrated.
North Carolina Museum of Art, North Carolina Collects, exhibition catalogue, Raleigh, North Carolina, 1967, n.p., no. 159, illustrated (as Gypsy Boy (Nelson Cooper)).
New York, Macbeth Gallery, 1915.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 111th Annual Exhibition, February 6-March 26, 1916, no. 397 (as Gypsy Boy: Profile).
Saint Louis, Missouri, Saint Louis Art Museum, 1916.
New York, Chapellier Gallery, 1965.
Charlotte, North Carolina, Mint Museum of Art, Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Lucas, Jr., April 17-May 1, 1966.
Raleigh, North Carolina, North Carolina Museum of Art, North Carolina Collects, October 10-29, 1967 (as Gypsy Boy (Nelson Cooper)).
Sale room notice
Please note the additional provenance on this lot:
The artist.
Estate of the above.
[With]Chapellier Galleries, New York.
Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Lucas, Jr., North Carolina, 1964.
[With]Richard York Gallery, New York, 1984.
Private collection, New Jersey.

Please note the additional exhibition history for this lot:
Indianapolis, Indiana, Art Association of Indianpolis, The John Herron Art Institute, Paintings by Robert Henri, 1915, no. 122.
Cincinnati, Ohio, Cincinnati Art Museum, Special Exhibition of Paintings by Robert Henri, 1915, no. 22.
Syracuse, New York, Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts, Exhibition of Paintings by Robert Henri, 1916, no. 4.

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Lot Essay

In the summer of 1915, Robert Henri wanted to leave New York to get away from all the reminders of the war. He and his wife, Linda, accompanied George and Emma Bellows to Ogunquit, Maine, a popular artist's colony. Henri described Ogunquit as, "a sort of straggling village made up of quiet-seeking respectables and natives and a considerable artist's colony..." Regarding the models, "there were plenty of children ready to earn the money, but they were...not inspiring..." (as quoted in B.B. Perlman, Robert Henri: His Life and Art, New York, 1991, p. 118) By August, Henri changed his opinion after finding a settlement of gypsies who served as models, including the present sitter, Nelson Cooper. Henri wrote about capturing the attentive face of the boy who "has a wrist watch he consults every minute to see how much money he has earned." (as quoted in Robert Henri: His Life and Art, p. 118) In Nelson Cooper--Gypsy Boy, Henri portrays this clever boy with dynamic strokes of vibrant color.

Henri's works from 1915 were most likely influenced by his exposure to the European Fauves and Expressionists at the 1913 Armory Show. "Henri's experimentation with unusual and vivid palettes and color combinations reached a climax in the Ogunquit portraits, particularly in the more than twenty canvases of Maine gypsies with the similarly vibrant background colors." (as quoted in V.A. Leeds, My People, The Portraits of Robert Henri, Seattle, Washington, 1994, p. 34) Utilizing vigorous brushwork and saturated colors in blues, reds and greens, Henri in Nelson Cooper--Gypsy Boy is able to distill the essence of the young boy.

In 1888, Henri left New York to study in Paris becoming enamored with the bright colors and short brushstrokes of Claude Monet and the French Impressionists. After visiting the Louvre and Luxembourg museums, however, Henri's palette turned dark, enthralled by the art of Édouard Manet. He began to incorporate in his paintings the artist's rich, dark palette, fluid brushstrokes and the use of contrasts of dark and light, in particular Manet's use of black juxtaposed against white and flesh tones. Later, Henri went to London in 1896 to view an exhibition of works by Diego Rodriguez de Sílva Velásquez, eager to view the works of the artist who influenced Manet. Regarding Velásquez, Henri noted, "His pictures seemed to me clear of all the truck of the art of the salons. Simple and direct, about man rather than about the little incidents which happen to man." (as quoted in Robert Henri: His Life and Art, p. 32) The influence of Velásquez's dark palette on Manet and Henri is reflected in a comment Manet made of a portrait by Velásquez, "The background disappears; it is made up of air which surrounds the gentleman, all dressed in black and lively." (as quoted in Robert Henri: His Life and Art, p. 44)

Throughout his career, Henri continued to travel and study. In 1907, Henri went to Holland to study the paintings of Frans Hals, particularly the use of his many variations of black and gray. Henri also took from Hals the animated expressions of his subject, capturing fleeting glimpses rather than formal poses. Discussing these artists' influence on Henri's portraits from the early 1900s, William Innes Homer notes, "We can trace the dignified full-length pose to Velásquez; the rapid, summary brushwork to Hals; and the use of strong, direct illumination, with accompanying dark shadows, to Rembrandt." (Robert Henri and His Circle, Ithaca, New York, 1969, p. 237)

Nelson Cooper--Gypsy Boy exemplifies the hallmarks that make Henri's portraits some of his most desired work. Painted three-quarter length, the boy sits for the artist wearing a colorful patterned scarf. Henri highlights the boy's face with rosy cheeks and claret red lips. Absent in the painting are the usual props of an interior. He exists in the space without the added adornment of objects effectively revealing his character. Henri combines the style of European artists and the subject of New York Ashcan School artists to successfully portray the character of his playful model and to vividly capture the humanity of his "people."

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