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


Robert Henri (1865-1929)
signed 'Robert Henri' (lower right)
oil on canvas
24 ¼ x 20 ¼ in. (61.6 x 51.4 cm.)
Painted in 1921.
The artist.
Ms. Violet Organ, sister-in-law of the above.
Dr. Robert H. Gatewood, cousin of the artist, gift from the above, 1948.
Ms. Joan Gatewood Miller, daughter of the above.
Sotheby's, New York, 4 June 1982, lot 94.
Mr. and Mrs. Alan D. Levy, Los Angeles, California.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
B.B. Perlman, Robert Henri, Painter, exhibition catalogue, Wilmington, Delaware, 1984, pp. 146-47, no. 90, illustrated.
B.B. Perlman, Robert Henri: His Life and Art, Mineola, New York, 1991, p. 131.
Kansas City, Missouri, Smalley Gallery, 1921.
Wilmington, Delaware, Delaware Art Museum, and elsewhere, Robert Henri, Painter, May 4-June 24, 1984, no. 90.

Lot Essay

A chief proponent of the Ashcan School, Robert Henri's true artistic spirit is captured in his portraits, such as Boby. Henri’s portraits were principally concerned with capturing the essence and diversity of ordinary life. His sitters were chosen only by him, drawn in by the romance and machismo of a Spanish bullfighter or the quiet dignity of a poor street vendor. He became enamored with painting portraits of children during his travels to Holland and his devotion to this subject would endure throughout his later work. A child represented universal innocence and the greatest type of honesty and integrity found in society. Henri valued this incorruptibility. Children were always true to their own individuality. The present work, Boby, is an exclamation of this spirit.

Boby was painted by Henri in September 1921, during a summer in which he devoted himself entirely to painting. Henri and his wife Marjorie had decided to join George Bellows, Eugene Speicher and Leon Kroll in the artist colony of Woodstock, New York. During his stay, Henri would become fascinated with the children of the Schleicher family. Minna and Eugen Schleicher were German immigrants who had settled in Woodstock and had become fixtures of the town’s culture. From August through October 1921, Henri would paint many portraits of Minna and Eugen’s children: Agnes, age 8; Hans, age 5; and Karl, age 2. Karl, whose name Henri mistakenly spelled “Carl,” was a favorite of Henri’s and was painted nine times by the artist, including the present work Boby. He wrote in a letter: "Here I am painting principally children. There is a good crop of them available and some are excellent. The one I had today is a wonder--a little gnome of two and a half--and I think I landed a good one. This is perhaps the reason that I have felt power to sit down and write. The youngster has light blond hair, dark brown eyes, a jumper of fine gray blue purple with a deep red edging, a white shirt in excellent tone with the rest, he sits on a little sienna colored childs [sic] rocker which is mainly covered up with a warm colored back cushion which has a design on it that adds excellent notes of color to the composition.” (as quoted in V. Leeds, Robert Henri: The Painted Spirit, New York, 2005, p. 27)

Not only was Henri engaging with the young boy’s energy, but also the colors of his world. During this time in his career, he started to fully utilize his studies in color theory. In Boby, Henri dresses Karl in a dark emerald scarf and patterned robe. The highlights in his golden hair stand out against the dark background (Henri believed that “the simpler the background is the better the figure in front will be”). (The Art Spirit, New York, 1923, p. 41) His rosy cheeks and pursed lips mimic the bloom of the potted geranium at his side and provide the composition with balance. Karl’s inquisitive, dark epicanthic eyes reveal his innocence and his intelligence—Karl would grow up to become a Columbia University alumnus and a prominent oceanographic engineer. They glimmer at the prospects of exploration and play. The angle at which Karl is sitting lets Henri explore the subtle tonalities of the boy’s face as he looks over his shoulder. Henri later described the same potential for action as “The tremendous activity of a boy sitting still.” (as quoted in The Art Spirit, p. 247)

At Woodstock, Henri was still more concerned with expressing the essence of his subjects and less with the formal elements of painting. He would explore these formalities during his later years in Ireland. (V.A. Leeds, “The Portraits of Robert Henri,” “My People”: The Portraits of Robert Henri, Seattle, Washington, 1994, p. 39) Henri’s stay in Woodstock and his time with the Schleicher children mark a short period when he had fully devoted himself to his own work. Boby is the result of his spirited rediscovery of the joys in the process of finding new models and exploring new techniques in his work. His focus on children parallels this reawakening.

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