In Francisquita of 1923, Henri portrays a Portuguese model, Francisca de Souze whose sharply featured face, penetrating stare and sultry dress exude an exotic character composed of emotional strength and beauty. Henri painted Francisca de Souze in New York City in 1923 soon after his return from a trip to Santa Fe. His choice in subject seems to continue his interest in depicting the ethnic subjects he was drawn to while in New Mexico. He first arrived in Santa Fe in 1916 and then returned in 1917 and 1922 for extended periods of painting. This large body of work resulted in paintings devoted to the Hispanic and Native Americans. "Henri's interest in the diversity of the human form transcended race, age, and gender, and embraced people from all factions of society." (V. Leeds,Robert Henri: The Painted Spirit, New York, 2005, p. 25)
Painted three-quarter length, the model in Francisquita sits for the artist wearing her authentic Portuguese dress and jewelry. Her beautiful face features claret red lips and deep-set, dark eyes from which a stare emanates toward the viewer. Absent in the painting are the usual props of an interior. She exists in the space without the added adornment of objects, giving the impression that her black hair and dress melts into the background isolating her beautiful pale skin, lace collar and crimson skirt. Although blacks and dark greens dominate the canvas, Henri brightly illuminates Francisca's face, suggesting her character. Utilizing vigorous brushwork and saturated colors, Henri in Francisquita is able to distill in the sharp cheekbones, the pursing of her lips and the full, red skirt, the essence of the model.
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 B.B. Perlman, Robert Henri: His Life and Art, New York, 1991, 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)
Francisquita exemplifies the hallmarks that make Henri's portraits some of his most desired work. He combines the style of European artists and the subject of New York Ashcan School artists to successfully portray the character of a beautiful model and to vividly captured the humanity of his "people."