The Color Investigations of Robert Henri

On October 15-17, 2021, many enthusiasts of Robert Henri gathered for the first Robert Henri Conference in Cozad, Nebraska, to celebrate his life and art. The Robert Henri Museum and Art Gallery is located in the Cozad family house of his youth. The Museum has a beautiful collection of Henri paintings, including his “Gypsy Girl,” “MacNamara,” and “Bridgeen.” Many paintings in the collection are on permanent loan to the Museum from Tammy and Larry Paulsen, a philanthropic family that resides in Cozad. Janet Le Clair, Henri’s late grand-niece, laid a foundation of support for the Museum by donating Henri’s “Queen Marianna” (Henri’s copy of the Velasquez painting) and many sketches, letters, and some photos. The Museum is small and intimate, with the paintings hung at eye level and superbly lit, allowing for close viewing. I was struck by the breadth of the collection. It covers Henri’s entire painting arc from his early youth until the late Irish portraits of his last years at Corrymore on Achill Island, Ireland.

The presenters at the conference included Valerie Ann Leeds, the foremost art scholar on Henri, who spoke on Henri as a painter and self-promoter. The Le Clair family (Henri’s heirs) includes Craig Le Clair and his two sisters, Janet and Michelle, and another brother who was not present. Craig Le Clair presented on managing the Henri estate and filled in many of the holes I had regarding Henri’s family and his wife’s sister, Violet Organ, who for a time was the executor of the estate. I also received clarity on the “Record Books.” These “Record Books” were compiled by Henri and listed all his paintings with notes as to their execution, framing, varnishing, exhibits, and sale. The family uses these books to authenticate Henri’s work and locate its whereabouts.

Karissa Johnson, the Museum of Nebraska Art (MONA) curator, spoke of their collection of Henri paintings, specifically the “Eulabee Dix in her Wedding Gown, 1910” by Henri in their permanent collection. This was an intriguing view of Henri’s relationship with a fellow artist. Brittany Strupp, a Ph.D. candidate at Tyler School of Art, Temple University, spoke of Henri’s early career and the influence of Parisian aesthetics on Henri. Her dissertation, “Between Impressionism and Realism: The Early Career of Robert Henri,” was thought-provoking. Brittany presented only a portion of her dissertation at the conference. It was well researched and tied Henri’s trajectory as a painter to the influence of Monet, Baudelaire, and other artists and intellectuals active in Paris before and during Henri’s stay there.

I presented on “The Color Investigations of Robert Henri” and spoke on his many color palettes and the color theories that influenced his development as an important colorist. Henri’s “Paint Notebooks” detail Henri’s color investigations of set-palette designs from which Henri created his body of work from 1910 until 1928. Peter Osborne presented Henri’s family history and the influence that Nebraska had on his childhood and early development as a man of strong character and a “pioneer” in art.

The conference was intensely engaging and I was honored to be a part of it. The video above is a recording of the Zoom session of my presentation only. If you wish to view the other speakers, which I suggest, visit the Robert Henri Museum.