Robert Henri’s California Portraits: Realism, Race, and Region, 1914 – 25

Robert Henri
The Failure of Sylvester, 1914
Oil on canvas
41 × 33 inches
Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art
Photograph by Shannon L. Clark

Robert Henri
Tam Gan, 1914
Oil on canvas
24 × 20 inches
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

Robert Henri
The Beach Hat, 1914
Oil on canvas
24 × 20 inches
Detroit Institute of Arts
City of Detroit Purchase 

Saturday, September 13, 2014Sunday, January 18, 2015

American artist Robert Henri (1865 – 1929), one of the most influential artists of the early 20th century, made the first of his three trips to California in 1914. Henri was enchanted by the light, landscape, and the people he encountered during his sojourns here—and was compelled by the cultural diversity that has come to define California. This closely focused exhibition of approximately a dozen works reveals Henri’s fascination with the nations’ growing diversity. He turned away from his lucrative society portraits to paint everyday working people: Native Americans, African Americans, and newly arrived immigrants from China and Mexico. Ironically, he worked in California during an era marked by anti-immigrant exclusionary laws. To viewers today, Henri’s work may appear double-edged—dignifying in intent but subject to a troublesome exoticizing of the “other” (those he called “interesting people”). Yet he considered himself a staunch progressive and his art also faces off against the discriminatory, racist legislation of the time. This exhibition includes approximately a dozen lush oil paintings that Henri executed in California. An accompanying exhibition of contemporary art will examine portraiture through the perspective of artists working today. Organized by the Laguna Art Museum, California. 

This exhibition is made possible, in part, by generous support from Don Head and Barbara Oshman.