Windmill Vollendam Holland
Windmill in Volendam 1907 Pencil on Paper 5x6.5 inches
by Robert Henri
“Revolutionary,” an “insurgent” from birth, an “emancipator,” an “inspired teacher” and “typically American,” Robert Henri had a personality, beliefs and actions that fit all those descriptions. More than any one characteristic, Henri was true to himself and had the integrity and candor to be an apostle of artistic individuality and freedom of expression. Devoting his life to painting realism in an unrestrained manner, he remained a dynamic, thoughtful teacher. He helped organize “The Eight” and his protagonistic, candid articles and books promoting the unencumbered, limitless artistic spirit inspired new generations of painters, thinkers and educators.
Espousing radical ideas right from the beginning of his artistic career, he had a lot to say about aesthetic deliberations and a lot of people listened to him. His revolt did not lead him into a world of abstractions as it did many other painters of his day, but into artistic parameters of his own making. "Let's dust off a lot of the old rules and notions about art, he said, and get a fresh start." His open suspicion as he got going in his career was that academic training strangled creativity. Not that he wished to turn his back on the virtuosity of the Old Masters or on the ingenuity of his own contemporaries who were products of academies. His sense of the importance of what was going on in French painting at the time was too keen for that, and he was also well aware of the excitement that comes anew with each personal discovery of the marvels of a Goya, a Hals, a Rembrandt or an El Greco.
His idea was this: let all great painters of the past guide but not dominate the rest of us. Art, especially American art, has been in the stifling sway of European salonniers and academicians for too long. It is time for America to create her own artistic language. He even had a straightforward but passionate definition of what art — that highly inscrutable concept — was all about. Art when really understood, he said, is the province of every human being. It is simply a question of doing things, anything, well.