Robert Henri
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1865, Robert Henri studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia under Thomas Hovenden and, later, in Paris with William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Extensive travel and study abroad also exposed Henri to the European Old Masters; paintings by 17th-century Spaniard Diego Velázquez especially enthralled him. Henri adopted and promoted Velázquez’s painterly techniques to revitalize American art, which he believed suffered under the weight of staid tradition. In 1908, in response to the conservatism of the National Academy of Art, Henri organized and exhibited in “The Eight,” a controversial show of artists later dubbed the “Ashcan School” for their glamourless views of urban life rendered in direct, anti-academic methods. As Henri’s Spanish Dancer with Cigarette and La Reina Mora in this installation attest, Henri’s travels in Spain exposed him also to Spanish popular culture, including sensual dances and music associated with gypsy subcultures. The Mead’s Salome Dancer, which Henri painted in the wake of the New York debut of Richard Strauss’s opera of the same name, extends the painter’s depictions of exotic theatrical performers. However, this “Salome” was actually a model dressed up to look like a professional dancer, perhaps in a vaudeville performance.

Peter A. Juley & Son, photographic film
Robert Henri, ca. 1905
Peter A. Juley & Son Collection
Photograph Archives
Smithsonian American Art Museum