Date of Degree
William H. Gerdts
History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology
The American painter Robert Henri (1865–1929) lived in Paris and its environs for nearly eight years between 1888–1900. This dissertation relates the critical impact his extensive exposure to fin-de-siecle French culture had upon his early paintings, his theories about the production of art, and ultimately upon the ideological foundation of the Ashcan School. This is accomplished through analysis of the many significant cosmopolitan elements Henri encountered in France not only in the realm of art but literature, philosophy, and politics.
Henri's rebellion against the art institutional bureaucracy and hierarchy and his non-traditional teaching methods have frequently been attributed to the individualist spirit of the American frontier where he spent much of his youth. Such stereotyping diminishes the importance of his residencies in France. In the Introduction, these persistent references to Henri's western upbringing are chronologically surveyed. The nationalist context in which he has so often been placed and his alignment with primarily American writers, artists, and thinkers is also called into question.
Part I of the dissertation begins with a chapter on Henri's early studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and surveys the degree to which that training influenced his theories and style. The subsequent three chapters chronicle his first trip to France from 1888–1891 in terms of the literature he read and the many parallels that exist between such diverse sources as Emile Zola and Leo Tolstoy and his own evolving attitudes about art. Part II begins with a chapter on French politics and its influence on Henri, with an emphasis on the anarchist movement. The following chapter charts the similarities between the anti-positivism of Henri's art theories found in his treatise The Art Spirit and the theory of vitalism developed by the French philosopher Henri Bergson.
The final chapter surveys early critical reaction to Henri's early paintings and analyzes these works in terms of the many influences discussed throughout the dissertation. The conclusion assesses the impact of Henri's French experience on the philosophical development of the Ashcan School and establishes his importance as a vanguard of complex modern thought in turn-of-the-century American.
Gibbs, Linda Jones, "Robert Henri and Cosmopolitan Culture of Fin-de-Siecle France" (1999). CUNY Academic Works.