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By 1882, Henri’s father got on a quarrel with a rancher, and when the discussion got physical, his father killed the rancher with a pistol. Although his father was absolved of any wrongdoing, the city turned against him, which obligated the family to flee to New York City, and then, to Atlantic City, where the artist would execute his first paintings.
In 1886, Henri entered the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. There, he studied under the American painter Thomas Anshutz, a protege of Thomas Hovenden and Thomas Eakins. In 1888, he would travel to Paris to study at the distinguished Academie Julian under the tutoring of Realist painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau. There, Henri was greatly impressed by the artworks of Francois Millet and promptly embraced Impressionism. In 1891, the artist return to Philadelphia, where he studied under Robert Vonnoh. Soon, he became a teacher at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women.
Around 1895, Henri would reconsider his earlier love for the Impressionist movement, regarding it as the new academicism. The artist urged his colleagues and followers to execute more realistic artworks that would speak directly to their own experience and time, exploring less genteel subjects surrounding the modern American city. The artworks by William Glackens, John Sloan, George Luks, and Everett Shinn, amongst others, inspired by such concepts, would be the origin of a movement known as the Ashcan School of painting. The group is best known for its realistic portrayal of the metropolis, especially in it’s more impoverished neighborhoods.
In 1908, the artist was one of the organizers of an exhibition entitled The Eight, composed of eight artists, the five members of the Ashcan School (Shinn, Luks, Glackens, Sloan, and Henri), and other three artists, Maurice Prendergast, Arthur B. Davies, and Ernest Lawson. The exhibition was meant as a protest against the rigid and narrowed views of the National Academy of Design.
Towards the end of his career, Henri traveled thoroughly through the western coast of Ireland. During this period, the artist created several portraits of children, which were well received. Soon, Henri went to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he found a rich place to get inspiration and even becoming a prominent figure to the city.
Robert Henri died on July 12, 1929.