The Artist Birthday Series

Robert Henri

Today’s Artist Birthday: Robert Henri

Robert Henri (June 24, 1865 – July 12, 1929) was an American painter and teacher. He was a leading figure of the Ashcan School of American realism and an organizer of the group known as “The Eight,” a loose association of artists who protested the restrictive exhibition practices of the powerful, conservative National Academy of Design.

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Robert Henri (a distant cousin of Mary Cassat) was born Robert Henry Cozad in Cincinnati, Ohio, his mother was Theresa Gatewood Cozad, and his father, John Jackson Cozad, was a gambler and real estate developer. In 1871, Henri’s father founded the town of Cozaddale, Ohio. In 1873, the family moved west to Nebraska, where John J. Cozad founded the town of Cozad. In October 1882, Henri’s father became embroiled in a dispute with a rancher, Alfred Pearson, over the right to pasture cattle on land claimed by the family. When the dispute turned physical, Cozad shot Pearson fatally with a pistol. Cozad was eventually cleared of wrongdoing, but the mood of the town turned against him. He fled to Denver, Colorado, and the rest of the family followed shortly afterwards. In order to disassociate themselves from the scandal, family members changed their names. The father became known as Richard Henry Lee, and his sons posed as adopted children under the names Frank Southern and Robert Earl Henri (pronounced “hen rye”). In 1883, the family moved to New York City, then to Atlantic City, New Jersey, where the young artist completed his first paintings.

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