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Dutch Soldier

On view

Dutch Soldier

Artist: Robert Henri (American, 1865 - 1929)

Date: 1907
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
Overall: 32 5/8 × 26 1/8in. (82.9 × 66.4cm)
Framed: 39 5/8 × 33 3/4 × 3 1/4in. (100.6 × 85.7 × 8.3cm)
Signed: l.l: 'Robert Henri'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 58.8
Text Entries

Robert Henri  was the most dynamic teacher of his generation and a champion of progressive causes in American art. In the year Dutch Soldier was painted, 1907,(1) the work must have been irritating to critics belonging to the academic tradition. In treating this everyday subject—a member of the Dutch armed forces who peers out at us from a shadowy background—Henri came under the in- fluence of Frans Hals. Henri has applied his paint vigorously, with gusto, as was his habit throughout most of his career. His lack of idealization, his quick strokes of the brush must have seemed threatening to academicians; yet the painting seems relatively tame by contrast to the most radical developments in French art in 1907, the year in which Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

By the time Henri painted Dutch Soldier, he had become a master of portraiture. The exploration of human personality had always been one of his great concerns, for he sympathetically identified with his sitters. Henri searched far and wide for “types” from various countries and cultures that would stimulate his feeling for humanity. In this instance, in Haarlem, Holland, he directed his attention toward a full-faced military man, with upturned mustache and goatee. Henri caught the alert glance, the tense gesture of the subject’s arm held against the chest, to give us a vivid, vital rendition of this unique human being.

In Dutch Soldier, the placement of the head and body in the rectangle of the canvas is perfect from the compositional standpoint; every bit of space is used and the figure does not become lost in its surroundings. Possibly the impact of seeing Old Master paintings in Holland gave Henri the necessary impetus toward firm compositional structure; whatever the reason, his portrait work of the summer of 1907 is among the best of his entire career. His palette remained dark and he capitalized on dramatic contrasts of light and shade. We feel that Henri was most at home with chiaroscuro; his later efforts in full color, while reasonably successful, tended to be garish and even saccharine as a result of using the Maratta system, beginning about 1909.

The painting enjoys a special measure of historical interest. It was exhibited at the celebrated exhibition, The Eight, held at the Macbeth Gallery in 1908, a showcase of the controversial art of Henri and his friends. The fact that Henri chose this work, among others, for the show is noteworthy, for he saw it as representative and viewed it as an example of unusually high quality. Not only did the exhibition take place in New York, where it created much interest, it also traveled to various cities in the United States, thus acquainting a wide audience with progressive tendencies in American painting.

 

Notes

1. For an account of Henri‘s art and life in Holland in 1907, see my Robert Henri and His Circle (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969), pp. 133-36, 241.

Copyright
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