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Robert Henri papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 100

Scope and Contents

The Robert Henri Papers consist of correspondence, writings, artwork, photographs, and printed material which document the life of American artist and teacher Robert Henri. The collection spans the years 1857-1958, but the bulk of the papers date from 1886-1929, the years of Robert Henri's adult life. The collection contains a great deal of information about his studies in art school and his first trips to Europe, discussions of the art world and other artists, his philosophy of art, and his study of new art theories. Housed in 35 boxes, the Papers are organized into six series: Correspondence, Writings, Art Notebooks and Sketches, Family Papers, Printed Material, and Photographs. Boxes 32-33 contain Oversize material; boxes 34-35 contain Restricted Fragile Papers.

Series I, Correspondence, 1878-1958 (boxes 1-19), which comprises the bulk of the collection, consists of letters written to and from Robert Henri, with a few letters written to his sister-in-law Violet Organ and others. The series has been organized into three subseries: General Correspondence, Family Correspondence, and Other Correspondence.

The General Correspondence is arranged alphabetically, and letters from correspondents not listed individually may be found in "letter" general files. Henri's letters to others make up a large part of the correspondence: many are carbons of his holograph letters, and a number of these contain later manuscript notes by Henri, made while compiling The Art Spirit. At that time, many of the letters were handled a great deal and pages were separated from each other. There are, therefore, a great many letter fragments; these are to be found in box 10, folders 265-268.

In addition, Violet Organ created typed transcripts of a great deal of the correspondence, which she then titled Journal of Student Days (box 23, folders 548-557). This apparently was part of an unpublished biography of Henri which William Innes Homer drew upon while writing Robert Henri and his Circle (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969). In addition to her transcripts of Henri's correspondence, Violet Organ's notes appear on many of the original letters: she summarized the contents of letters, guessed at authorship, and collated pages in the correspondence. Typescripts of correspondence, which have been kept with the originals, also were probably made at this time. In some cases, there are typescripts of correspondence for which there is no original in the collection. Violet Organ's other letters and writings appear elsewhere in the collection: there are ten folders of letters to Violet Organ at the end of the General Correspondence, as well as correspondence with Robert Henri and Marjorie Organ Henri in the Family Correspondence. Violet Organ's notes on Henri and the correspondence, journal from the summer of 1925, and miscellaneous fiction scenes and notes appear in the Writings series.

Robert Henri's principal correspondents included George Bellows, Emilia Cimino, Randall Davey, Hartman Kuhn Harris, Helen Niles, Edward Redfield, Mary Fanton and William Carman Roberts, John Sloan, and the J.B. Lippincott Company. Much of the correspondence was carried on with colleagues, students, galleries and museums, as well as struggling artists seeking advice. Topics covered include Henri's paintings, other artists, new art theories and tools, exhibitions, and advice of all kinds. Henri often wrote at length about art; it is a testament to the content of these letters that many of them were quoted at length in Art Spirit. Henri's letters often carry illustrations, as do those of his friends Randall Davey, Helen Niles, and John Sloan.

Henri's correspondence with family members is arranged generationally: parents, then brother, followed by first and second wife, and sister-in-law. The correspondence of family members with others is listed after Henri's correspondence. These include letters of his brother, his mother, and his second wife. Cross-references have been made to other occurrences of the correspondence of these three elsewhere in the collection. The letters of Henri to his parents and to his wife Linda are the original letters sent, in contrast to the more common carbon copies of his letters in the general correspondence.

Henri's correspondence with his parents, Theresa Gatewood Lee and Richard H. Lee (boxes 11-17), whom he addresses as "Missus" and "Boss," is extensive: it begins in 1886 and lasted until 1920. The letters are primarily from Henri; the letters from his parents are almost all written by his mother. Upon his departure for Paris in 1888, his letters become long and detailed, describing his activities and the sights of Paris and Europe. The letters are often written in journal form and many of them are illustrated. They continue through his return to the United States, and subsequent trips to Europe, until 1920. There are many fewer letters with his brother, Frank L. Southrn, though several of the letters to his parents are addressed to "Dear Folks at Home," which may have included Frank. The letters to Frank continue up to 1927. There are also eight folders of letters by Henri to his first wife, Linda Craige Henri, most of them written in 1902, while she was recuperating from an illness in Philadelphia.

The remaining files of family correspondence are made up of: letters written to Henri's mother by other family members, including those from her husband before the fight with Alfred Pearson in 1882; letters from her family, the Gatewoods; and copies of the Cozad-Gatewood correspondence relating to property in Nebraska. Materials closely related to the family correspondence can be found in Series IV, Family Papers.

Series II, Writings, 1857-1929 (boxes 20-24), is organized into two subseries: Writings by Robert Henri and Writings by Others. The subseries are arranged by format. The Writings by Robert Henri include journals, both complete and looseleaf pages, from 1885, 1886, 1890-1891, 1894-1895, 1928-1929. The journals from the last two years were kept in shorthand. The letters written by Henri to his parents in the 1880s and 1890s were written in journal form and therefore supplement these personal journals. Folders 475-517 contain holographs, typescripts and other material related to Art Spirit, Henri's compilation of writings about art drawn from his letters, writings, and lectures. Henri gathered the material, had it typed up, and gave it to his editor Margery Ryerson, a former student. As the published version of the book has no chapter divisions, the holograph and typescript writings were left as they were arranged when the Beinecke Library received them. The holographs consist of aphorisms written out on pieces of paper and pages from a draft of some unidentified writing. The typescripts and typescript carbons are corrected in Henri's hand, and carry the same changes on both the original and the carbon.

Other writings present in the series include lecture notes, class notes kept by a student, Clara Greenleaf Perry, and Henri's letters to the class at the Art Students' League, containing thoughts on their progress and on his vision of art. There are several drafts of writings, including an outline for a contemplated autobiography, and drafts of his résumé. Writings by Others includes: Violet Organ's compilation of Henri's letters, Journal of Student Days; a holograph by George Bellows about Henri's "Ideal Scheme of Exhibitions;" and poems by John Sloan and Linda Craige Henri.

Series III, Art Notebooks and Sketches , 1904-1928 (boxes 25-26), contains eleven art notebooks, and seven sketches. The art notebooks include two entitled Artists Pigments I and II, which contain notes about pigments, with sample pages of the actual paint, and experiments applying Hardesty Maratta's theories of color and composition. There is also a digest of these notebooks that Henri and others intended to circulate to members of the League of American Artists, but were unable to do so before the League's demise. Four more notebooks, titled Paint, and Paint 3-5, are studies of Maratta's theories, with sample triangle palettes and notes correlating palettes to paintings. Three additional notebooks contain studies of Jay Hambidge's "Whirling Square" theories, a mathematical system of proportion applied to the placement of the subject on the canvas. Two others contain miscellaneous notes on easels, canvas carriers, and notes on art. Finally, there are four unsigned sketches, probably by Henri, as well as two sketches by John Sloan, and a sketch by John Butler Yeats.

Series IV, Family Papers, 1869-1923 (box 27), is organized in chronological order, with undated material at the end, and includes phrenological studies of Robert Henri, his brother and his parents; looseleaf pages from a notebook containing miscellaneous accounts, journal entries and other notes kept by Henri's parents; as well as various notes and documents relating to legal cases relating to Richard H. Lee and his wife, including notes on property in Nebraska.

Series V, Printed Material, 1893-1958 (boxes 28-30), is organized into three subseries: Clippings, Periodicals, and Other Printed Material. Within the subseries, the material is arranged alphabetically. These printed items were previously gathered together as "Pamphlets by and about Robert Henri, including newspaper clippings and other ephemera" under the call number Za H394 +1. The clippings include articles written by Henri in various art periodicals, as well as clippings about Henri. There are also course catalogs from the Avalon Summer Assembly and Philadelphia School of Design for Women; and catalogues of exhibitions featuring Henri's work.

There are over forty photographs in Series VI, Photographs, which is organized into four subseries: Robert Henri and Others, Other People, Artwork, and Places. The photographs of Robert Henri include an image of Henri scrubbing dishes in his apartment in Paris, Henri with groups of fellow students at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Académie Julian; Henri with students at the New York Art School, the Summer Assembly at Avalon, New Jersey, and Art Students League; Henri with groups of friends; and Henri in front of his painting "Woman in Manteau." Many of the other people pictured with him are listed by name, and these names have been noted in the box list. There is also one photograph of an interior view of the Art Institute of Chicago, with "Young Woman in Black" hanging on the far wall.

Oversize (boxes 32-33) contains material from series I-III and V-VI and is arranged in box order.


  • 1857 - 1958
  • Majority of material found within 1886 - 1929


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Restricted Fragile Papers in boxes 34-35 may only be consulted with permission of the appropriate curator. Preservation photocopies for reference use have been substituted in the main files.

Conditions Governing Use

The Robert Henri Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Robert Henri Papers are the gift of the Estate of Violet Organ, 1960, and the gift of John C. LeClair, 1963, and purchased from Janet M. LeClair, Craig S. LeClair, Michelle R. LeClair, and T. J. LeClair on the Alfred Z. Baker, Jr. Fund, 2022.


24.91 Linear Feet (45 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Correspondence, writings, artwork, photographs, and printed material which document the life of Robert Henri. Principal correspondents include his parents, brother, first wife, George Bellows, Emilia Cimino, Randall Davey, Hartman Kuhn Harris, Helen Niles, Edward Redfield, Mary Fanton and William Carman Roberts, John Sloan, and the J.B. Lippincott Company. Henri wrote lengthy letters to his family in the 1880s and 1890s, corresponded with art colleagues, discussing his work and that of others, his students, exhibitions, and new art theories and tools.
There are holographs and typescripts of his book Art Spirit, journals, lecture notes, and drafts of articles. There are eleven notebooks studying Hardesty Maratta's theories of color and composition and the "Whirling Square" theory of Jay Hambidge. There are also clippings about Henri, exhibition catalogs, and course catalogs. There are over forty photographs, of Henri and others in Paris and in the United States, and Henri and his artwork. There are also family papers belonging to Henri's parents, and papers belonging to his sister-in-law Violet Organ, who transcribed many of Henri's letters and wrote a biography of Henri.


Robert Henri, American artist, teacher, leader of The Eight and the Ashcan School, was born in Cincinnati in 1865. Originally named Robert Henry Cozad, he later changed his name because of a family scandal (see note below).

In 1886, Robert Henri was accepted to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. There he studied under Thomas Anshutz, who had been a student of Thomas Eakins. In 1888 Henri left the Academy for Paris, where he studied at the Académie Julian and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Returning to the United States, he taught briefly at the School of Design for Women in Philadelphia, before leaving again for Europe, where he lived from 1895 to 1900.

Upon his return, Henri taught at the New York School of Art. It was during this time that he became an influential voice in the American art world, both as an artist and as a teacher. He was elected to the National Academy of Design, the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, and the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In May 1907, he launched the first of many attacks against the art jury system when he withdrew two pictures from the National Academy of Design's annual show for what he termed "an unfair attitude" toward young artists.

Henri was the leader of a group of American painters called The Eight, who exhibited together in 1908. This circle, which included Everett Shinn, John Sloan, Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast, George Luks, and William J. Glackens, was later absorbed into the Ashcan Group (George Bellows, Edward Hopper, Glenn Coleman, Eugene Higgins, and Jerome Myers). Both groups sought to create an American style of painting, using new approaches to art and its subjects. They advocated the release of American art from what they considered its subservience to European aesthetics, encouraging artists instead to present unidealized depictions of American culture, and the life of the modern city. Henri urged his students to go into the streets to capture the spontaneity and character of the people they encountered, and gained fame himself as a portrait painter; his works include "Young Woman in Black," "Girl with a Fan," and "Himself."

From 1909 to 1912, Henri ran his own school, and from 1915 to 1928 he taught at the Art Students' League in New York. In 1923 he published The Art Spirit, a collection of essays and excerpts from letters, lectures and advice to students, embodying his philosophy of art. In the 1920s he experimented with the theories of color and composition promulgated by Hardesty Maratta, and with the "Whirling Square" theories of Jay Hambidge, who devised a mathematical system of proportion applied to the placement of the subject on the canvas.

In 1898 Henri married Linda Craige. She died in 1905, and in 1908 he remarried, this time a fellow artist, Marjorie Organ. Together, they spent several summers in Santa Fe, New Mexico, inspiring friends George Bellows, Leon Kroll, John Sloan, and Randall Davey to follow suit. The Henris also spent a number of summers in Ireland, where in 1924 they purchased a house on Achill Island, at the extreme western tip of Ireland. In 1928, Henri developed an inflamed sciatic nerve on his last trip back from Ireland, and during this illness it was discovered that he had inoperable cancer of the pelvic bone. He was not told about the cancer, and when he died in July 1929, it came as a surprise not only to the public at large, but to many of his friends.

For more information, see William Innes Homer's biography, written with the assistance of Violet Organ, Henri's sister-in-law: Robert Henri and His Circle (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969). Family history note:

Robert Henry Cozad was the son of John Jackson and Theresa Gatewood Cozad. John Jackson Cozad was a professional gambler turned real estate promoter who founded Cozaddale on the outskirts of Cincinnati in 1869, and the town of Cozad, Nebraska three years later. In 1882, tensions with local cattleman erupted into a fight between a drunken cattleman, named Alfred Pearson, and John Cozad. When Pearson attacked Cozad with a knife, Cozad drew his pistol and mortally wounded Pearson. Fearing for their lives, the Cozads sold their land and left town. Pearson died two months later, and although Cozad was eventually cleared of the murder charge, the family decided to move to New York and change their names to rid themselves of connection to the scandal. John Jackson and Theresa Gatewood Cozad changed their names to Richard H. and Theresa Lee. Robert's older brother John changed his name to Frank L. Southrn, and Robert Henry Cozad became Robert Earl Henri, changing his middle name to his surname, and changing the spelling to reflect his French ancestry. Robert later insisted that everyone pronounce his name Hen'rye, in the American manner. To conceal their identity, the Lees said that the two boys were adopted sons and foster brothers. A novel by Mari Sandoz, Son of the Gamblin' Man; the Youth of an Artist (New York: C.N. Potter, 1960), is based on the lives of John Jackson Cozad and Robert Henri.

Appendix A: Guide to the Microfilm

Series I. Correspondence

Microfilm Call NumberReelBoxes FilmedFolders FilmedNotes
MS Vault film 138311-21-44
MS Vault film 138422-445-85
MS Vault film 13853486-104
MS Vault film 139345-6105-148
MS Vault film 139456-7149-186
MS Vault film 139567-9187-227
MS Vault film 139679228-237
MS Vault film 1389810-11238-277
MS Vault film 1390911-12278-315
MS Vault film 13911012-13316-334
MS Vault film 13971114-15335-359
MS Vault film 13981215-16360-385
MS Vault film 13991316-17386-421
MS Vault film 14001417422-427
MS Vault film 14021518-19428-466

Processing Information

Much of the collection is fragile, and while the correspondence has been deacidified and placed in mylar, care should be used in handling it.

Guide to the Robert Henri Papers
Under Revision
by Diana M. Smith
August 1997
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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