Robert Henri was a charismatic and independent-minded teacher and artist, but he is best known today as the leader of the so-called “Ashcan School” of urban realists. His anti-academic stance that art should be based on the artist’s direct engagement with everyday life on the streets ruffled more than a few critical feathers but served to unite the artists that gathered around him, who included George Bellows, George Luks, Everett Shinn and John Sloan. Henri devoted much of his career to painting portraits of people from all walks of life.
Henri painted this engaging portrait of Brien O’Malley, his friend and guide, during his first visit to the town of Achill, Ireland, in 1913. With its bold brushwork and its unflinching depiction of O’Malley’s weather-beaten features, My Friend Brien is a clear testament to Henri’s belief that a painting should be as direct and frank a representation of its subject as possible. He wrote in 1915, just two years after completing this painting: “The people I like to paint are ‘my people,’ . . . people through whom the dignity of life is manifest . . . wherever I find them . . . my impulse immediately is to tell about them through my own language—drawing and painting in color.”
Place object was created: United States
oil paint, canvas
Measurements: frame height: 46 inches frame width: 38 inches canvas height: 41 inches canvas width: 33 inchesGift of Mr. and Mrs. John L. Crist, Jr. in memory of John L. Crist, Sr. 1966.14
Currently on view at Mint Museum UPTOWN