4th Jun, 2023 14:00 EDT

American Art and Pennsylvania Impressionists Featuring the Papageorge Family Collection

  Lot 33


Robert Henri (American, 1865-1929)
Portrait of Katie McNamara

Signed 'Robert Henri' and inscribed '184/N' verso, oil on canvas
28 x 20 in. (71.1 x 50.8cm)
Executed in 1928.


ACA Heritage Gallery Inc., New York, New York.
Christie's, New York, sale of December 6, 1985, lot 243.
Sotheby's, New York, sale of May 27, 1993, lot 75.
Adelson Galleries, New York, New York.
Acquired directly from the above.
Private Collection, Massachusetts.

$250,000 - $400,000

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Signed 'Robert Henri' and inscribed '184/N' verso, oil on canvas
28 x 20 in. (71.1 x 50.8cm)
Executed in 1928.


ACA Heritage Gallery Inc., New York, New York.
Christie's, New York, sale of December 6, 1985, lot 243.
Sotheby's, New York, sale of May 27, 1993, lot 75.
Adelson Galleries, New York, New York.
Acquired directly from the above.
Private Collection, Massachusetts.


By the 1920s, Robert Henri was at the peak of his influence–a leader of the rebellious Ashcan school, well travelled, and a respected teacher in New York City. It was in New York that Henri first met Irish portrait painter, John Butler Yeats, a vocal advocate for Ireland’s traditional arts and intellectual culture. As the two became respected friends, Yeats insisted Henri visit Ireland to paint. And so, in July 1913, accompanied by his Irish-born wife Marjorie Organ, Henri made his first trip to Ireland and stumbled upon Achill Island, isolated off the country’s northwest coast. The island offered everything the artist was looking for: a rugged landscape untainted by tourism and modern life, abundant fishing spots, compliant models, and a large enough rental property (he later purchased “Corrymore” in 1924) where he subsequently spent every summer until his death in 1929.

Henri’s truest gift was his portraiture. His work rejected the prominent academic painting style of Impressionism and, instead, crafted unconventional subjects of everyday life–personalized, gritty, and bold in execution. Henri’s focus had genuinely shifted in favor of painting portraits by the latter half of his career and chose sitters from a variety of cultures–neighborhoods in New York, Native Americans in New Mexico and Maine, bullfighters, dancers and gypsies in Spain–but it was arguably his time in Ireland that possessed a unique sense of authenticity, where he felt most tranquil. In fact, the subjects that completely captivated the artist’s imagination were the children of Achill Island, especially from the island fishing village of Dooagh, who comprised the vast majority of his Irish compositions and are among his most distinguished works. Henri confessed: "The Irish children fascinate me; I have always been interested in the Irish anyhow, I have always felt the poet in the Irishman."

Henri's Irish works fall into two categories: the ones completed mid-career in 1913, and the ones from a later period that included five annual visits from 1924 to 1928. Completed just a year before his death in 1929, Portrait of Katie McNamara belongs to that second grouping and stands as the culmination of the artist’s deep respect for his subject and the result of a master refining his craft in portraiture. By the time Katie sat for Henri, Henri had depicted many other children, including her possible sister, Sissy McNamara. The artist chose sitters whose character inspired him, and he made a point to convey their essential, true spirit in each portrait. Painting children therefore became essential to the artist, who sought more authenticity and could find in such models, who were less tempted to please and pose, a means to greater accuracy. Henri explained: “If you paint children, you must have humility, without wonderment, and without infinite respect, misses in his judgement of what is before him… Paint with respect for the child...He is the great possibility, the independent individual.” A true testament to his abilities as a realist, Henri captured individual personalities with a broad range of emotional effects; while some appear young and innocent, others seem mature beyond their years. Katie emerges in her adolescence, an important crossroads of maturity in a child’s development. She gazes forward, sternly, seated quartering towards the viewer’s left with a sober maturity and self-possession that may be due to the very modest circumstances in which she lived, and which is reflected in the scarce, yet intense, color palette. Her thickly painted, blushed-faced and crisp blue-eyed stare are convincing but yet, she's shy and reserved; her red scarf and golden-blonde hair, loosely pulled back suggests that she is just waiting for the right opportunity to rejoin the fun. A prized example of this era, Portrait of Katie McNamara bestows all the hallmarks of Henri's oeuvre, and decades-long study of the Old Masters, hereby offering his best attempt at capturing true authenticity.

We wish to thank Valerie A. Leeds for her kind assistance in cataloguing and researching this work.


The unlined canvas in overall very good condition. With a shiny finish which might imply a slight excess of varnish, which is confirmed by the milky layer of green varnish observed under UV light. Our examination also reveals minor inpainting along all four outer edges, mostly covered by the frame (tiny dots). Some more inpainting at upper center, above the sitter's head, and on each side at upper left and upper right in the background (very minor, most likely due to past cleaning). The face is completely intact and presents well. Minuscule dots of inpainting at center left, in the background to the left of the sitter. Another on her red scarf below. Pinpoint dot of inpainting on the outline of her jaw at center right, but we believe this is due to the pigmentation and not a sign of restoration. See Specialist's pictures for more details.

Frame: 32 x 24 1/4 x 2 1/4 in.

To receive additional information about this Lot, please email Specialist Specialist Raphael Chatroux at rchatroux@freemansauction.com

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