As a photographer, I prefer portraits taken when the subject is unprepared. I am drawn to depicting a fleeting facial expression that shows an emotion or personality trait. In my opinion, a good portrait is an attempt to give the viewer a sense of who the subject is beyond physical appearance. It is much easier to capture these quick, unnoticed expressions when taking a photo. Many painted portraits show a well-lit subject confronting the viewer with a vacant facial expression. Although the technical skill involved in creating these portraits can be praised, I find them lacking an emotional component. This portrait is different.
Henri painted this portrait of his former student Edith Haworth in an hour and a half during her visit to his studio before she left for Europe in 1909. He captured her looking over her shoulder in what appears to be an intimate, reflective moment for Haworth. The loose, spontaneous brushwork provides a sense of urgency, furthering the perception of a passing moment. Everything about her posture and apparel show the confidence of a wealthy, modern woman, but her face displays a sense of vulnerability. The emotion captured in Haworth’s face is entrancing.
Henri often depicted family members or friends in his portraits. His increased teaching responsibilities around this time led him to work in a smaller format with a less formal style of portraiture. Working with a group known as The Eight, later called the Ashcan school, he created work depicting modern, urban life. The group was known for their journalistic approach to art, as shown in Henri’s Portrait of Edith Haworth, where they attempted to capture more than simply physical appearance.
Robert Henri’s Portrait of Edith Haworth can be found in the Gallery of Art of the Western World on first floor of the IU Art Museum.