Robert Henri was born in Cincinnati, in 1865. In 1886, Henri enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he studied under Thomas Anshutz, Thomas Hovenden, and James B. Kelly. In 1888, he went to Paris and enrolled at the Académie Julian under Adolphe-William Bouguereau and Tony Robert-Fleury. During the summers, he painted in Brittany and Barbizon, and visited Italy prior to being admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts in 1891. He returned to Philadelphia late that year, and in 1892, resumed studying at the academy. He also began his long and influential career as an art teacher at the School of Design for Women, where he taught until 1895. During this period, he met the young newspaper illustrators who would later achieve fame as members of “The Eight,” John Sloan, William Glackens, George Luks, and Everett Shinn. He made regular trips to Paris, where he was particularly influenced by Edouard Manet, Frans Hals, and Diego Velázquez.
In 1900, Henri settled in New York and taught at the New York School of Art from 1902 to 1908. He gradually began to reject the genteel traditions of academic painting and impressionism, and turned his attention to urban realist subjects executed in a bold, painterly style. In 1906, he was elected to the National Academy of Design, and that summer he taught in Spain. When the academy refused to exhibit works by Henri’s circle in its 1907 annual show, he resolved to organize an independent exhibition. The result was the famous show of “The Eight” held at the Macbeth Gallery in February of 1908. Between 1911 and 1919; he arranged jury-free exhibitions at the MacDowell Club, and in 1913, he helped the Association of American Painters and Sculptors organize the Armory Show.
Henri was an important portraitist and figure painter, and considered by his contemporaries a progressive and influential teacher. His ideas on art and color theory were collected by former pupil Margery Ryerson and published as The Art Spirit (Philadelphia, 1923). He died in 1929 at the age of sixty-four.