Robert Henri

Market at Concarneau. Verso: Sailing Boats in a Bay

1899

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Artist
Robert Henri 1865–1929
Medium
Oil paint on wood
Dimensions
Support: 159 x 222 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Hirschl and Adler Gallery, New York through the American Friends of the Tate Gallery 1961
Reference
T00440

Not on display

Summary

Painted by the American artist Robert Henri, Market at Concarneau is a small, unframed, unvarnished landscape that was painted en plein air. It depicts a Breton market scene, with a crowd of busy black-and-white-clad figures in the middle distance and in the foreground the slim trunks of two trees with patches of yellow and red at their bases, which may represent market stalls or wares. The panel’s verso features a separate painting entitled Sailing Boats in a Bay, depicting fishing boats in a harbour against a cloudy sky in tones of blue and grey. The painting is inscribed ‘147-A1’ down the right hand side of the recto, which pertains to the system Henri used to date his paintings.

Henri painted both landscapes in Concarneau, Brittany, in 1899 using a light impasto – a technique wherein paint is laid onto the surface thickly using a knife or brush, such that the strokes are visible in the final painting. The use of this method of painting, as well as the fact that they were painted outside, gives the scenes their impressionist style. The verso side of the wood support was prepared with a preliminary layer of black paint and the more elaborate preparation of this side of the panel suggests that this scene, depicting the harbour, was painted before the market scene on the recto. Slight staining on the unpainted areas of the recto imply that this surface may have been given a thin seal, perhaps using gesso, before the application of the oil paint itself. Chamfering at the edge of the recto also suggests that the panel was originally inlaid into a box.

Henri was a fastidious record keeper and in keeping with the painting’s inscription, on page 147 of his personal record book under the letter ‘A’, the artist writes ‘“Market at Concarneau Concarneau 1899. women in black & coifs & collars. Yellow boxes in foregr. And red. (6 ¼ x 9 ½)’. Despite the detail with which he made such accounts, the painting on the verso is not recorded.

Originally working in New York and Atlantic City, Henri moved to Paris in 1888 where he studied at the Académie Julian. During the summer months several of his contemporaries from the Académie travelled with him to Concarneau to join an established American art colony in the town. Here, according to art historian Bennard Perlman, Henri developed a freer style:

The majority of Henri’s Concarneau seascapes were small, ten by fourteen inches or less. Although many of the scenes possessed the simple forms of sea and sky characteristic of his Atlantic City compositions, he now painted figures on the beach as well ... These were created with more freedom than many of his previous oils and some portions of the canvas were even left unpainted, a departure from his approach at Julian’s.
(Perlman 1991, p.16.)

Henri returned to the United States in 1900 and began teaching at the New York School of Art in 1902, where his students included Joseph Stella, Edward Hopper and Rockwell Kent. Later in his career Henri moved away from the impressionist style in which Market at Corcarneau and Sailing Boats in a Bay are painted. He led a movement that became known as the Ashcan School, which sought to create realistic depictions of the unforgiving conditions experienced by America’s poor. The group’s name arose from a drawing by George Bellows depicting three vagrants scrutinising the contents of an ash can. Henri’s most renowned painting in this style is Snow in New York 1902, which is in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Further reading
Nathaniel Pousette-Dart, Robert Henri, New York 1922.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery’s Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, London 1981, pp.361–2, reproduced p.361 (recto).
Bennard B. Perlman, Robert Henri: His Life and Art, New York 1991.

Phoebe Roberts
June 2017

Supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Catalogue entry

Robert Henri 1865-1929

T00440 Recto: Market at Concarneau 1899
Verso: Sailing Boats in a Bay 1899

Inscribed '147-A1' down right-hand side of recto
Oil on wood panel, 6 1/4 x 8 5/8 (15.9 x 22)
Presented by the Hirschl and Adler Gallery through the American Friends of the Tate Gallery 1961
Prov: Miss Violet Organ (the artist's sister-in-law); with Hirschl and Adler Gallery, New York
Lit: William Innes Homer, Robert Henri and his Circle (Ithaca and London 1969), pp.47-8, 73 and 96
Repr: The Friends of the Tate Gallery: Annual Report 1961-62 (London 1962), both sides repr. between pp.12 and 13

Robert Henri worked in Brittany, at Concarneau, in the summers of 1889, 1894 and 1899. Mrs John C. LeClair writes (6 June 1977) that this panel, which is inscribed '147-A1', is listed as follows in Henri's Record Book 'A' on page 147:

'Market at Concarneau' Concarneau 1899. women in black & coifs & collars. Yellow boxes in foregr. and red. (6 1/4 x 9 1/2).
The coastal view on the reverse is not mentioned. It is apparently not of Concarneau itself but of somewhere close by. Both are sketches which seem to have been painted on the spot, out of doors, and the fingermarks and smudges on the verso suggest that it was painted first and was still wet when the artist turned it over and painted the market scene on the other side. The wood panel is chamfered on both side edges of the recto face and appears to be from a small box.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.361-2, reproduced p.361 (recto)

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