One of the group of urban realist painters known as the Eight and a highly influential teacher, Robert Henri devoted himself to portraiture beginning in 1902. Rather than work on commission, he chose to depict people of many ages and nationalities, seeking subjects in the United States and abroad. The artist painted Indian Girl in a White Blanket in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is one of 10 likenesses he completed of Julianita, a young woman from San Ildefonso pueblo studying at an Indian school located near the artist’s studio in the Palace of the Governors.
Applying a bold, modern painting style to an indigenous American theme, Indian Girl in a White Blanket presents both a sympathetic likeness and a dramatic arrangement of form and color. The softly curving folds of lushly painted white drapery that envelop the dignified Julianita create a sense of depth, while a geometrically patterned blanket inspired by Native American designs provides a vibrant backdrop. The artist often supplied these accessories himself, because he was interested not in depicting Native American life or material culture from an anthropological perspective, but rather from an aesthetic and expressive one. As he stated: “I only want to find whatever of the great spirit there is in the Southwest. If I can hold it on my canvas, I am satisfied.”
In 1902 Robert Henri decided to dedicate himself to portraiture. Rather than taking commissions, he sought out his own subjects, painting people of diverse ages and nationalities. He traveled widely, making trips abroad as well as to the American West, including three productive visits to Santa Fe in 1916, 1917, and 1922. There he produced a sizable body of work depicting Latino and Native American subjects, including this portrait of Julianita, a schoolgirl from the San Ildefonso pueblo.
Henri first painted Julianita on his second trip to Santa Fe. He arrived in July and was initially frustrated by his inability to find compelling subjects and settle down to work. On August 19 he wrote to George Bellows of his continuing struggle: “I’m sorry . . . I haven’t done anything exceptional to show you so far. Shall have to work up or try to get one at least before you come.”
Henri to Bellows, Aug. 19, 1917, Robert Henri Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New Haven.
Henri to Bellows, Nov. 17, 1917, Robert Henri Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Henri’s friend Dr. Edgar L. Hewett, an ethnologist and director of the School of American Archeology (now the School of American Research) in Santa Fe, provided the artist with a studio in the Palace of the Governors. For more on Henri and Hewett, see Valerie Ann Leeds, “Robert Henri and the American Southwest: His Work and Influence” (PhD diss., City University of New York, 2000), 123–133.
The title was changed from Indian Girl in White Ceremonial Blanket to Indian Girl in White Blanket in accordance with the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s American Paintings Catalogue policy, which restored the titles to those originally given by the artist or under which a painting was first exhibited or published. This painting was first exhibited in the Dedication Exhibit of Southwestern Art at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe (Nov.–Dec. 1917, cat. no. 141) as Indian Girl in White Blanket and was recorded under the same title in Henri’s ledger (Artist’s Record Book, Estate of Robert Henri, LeClair Family Collection, New York City). See Lisa Strong, Corcoran project manager, to Corcoran registrar, memorandum, June 7, 2010, NGA curatorial files. Other paintings of Julianita are Julianita Ready for the Dance and three paintings titled Julianita, each in private collections. See Artist’s Record Book.
Henri frequently produced series of likenesses based on similar ideas, often using the same model, the same pose, or a similar compositional device.
Valerie Ann Leeds, Robert Henri: The Painted Spirit (Santa Fe, 2005), 14, 26, 30.
During his three visits to Santa Fe Henri increasingly integrated Native American−inspired decorative elements into his compositions. Unlike other artists who painted in the Southwest, he was not interested in documenting Native American life, nor did he want to represent their material culture with an eye toward anthropology. Gregorita later recalled that Henri and his wife often posed the models and supplied the various accessories, including shawls and blankets.
Gregorita Baca Chavarria, conversation with the author, Oct. 9, 1998. She was a favored model of Henri’s that season and also attended the Indian School in Santa Fe.
For the history of geometrically patterned blankets produced for trade with Indians in the Southwest, see Barry Friedman, Chasing Rainbows: Collecting American Indian Trade and Camp Blankets (Boston, 2003).
Robert Henri, “My People,” The Craftsman 28, no. 5 (Feb. 1915): 467. Henri had not yet visited Santa Fe when he wrote this article, but he had visited southern California in 1914 and had painted Native American sitters.
The fall and winter of 1917 constituted one of the most creative and productive periods in Henri’s career. Despite his slow start, the season resulted in a number of his most important portraits of Native Americans, including Indian Girl in White Blanket. As Henri noted, “I didn’t really get above average until towards the end—then things began to happen and they happened right along to the end. . . . Had I quit at the end of the usual summer term I should have been nowhere.”
Henri to Randall Davey, Dec. 18, 1917. Henri remained in Santa Fe until December 1917 before returning to New York. Henri to his mother, Nov. 1917; both letters in Henri Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New Haven. Henri anticipated leaving Santa Fe by November 29 and returning to New York by December 3.
Artist’s Record Book, Estate of Robert Henri, LeClair Family Collection, New York City.
Indian Girl in White Blanket was first included in the inaugural exhibition of the New Mexico Museum’s new art gallery in 1917.
The list of the works with their catalog numbers is included in “When Dreams Come True,” El Palacio 4 (Nov. 1917): 95. The work is listed as Indian Girl in White Blanket, although the painting is inscribed on the verso in Henri’s hand: “Robert Henri / Indian Girl in White Ceremonial Blanket / 21|K [circled]” as well as on the top tacking edge: “JULIANITA WHITE CEREMONIAL BLANKET”; and on the bottom tacking edge: “WHITE CEREMONIAL BLANKET.”
“Exhibitions at New York Galleries: Tarbell, Henri, Burlin, MacDonald-Wright,” Fine Arts Journal 36 (Mar. 1918): 62–63; and Charles Henry Dorr, “Brooklyn Artists to the Fore in Corcoran Gallery Show,” Brooklyn Times, Dec. 23, 1923, 7.
Dorothy Grafly, “Charcoal Club’s Annual Show of American Art in Baltimore,” Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 26, 1923, 10.
Viktor Flambeau, “Public Votes This Week on Prize Picture: Corcoran Biennial Exhibition Visitors Will Select Their Favorite,” Washington Herald, Jan. 6, 1924, March of Events sec., 5.
Valerie Ann Leeds
August 17, 2018
lower right: ROBERT HENRI
(William MacBeth, Inc., New York); purchased 1923 by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; acquired 2014 by the National Gallery of Art.
- Dedication Exhibit of Southwestern Art, Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe, November - December 1917, no. 141.
- Exhibition of Paintings by Robert Henri, Milch Galleries, New York, 25 February - 16 March 1918, no. 15.
- Daniel Gallery, New York, 1919.
- Fourteenth Annual Exhibition of American Art, Peabody Institute, Baltimore, 29 January - 25 February 1923.
- Macbeth Gallery, New York, 1923.
- Ninth Exhibition of Contemporary American Oil Paintings, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 16 December 1923 - 20 January 1924, no. 281.
- Ohio State Fair, Columbus, September 1923.
- XXI Esposizione Biennale Internazionale d'Arte, Venice, 1 June - 30 September 1938, United States Section, no. 29.
- American National Exhibtion, Moscow, 1959, not in catalogue.
- Directions in Twentieth Century American Painting, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 1961, no. 14.
- Modern American Painting, Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, 1962-1963, no. 21.
- Robert Henri: Painter-Teacher-Prophet, New York Cultural Center, 1969, no. 76.
- French Impressionists Influence American Artists, Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Coral Gables, 1971, no. 66.
- Symbols and Scenes: Art By and About American Indians, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980.
- Henri's Circle, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 20 April-16 June 1985, unnumbered checklist.
- The Forty-Fifth Biennial: The Corcoran Collects, 1907–1998, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 17 July - 29 September 1998, unnumbered catalogue.
- Figuratively Speaking: The Human Form in American Art, 1770-1950, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2004, unpublished checklist.
- Encouraging American Genius: Master Paintings from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton; Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte; John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, 2005-2007, checklist no. 76.
- The American Evolution: A History Through Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2008, unpubilshed checklist.
- American Paintings from the Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 6 June-18 October 2009, unpublished checklist.
- American Journeys: Visions of Place, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 21 September 2013-28 September 2014, unpublished checklist.
- McBride, Henry. "Exhibitions at New York Galleries." Fine Arts Journal 36, no. 3 (March 1918): 62-63, repro.
- "A Few Pictures from the Ninth Exhibition of Contemporary American Oil Paintings, Corcoran Gallery of Art." The Washington Post (23 December 1923): 73, repro.
- "Charcoal Club Exhibition is of Rare Beauty: Annual Showing of American Art Brings Together Many Fine Paintings and Sculpture." Baltimore Sun (February 4, 1923): part 2, sec. 1, 4.
- Dorr, Charles Henry. "Brooklyn Artists to the Fore in Corcoran Gallery Show [exh. review]." The Brooklyn Times (23 December 1923): 7.
- Grafly, Dorothy. "Charcoal Club's Annual Show of American Art in Baltimore [exh. review]." Christian Science Monitor (26 February 1923): 10.
- Wright, Helen. "Ninth Biennial is a Brilliant Exhibit [exh. review]." Art News 22, no. 11 (22 December 1923): 4.
- Brigham, Gertrude Richardson. "Art and Artists of the Capital: Corcoran Gallery Reopens." The Washington Post (3 February 1924): sec. ES, 9.
- Flambeau, Viktor. "Public Votes This Week on Prize Picture: Corcoran Biennial Exhibition Visitors Will Select Their Favorite." The Washington Herald (6 January 1924): March of Events sec., 5.
- Henderson, Rose. "Robert Henri." American Magazine of Art 21, no. 1 (January 1930): 8, repro.
- "Indian Girl in White Ceremonial Blanket." Christian Science Monitor (22 September 1938): 12, repro.
- Lewis, Elisabeth Ray. "Museum Treasures of the Week: The Corcoran Gallery Collection in Review." The Washington Post (3 September 1939): A5.
- "Art for Moscow Includes Selection by President." The Washington Post (22 July 1959): B3, repro.
- Melnick, Denise Catherine. "Art at the Mexican Front: Robert Henri, George Wesley Bellows and Leon Kroll in New Mexico 1916-1922." M.A. thesis, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, 1970: 55-57, 88, repro.
- Phillips, Dorothy W. A Catalogue of the Collection of American Paintings in the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Vol. 2: Painters born from 1850 to 1910. Washington, 1973: 66, repro.
- Richard, Paul. "Wooden Indians [exh. review]." The Washington Post (6 March 1980): D8, repro.
- Broder, Patricia Janis. The American West: The Modern Vision. Boston, 1984: 31, repro.
- Perlman, Bennard B. Robert Henri: His Life and Art. New York, 1991: 149.
- Burchard, Hank. "Corcoran Biennial: A Retreat in Reverse [exh. review]." The Washington Post (7 August 1998): N55.
- Leeds, Valerie Ann. Robert Henri in Santa Fe: His Work and Influence. Exh. cat. Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, 1998: 18, 20-21, 100-101, repro.
- Cash, Sarah, with Terrie Sultan. American Treasures of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. New York, 2000: 178, repro.
- Leeds, Valerie Ann. "Robert Henri and the American Southwest: His Work and Influence." Ph.D. dissertation, City University of New York, 2000: 241, 471, repro.
- Bennett, Lennie. "The Coming of Age of American Art [exh. review]." St. Petersburg Times (18 February 2007): 9L.
- Leeds, Valerie Ann. "Robert Henri, Indian Girl in White Blanket." In Corcoran Gallery of Art: American Paintings to 1945. Edited by Sarah Cash. Washington, 2011: 220-221, 279-280, repro.
The painting was executed on a fine, plain-weave canvas that was preprimed with a smooth, off-white ground. The artist appears to have blocked in major elements of the design with a thin, fluid paint primarily in umbers in the background and dark tones containing black in the figure. He then built up the composition by painting wet into wet with an opaque, pasty paint that holds the marks of the brush and has a low, soft impasto. In the background the artist freely applied many layers of rich, saturated colors, adjusting the shapes and contours as he went along. In the face of the figure Henri painted more delicately, blending thinner applications of paint with little texture.
According to the Corcoran Museum files this painting has had several different conservation treatments. In 1967 a puncture in the painting was patched, filled, and retouched, and nine areas of the canvas were infused from behind with a wax adhesive to consolidate areas where the paint on the front was flaking. In a 2005 treatment the patch was removed, the painting was lined to a secondary support with a Beva 371 adhesive, and the canvas was stretched onto a new, modern stretcher. Also at this time the old, discolored, natural resin varnish was removed and replaced with a synthetic resin, and several losses, including a small tear located 9 inches from the right edge and 3.5 inches from the top edge, were filled and inpainted.