Volendam Street Scene, one of roughly 60 canvases Robert Henri painted during his third visit to Holland, documents rustic Dutch village life and colorful traditional costume. The rapidly executed sketch exemplifies the artist’s desire to capture momentary, spontaneous visual effects. A woman crosses the road in the center foreground, while a group of villagers go about their daily business on the right. Despite the abbreviated forms, their distinctive hats and clogs are recognizable.
Henri visited Europe during the summer of 1910, where he spent the first six weeks in Haarlem, The Netherlands. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries Haarlem and the quaint villages around it on the North Sea were frequented by many European and American painters. Volendam is a fishing hamlet north of Amsterdam on the coast of the Zuider Zee that a contemporary British travel guide called “the manufactory of most of those Dutch pictorial scenes known the world over," and recommended its "quaint alleys, its magenta-clothed fishermen, its gaily dressed girls in striped shirts and winged caps."
Approximately two and a half months after the historic Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists closed in 1910, Henri relinquished control of the financially troubled Henri School of Art and went to Europe, where he spent six weeks in Haarlem before proceeding to Madrid. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Haarlem and the quaint villages around it on the North Sea were frequented by Dutch painters associated with the Hague school, other European artists, and many American painters.
These artists included William Merritt Chase, Robert F. Blum, Gari Melchers, George Henry Boughton, George Hitchcock, and Henry Ward Ranger; see Hans Kraan, "The Vogue for Holland," in The Hague School: Dutch Masters of the 19th Century, ed. Ronald de Leeuw, John Sillevis, and Charles Dumas (London, 1983), 115–124.
Volendam is a fishing hamlet on the coast of the Zuider Zee 11 miles north of Amsterdam. It became a popular haunt for European and American painters, especially after 1874, when Henry Harvard published a travel book on the region in which he recommended the town to artists because of the colorful traditional costumes worn by the inhabitants.
See Henry Harvard, The Dead Cities of the Zuyder Zee: A Voyage to the Picturesque Side of Holland, trans. Annie Wood (London, 1875), 39–43.
Handbook to Holland, 8th ed. (London, n.d.), 125.
Bennard B. Perlman, ed., Revolutions of Realism: The Letters of John Sloan and Robert Henri (Princeton, NJ, 1997), 197.
Volendam Street Scene, one of approximately 60 canvases Henri painted during his third visit to Holland, documents rustic Dutch village life. Henri and his modernist contemporaries were attracted to the town for its combination of ancient traditions and picturesque views,
Annette Stott, Holland Mania: The Unknown Dutch Period in American Art & Culture (New York, 1998), 50, has argued that the indistinctness of the forms in Volendam Street Scene gives it a “generic appearance” that diminishes its “Dutchness,” and thus reflects a modern style practiced by a later generation of American artists that “conflicted with the traditional subjects and values on which the town had built its reputation.”
This rapidly executed sketch exemplifies Henri’s aesthetic goal of capturing instantaneousness and spontaneous visual experiences. Bennard Perlman noted how it possesses the immediacy of a pochade, or rapidly executed oil sketch: "Thinly painted, the yellow ochre of the foreground becomes at once the ground and a woman's skirt as brushstrokes suggest the feeling of movement among the figures and the swaying of the boat's masts along the quay."
Bennard B. Perlman, Robert Henri Painter (Wilmington, DE, 1984), 111.
George Hitchcock, "The Picturesque Quality of Holland," Scribner's Magazine (Aug. 1887), quoted by Lionel G. Robinson, "Mr. George Hitchcock and American Art," Art Journal 43 (Oct. 1891): 292.
August 17, 2018
by Violet Organ, lower left: ROBERT HENRI / VO
(Chapellier Galleries, New York), by 1969; Mr. [d. 1994] and Mrs. [d. 1991] Gerard C. Smith, Washington, D.C.; gift 1973 to NGA.
- American Art Selections, Chapellier Galleries, New York, 1969, no. 24, repro.
- Robert Henri: Painter-Teacher-Prophet, New York Cultural Center, 1969, no. 53, repro.
- Extended loan for use by Secretary Patricia Roberts Harris, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Washington, D.C., 1977-1979.
- Extended loan for use by Justice John Paul Stevens, The Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1981-1984.
- Robert Henri, Painter, Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington; Pennsylvania State University Museum of Art, University Park; Cincinnati Art Museum; Phoenix Art Museum; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1984-1985, no. 66, repro.
- Extended loan for use by Ambassador John Shad, U.S. Embassy residence, The Hague, The Netherlands, 1987-1989.
- Extended loan for use by Ambassador Howard Wilkins, U.S. Embassy residence, The Hague, The Netherlands, 1989-1992.
- Extended loan for use by Secretary Michael Espy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C., 1993-1995.
- Extended loan for use by Ambassador Craig R. Stapleton, U.S. Embassy residence, Paris, France, 2005-2009.
- Dutch Utopia: American Artists in Holland, 1880-1914, Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah; Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati; The Grand Rapids Art Museum; Singer Museum, Laren, The Netherlands, 2009-2011, no. 20, repro.
The unlined, medium- to heavy-weight, plain-weave fabric support remains mounted on its original stretcher, and the stretcher keys are stamped with "Fredrix Artist Materials, New York.
In this case, an extra set of tack holes exists, indicating that the painting was once removed from its stretcher. But it still seems that this stretcher is the original one.
The priming covers all of the tacking margins, indicating that the canvas was primed before painting. This treatment usually indicates that the priming was commercially prepared rather than applied by the artist.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 174, repro.
- Williams, William James. A Heritage of American Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1981:199, repro, 202.
- Perlman, Bennard B. Robert Henri, Painter. Exh. cat. Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, 1984: 110-111, no. 66, color repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 200, repro.
- Perlman, Bennard B., ed. Revolutionaries of Realism: The Letters of John Sloan and Robert Henri. Princeton, 1997: xi, 200 fig. 28.
- Stott, Annette. Holland Mania: The Unknown Dutch Period in American Art & Culture, New York, 1998: 50, repro.
- Stott, Annette. Dutch Utopia: American Artists in Holland, 1880-1914. Exh. cat. Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah; Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati; Grand Rapids Art Museum; Singer Laren Museum, The Netherlands, 2009-2011. Savannah, 2009: no. 20, 120, repro. (catalogue also published in Dutch in 2010: Dutch utopia : Amerikaanse kunstenaars in Nederland 1880-1914).