Robert Henri Festival

Robert Henri, and the children of Achill Island 1913-1928

Achill Tourism in conjunction with The Museum of Childhood Ireland is to host a series of events to celebrate the artist Robert Henri, who lived and worked on Achill in 1913 and again from 1924-28 painting portraits of local children.

Full details of dates and events to follow.

About Robert Henri

Ohio-born artist Robert Henri (1865-1929) studied art in Paris from 1888 to the late 1890s, at a time when Paris was the epicentre of the Modern Art movement. Along with distinctive painting techniques with loose brushwork and enhanced colour palettes, another characteristic of Modern Art at that time was the choice of subject matter; moving away from formal portraits of rich patrons, royalty, uplifting religious iconography and heroic battlefield scenes, the new movements sought out rural scenes with ordinary people as subjects. Inspired by the idea of ‘the noble savage’ – the elevation of an outsider, uncorrupted by modern civilisation, to represent the innate goodness of humanity – this led some artists to live and work among what were seen as more primitive people, most notably the post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin visiting Tahiti. Robert Henri returned to the USA in the first decade of the 20th century and led what was known as the ‘Ashcan School’ of American realism in art, using a ‘warts and all’ depiction of the lived experience of urban Americans. His group organised their own exhibitions, in part as a protest at the conservative selection policies of the establishment academies. He also sought out less urban subject matter too, living and working in Santa Fe in New Mexico and, in 1913, travelling to Achill Island. It is unclear exactly why he chose Achill; his second wife, the illustrator Marjorie Organ, had emigrated with her family from Dublin aged 13. In 1909 Henri met and struck up a friendship with John Butler Yeats, who had previously encouraged J.M. Synge to go to the west of Ireland and ‘express a life that has never found expression’. Whatever the reason, Henri came to Achill in 1913 and rented Corrymore House in the village of Dooagh. He painted portraits of local people, mainly children, and returned for several summers. Later, in 1924, he and Marjorie purchased Corrymore House and continued to use it as their summer residence – and studios – until Henri’s death in 1929.

A unique gallery of reproduction prints of Robert Henri paintings of Achill children is part of the permanent display at The Achill Experience – Aquarium and Visitor Centre in Keel, Achill Island.