Old Johnnie's Wife

Robert Henri (American, 1865-1929)

Currently on View in K205
Image Licensing

• This portrait depicts Biddy Commons, the wife of a fisherman on Ireland’s Achill Island. With swift dexterity, the artist captures her rosy complexion and kind eyes. Henri conveys the spirit of his subjects through energetic brushwork in the manner of the Old Masters.

• Demonstrating his fondness for the couple, Henri executed two portraits of Biddy and three portraits of her husband, Johnnie.

• From 1913 until 1928, Henri summered on Achill Island with his second wife, Marjorie, a native of Ireland. The painter, who derived inspiration from the local residents and windswept landscape, purchased an estate there in 1924.

Curatorial Summary

Robert Henri was born Robert Henry Cozad in Cincinnati, Ohio. When Henri was ten years old, his father, a gambler and real estate promoter, shot someone in self-defense. The family, fearing for their safety, moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey, changed their name, and passed their two sons off as adopted children. Robert Henri chose a variation on his middle name as his surname. He received his art training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and then attended the Academy Julian in Paris. After spending several years in Europe, Henri taught at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women and the Chase School of Art (later the New York School of Art), where he led a fight against Academic views. In 1909, Henri established his own school and organized The Eight, a group of artists that rejected restraints from the National Academy of Design. The Eight favored portrayals of contemporary everyday life. Five members of this group, including Henri, became known as the Ashcan School because of their depictions of the seedy side of life. Henri favored portraits of ordinary people, while the remainder of the group focused primarily on everyday street scenes.

The subject of Old Johnnie’s Wife is a woman who lived on the Island of Achill, off the coast of Ireland, where Henri and his wife often vacationed. Around 1909 he adopted the color system of theorist Hardesty Maratta, which assigns a letter and number to 144 harmonically related colors, enabling artists to plan the color relationships of their paintings. The rich harmonies of this image are quite likely the result of Henri’s application of the Maratta system.


Homer, William Innes. Robert Henri and His Circle. New York: Hacker Art Books, 1988.

Stuhlman, Jonathan and Valerie Ann Leeds. From New York to Corrymore: Robert Henri, His Art, and Ireland. Charlotte, NC: The Mint Museum, 2011.

The Estate of Robert Henri; (Chapellier Galleries, New York, New York, exclusive representative since 1963 of the Henri Estate, 1972); John J. Weldon and Jean Dinwiddie Weldon, Chilmark, Massachusetts, December 1972; Indianapolis Museum of Art

Object Information

Robert Henri (American, 1865-1929)
creation date
oil on canvas
31 x 25 in.
39 x 32 in. (framed)
mark descriptions
signed Robert Henri, lower right. Also inscribed verso, and numbered 13 i
accession number
credit line
Gift of John J. Weldon in memory of his wife, Jean Dinwiddie Weldon
Public Domain
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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