Edna

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Edna

United States, 1915
Paintings
Oil on canvas
Canvas: 32 3/16 × 26 1/8 in. (81.76 × 66.36 cm) Frame: 40 × 33 7/8 × 2 3/4 in. (101.6 × 86.04 × 6.99 cm)
Dr. Dorothea Moore Bequest (43.15.14)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

The subject is Edna Smith, a professional model who posed for other paintings, at least two of them nudes....
The subject is Edna Smith, a professional model who posed for other paintings, at least two of them nudes. Since they did not require him to capture the personality of the model as he did in his portraits, figure studies were for Henri an opportunity to explore formal issues that interested him, especially the Maratta system of color and the compositional ideas that interested him and his circle. The color in this work is exceptionally vivid, the model’s red hair and fair coloring set off by a complementary blue-green background. The brushwork is vigorous and joyous, clearly showing his dashing execution. Henri’s already powerful technique had steadily increased in facility into the middle of the second decade of the century. In a painting such as this, where it is given completely free play, one can see what a dexterous and masterly craftsman Henri had become. Henri taught his students to "work quickly. Don’t stop for anything but the essential .... It’s the spirit of the thing that counts" (Henri diary, August 25, 1926, entry). Dr. Dorothea Moore, who donated Edna to the museum, was an early Los Angeles enthusiast of the painter. At one time she also owned Henri’s The Dancer Resting (unlocated), which she lent to the museum for a 1921 exhibition.
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About The Era

The early twentieth century witnessed the transformation of the United States into a modern industrialized society and an international political power.

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The early twentieth century witnessed the transformation of the United States into a modern industrialized society and an international political power. By 1920 more than half of the country’s population lived in urban areas. Seeming to guarantee employment, the cities lured many farmers and African Americans from rural areas. In addition, between 1900 and 1920, 14.5 million immigrants from Europe, Russia, Mexico, and Asia settled here, primarily in urban centers. A new energy was channeled to such cities as New York and Chicago, as massive skyscrapers were erected to furnish much-needed office space and living quarters. Even West Coast cities were affected—the population of Los Angeles tripled between 1900 and 1910; its unplanned urban sprawl and dizzying speed were captured in the zany movies of the Keystone Cops, filmed on the streets of the city.


Art reflected these changing social and economic dynamics. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism were still popular. Yet other, more progressive ideas now challenged artists. A strong new commitment to realism emerged in literature and the fine arts.


In Philadelphia and New York, a group of artists centered around Robert Henri captured the vitality of urban American life. These realists depicted the hustle and bustle of city streets, the common pleasures of restaurants and various forms of entertainment. Critics dubbed these realists the “Ash Can School” because of their treatment of unidealized subject matter previously considered unattractive. These artists focused on the inhabitants of cities rather than the cities themselves. Their interest in people also led them to create a significant number of single-figure paintings, conveying the human side of the new America . During the 1910s and 1920s the realist celebration of America spread throughout the country, as artists recorded the neighborhoods and people that made their own cities distinct.

 
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Label

Although Henri encouraged his numerous students and followers to record everyday life in bustling genre scenes featuring the middle and lower classes, he preferred to paint solitary figures....
Although Henri encouraged his numerous students and followers to record everyday life in bustling genre scenes featuring the middle and lower classes, he preferred to paint solitary figures. Edna Smith was a professional model who posed for Henri several times. This seemingly straightforward depiction is also an example of the artist’s experimentation with color. In the early 1910s Henri had become excited by several theories about color interaction, and he kept palette diaries in which he recorded his experiments. His friend Hardesty Maratta sold packaged paints prearranged in harmonized groups of rich colors. This system encouraged Henri to abandon his earlier, somber palette for bolder hues, such as the flaming red of the model’s hair. Henri’s portraits of 1914 and 1915 also reveal an increased contrast of lights and darks: here the deep blue-green at the left of the canvas is counterposed to the glowing white of the negligee. By the time he painted Edna, Henri had devised his own color charts. The brilliant coloration of this work clearly demonstrates his enthusiasm for modern color theory. As he told his students, “Color represents the deeper strain in human life.”
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Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • Kim, Woollin, Jinmyung Kim, and Songhyuk Yang, eds. Art Across America. Seoul: National Museum of Korea, 2013.
  • Miller, Angela, and Chris McAuliffe, eds. America: Painting a Nation. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2013.
  • About the Era.
  • Kim, Woollin, Jinmyung Kim, and Songhyuk Yang, eds. Art Across America. Seoul: National Museum of Korea, 2013.
  • Miller, Angela, and Chris McAuliffe, eds. America: Painting a Nation. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2013.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.
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