Robert Henri (1865–1929)
Sylvester belongs to a group of portraits Robert Henri made in La Jolla, California, during the summer of 1914, following his participation in the groundbreaking 1913 Armory Show in New York. In California, he painted portraits of Native Americans, Mexican and Chinese immigrant children, and a local African American newsboy named Sylvester Cunningham Smith, whom the artist considered an “irresistible” subject. Here, the boy—dressed in a white patterned shirt and knickerbockers held up by suspenders—sits erect, gazing directly at the viewer. As in his most daring La Jolla portraits, Henri depicted Sylvester before a brightly colored, abstract background that focuses attention on the sitter’s nuanced expression. He painted few portraits of African Americans during his long career, but in 1914 he produced three of Sylvester. The Terra Foundation’s version is representative of Henri’s best work in child portraiture, a major part of his oeuvre from about 1900 until his death in 1929.
Learn more about this painting on the Terra Foundation website.