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The Winter Art Show

June 2024
1min read

When Robert Henri spent some months in La Jolla, California, in 1914, he found Sylvester, a local newsboy, so engaging a character that he painted him again and again, although only two of these portraits seem to have survived. In this one, which Henri titled The Failure of Sylvester , the artist pictures his subject dozing; the “failure” referred to is Sylvester’s inability to stay awake, because apparently he was so at ease at his sittings.

 
christie’s, new york city1993_8_94

When Robert Henri spent some months in La Jolla, California, in 1914, he found Sylvester, a local newsboy, so engaging a character that he painted him again and again, although only two of these portraits seem to have survived. In this one, which Henri titled The Failure of Sylvester , the artist pictures his subject dozing; the “failure” referred to is Sylvester’s inability to stay awake, because apparently he was so at ease at his sittings. There is such a sense of intimacy in the pose of the sleeping newsboy that the viewer doesn’t have to rely on that usual mirror into the sitter’s soul—the eyes—to know him. “The people I like to paint,” Henri said, “are ‘my people’ … through whom dignity of life is manifest …”

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