Skip to main content

The Winter Art Show

April 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 …”

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.

Donate