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George HENRY 1858 - 1943

NEAC 1887, ARSA 1892, RSW 1900, RP 1900, RSA 1902, ARA 1907 RA 1920

Biography

Born Ayrshire, George Henry studied at Glasgow School of Art for a short period in the early 1880s and attended informal classes at W Y Macgregor’s studio in Bath Street. In 1881 Henry joined James Guthrie, Edward WALTON and Joseph Crawhall to paint at Brig O Turk in the Trossachs. He worked with the GLASGOW BOYS in 1882, but in 1883 he worked at Eyemouth near Cockburnspath. Guthrie and the square brush technique influenced his style at this stage.

In 1884 Henry worked at Cockburnspath along with Walton, Guthrie and Arthur MELVILLE and his art made great progress. His principal work that summer was Playmates painted mostly en plein-air (in the outdoors). In 1885 Henry met Edward Hornel who persuaded him to paint in Galloway, and in the following year they painted together in Kirkcudbright. The landscape suited Henry and he was to paint many of his most successful works there. He was also working in watercolour, a medium in which he naturally gifted. In 1889 Henry painted a Galloway Landscape, which summed up many aspects of the Kirkcudbright group, in particular an emphasis upon rich colour and a regard for the decorative patterns of a flattened picture plane. A Galloway Landscape represents the most progressive aspect of the Glasgow School, and although Henry had no contact with France, it approaches the work of the Pont-Aven group. In 1890 Hornel and Henry worked together on The Druids in which incised gesso and overlaid gold provide a strong decorative element, while Celtic mythology provides the subject.

A work of the following year The Star in the East was also a collaboration, but less successful. In February 1893 Henry and Hornel set off for Japan, a trip financed by Alexander Reid, the Glasgow dealer, and William Burrell, the collector. During their 19 months away both Henry and Hornel produced some of their finest work. Watercolours mostly represent Henry’s Japanese period, as many of his oils stuck together and were destroyed on the journey home.

These watercolours are masterpieces of drawing, composition and technique, and many of the oils that Henry later worked up in his studio lack the spontaneity and freshness of the watercolours. During the 1890s Henry painted fine portraits both in oil and watercolour, executed with great panache, and with a strong sense of colour. After 1900, however, his work becomes less interesting. He settled in London painting portraits and figures in landscape. He died London aged 8.