Dutch Girl Laughing
Robert Henri ( American, 1865 - 1929 )
In 1907 Robert Henri took a group of students to Haarlem, Holland, where he taught a class and worked on his own painting. Henri was fascinated by the Dutch people, particularly the children. He found strong inspiration in the work of Frans Hals (c. 1581-1666) whose 16th-century portraits showed lower class sitters with expressive faces painted in thick, visible brushwork. During the summer of 1907 Henri focused his efforts on creating informal portraits of two Dutch girls. He painted them with amazing speed, producing from one to three portraits each day. This rapid pace enabled Henri to capture the energetic, spontaneous brushwork he admired in works by Hals and the French Impressionists. Dutch Girl Laughing also illustrates the artist's typical use of heavy impasto, dramatic lighting, strong contrasts of light and dark, a somber palette, and surface highlights.
Originally titled Laughing Dutch Boy when it was exhibited in 1909, this portrait caused a lot of discussion among Henri scholars as to the gender of the child portrayed. Through study of the artist's diary and letters, the artist's biographer, Bennard Perlman, conclusively identified the childas Cori Peterson, a young girl. Henri painted nearly two dozen portraits of Cori while visiting Holland in 1907. He described his jovial muse in several letters saying, “One of my two models is a little white-headed, broad-faced, red-cheeked girl of about eight—always laughing.”
This charming portrayal was exhibited at the 1909 Texas State Fair and subsequently purchased by the Dallas Art Association. At the time, Henri's technique and selection of lower-class subject matter was considered the cutting edge of modern art in America.
Eleanor Jones Harvey, DMA label copy (1909.2), August 1993.
William Keyse Rudolph, DMA label copy (1909.2), August 2005.
Debra Gibney, “Highlights of the American Collection,” in Dallas Museum of Art 100 Years, eds. Dorothy Kosinski, et al. (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 2003), 48.
P.F.R., DMA research document, n.d., Collections Records Object File.
Between the time when this portrait was made and its accession into the collection, Henri became an art world celebrity. His reputation was cemented after organizing the debut exhibition of The Eight (later classified as the Ashcan School) at Macbeth Galleries in 1908.
The identity of Cori Peterson is easily distinguished from Henri's other model depicted in the summer of 1907. Unlike Cori, the adolescent Marthe was always shown with serious, somber expressions.