Robert Henri, Jessica Penn in Black with White Plumes, 1908, oil on canvas, 77 x 38 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2010.105. Photography by Susan A. Cole, Seattle Art Museum.
Robert Henri Jessica Penn in Black with White Plumes
What can we learn about this woman’s personality from her portrait? The artist does not give us many clues about where she is standing. Can you imagine a background scene for this portrait?
Robert Henri encouraged students at his New York art school to find inspiration in their contemporary surroundings. His portrait summons the grand manner seventeenth century Spanish tradition of full-length figures painted against dark backgrounds. Henri challenged the past with a modern subject, portraying a young woman who had come to New York in pursuit of professional opportunity. Jessica Penn, a dancer, made her debut on Broadway in 1901. Her bold gaze and confident pose communicate her independence and spirit.
How do gender roles define people? Consider traditional gender roles of the early 20th century. Why might the woman in this portrait be seen as radical?
Shortly after this portrait was made in 1919, the 19th Amendment passed. What impact has the legacy of the women's suffrage movement had on the country today? Whose stories were excluded from the women's suffrage movement?
Exhibition sponsored by Kenneth C. Griffin
Learning and engagement programming for We the People: The Radical Notion of Democracy is sponsored by:
Sarah and Ross Perot, Jr. Foundation | Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates, & Woodyard, P.L.L.C. | Johnny and Jeanie Morris, Bass Pro Shops | Alturas Foundation | Harriet and Warren Stephens, Stephens Inc. | Sotheby’s | Bob and Becky Alexander | Marybeth and Micky Mayfield | Lamar and Shari Steiger | Jeff and Sarah Teague / Citizens Bank | Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities | Avis and Bill Bailey | Scarlett and Neff Basore | June Carter Family | Terri and Chuck Erwin | Jackye and Curtis Finch | The Harrison and Rhonda French Family | Jim and Susan von Gremp | Laurice Hachem | Shannon and Charles Holley | Valorie and Randy Lawson / Lawco Energy Group | Donna and Mack McLarty | Steve and Susan Nelson | Neal and Gina Pendergraft | Helen Porter | JT and Imelda Rose | Lee and Linda Scott | Stella Boyle Smith Trust, Catherine and Michael Mayton, Trustees | William Reese Company