Nevada business deal gone sour ends in Henri Museum gaining 1925 portrait

Henri Museum Treasurer Chuck Birgen shows visitors the gallery’s latest edition, a 1925 portrait named “Macnamara,” which was recently donated.

COZAD — A failed Nevada business deal with a famous painting as collateral sounds like something out of a novel, but in the case of the Robert Henri Museum’s latest addition to its art gallery, it’s a true story.

A year ago, a Nevada man contacted the Henri Museum telling them he was in possession of a portrait painting which had been done by Robert Henri.

The donor had gained the portrait after a business partner had put up the painting as collateral during a deal. The business deal ended up falling through, leaving the donor with the portrait.

The donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, expressed interest in donating the painting to the museum, Executive Director of the Henri Museum Peter Osborne said.

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Osborne himself became the director of the museum last November and was asked by the board to continue working to acquire the portrait. The painting had to be appraised, a process which ended just two months ago, Osborne said. After the appraisal was finished, it was shipped to the museum and went on display around three weeks ago.

The portrait is called “Macnamara,” and is oil on canvas painting featuring a young Irish boy. The portrait was painted in 1925, toward the end of Henri’s life.

According to information provided by the Henri Museum, “Robert and Marjorie Henri first visited Achill Island on the west coast of Ireland in 1913.” The Henris did not visit the area again until 1924, well after the end of World War I, they spent summers there until 1928, before Henri’s death in 1929.

While on Achill Island, Henri painted many Irish children from the town of Dooagh, a small village, including the portrait of Tom Macnamara in 1925.

Henri painted around 4,000 oil paintings in his lifetime and hundreds of those were portraits, Osborne said. Henri had gained international fame during his lifetime as a portrait painter. Osborne said, Henri was recognized during his life time as one of America’s finest portrait painters. Most of the portraits he painted were of children. Henri called them “my people.”

“The people that I paint are ‘my people, whoever they may be, wherever they may exist, the people through whom dignity of life is manifest, that is, who are in some way expressing themselves naturally along with lines Nature intended for them,” Henri was quoted as saying in 1915.

Osborne said Henri enjoyed painting children’s portraits because they were unoccupied with the stresses of life and displayed an innocent quality.

Thanks to the addition of the “Macnamara,” the Henri now has six of his portraits on display which range in time from 1896 to 1927. Henri’s developing styles and techniques are evident throughout this chronological display.

The Henri Museum is also getting ready to redesign their gallery. One change will be to showcase the interesting history of the paintings themselves. Osborne said the story of the paintings can be just as interesting as the art style and techniques themselves. This is highlighted by the colorful way in which the “Macnamara,” was acquired by the museum.

Another anonymous donor gifted 30 sketches which Henri had made over the years to the museum. They had previously been on loan at the museum, but the donor made the decision to officially donate them to the Henri Museum.

Currently the museum is working to have some of these sketches reformatted in new displays and some have been sent to a conservator in Lincoln. New labels will also be added for the full range of sketches.

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