Painter Edward Lamson Henry was a preservationist who treasured the United States’ eighteenth century past. In addition to faithfully depicting nostalgic and historical scenes, he actively worked to preserve landmarks such as Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Henry sat on the cusp of modernity, his genre scenes alternating between capturing innovations in infrastructure and the enduring charm of an American past.
Henry was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1841. He came to New York at the age of seven, and studied with landscape painter Walter M. Oddie beginning at age fourteen. Henry then received two years of instruction from Paul Weber at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art. During several years abroad in Paris, Henry became a student of Charles Gleyre and Gustave Courbet, and made sketching trips across the Continent. Upon his return to New York, he established himself in the Tenth Street Studio Building. Beginning in 1972, he became a summer resident of the art colony in Cragsmoor, New York, and moved there permanently in 1883.
Henry exhibited annually at the National Academy of Design in New York, beginning in 1861, where his works were well received by collectors. His works were shown at the Brooklyn Art Association regularly from 1863 to 1884, and were included in shows at the Boston Athenaeum and the Paris Expositions Universelles of 1878 and 1889. Henry joined the National Academy as an associate in 1867, becoming an academician two years later. His achievements in painting were marked with an honorable mention at the Paris Exposition of 1889, and with medals at international exhibitions in New Orleans (1885), Chicago (1893), Buffalo (1901), Charleston (1902), and Saint Louis (1904).
Throughout his life, Henry was a dedicated collector of American antiques, including Colonial furniture, ceramics, costumes, and textiles. These objects often appeared in his paintings, composing a vision of earlier times. In his preservationist efforts, he was also known to have kept bits of buildings condemned to demolition. This care and concern translated to his sensitive depictions of Americana. He died of pneumonia in 1919.
Written by Zenobia Grant Wingate