by Kim Orcutt
At the time the Armory Show was being planned, Robert Henri was considered one of the leading American modern artists. However, even though he was a member of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors that organized the exhibition, he was not integrally involved – he offered to select the European works while he was in Paris in the fall of 1912, but A.A.P.S. President Arthur B. Davies turned him down.
During his trip to Paris, Henri saw such radical paintings as Matisse’s Blue Nude and probably Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2). He created his own nude, Figure in Motion, especially for the Armory Show. Henri’s nude seems traditional in comparison to those of Matisse and Duchamp, but he made his figure modern in his own way by giving her individuality and agency: she looks straight at us, and it seems as if she might step out of the canvas and into our space. Henri was a passionate advocate of artistic freedom and national identity, so his painting may have been his statement, in the face of Duchamp’s Cubism and Matisse’s Fauvism, that modernity was defined by individuality, not by adopting the latest artistic fashion.
The American expatriate painter Walter Pach recalled a story that affirms Henri’s conviction. According to Pach, Henri was walking through the Armory Show just before the opening and he ran into Davies and Pach, who had helped select the European works. Henri fumbled awkwardly for conversation while Davies remained imperiously aloof. Henri finally said he hoped that for every French picture sold an American one would sell, too, and Pach replied loftily, “That’s not the proportion of merit.” Pach and Davies began to drift away from Henri, who called after them, “If the Americans find that they’ve just been working for the French, they won’t be prompted to do this again.”