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Alice Corbin Henderson Art Collection of William Penhallow Henderson:

An Inventory of the Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Henderson, Alice Corbin, 1881-19493 Henderson, William Penhallow, 1877-1943
Title: Alice Corbin Henderson Art Collection of William Penhallow Henderson
Dates: 1906-1943
Extent: 399 items
Abstract: The Alice Corbin Henderson Art Collection of William Penhallow Henderson consists of drawings, prints, and paintings by William Penhallow Henderson.
Call Number: Art Collection AR-00122
Language: English
Access: Open for research. Please note that a minimum of 24 hours notice is required to pull art materials to the Ransom Center's Reading and Viewing Room. Some materials may be restricted from viewing. To make an appointment or to reserve Art Collection materials, please contact the Center's staff at Researchers must create an online Research Account and agree to the Materials Use Policy before using archival materials.
Use Policies: Ransom Center collections may contain material with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in the collections without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Ransom Center and The University of Texas at Austin assume no responsibility.
Restrictions on Use: Authorization for publication is given on behalf of the University of Texas as the owner of the collection and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder which must be obtained by the researcher. For more information please see the Ransom Centers' Open Access and Use Policies.

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Purchases and gifts, 1977-1988

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

William Penhallow Henderson (1877-1943) was a broadly talented man who had a primary career as a visual artist, but who also held careers as an architect and as a furniture designer. Born in Medford, Massachusetts on June 4, 1877, William Penhallow Henderson lived at various times in his youth in both Uvalde, Texas and Clifton, Kansas before settling in Massachusetts. After attending high school in Medford, Henderson went on to study at the Massachusetts Normal Art School in Boston, where his coursework included civil engineering, and finally the Boston Museum of Fine Arts where he studied under the noted Boston School painter Edmund Charles Tarbell. Henderson's education under Tarbell gave him a grounding in classical drawing and painting techniques, and it instilled in him a sense of naturalism.
In 1900, Henderson won the Paige Traveling Scholarship from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts which allowed him the opportunity to study in Europe for over two years. Although exposed to a broad range of art during his stay in Europe, Henderson chose to study primarily the great masters Velasquez, Rembrandt and Titian. He was also deeply influenced by the work of James McNeill Whister and through that association, Japanese prints and paintings. Indeed, Henderson was so taken with Japanese prints that he became an avid collector. Henderson's work of the time was compared to Whistler's impressionism, however, especially new and of lasting influence was the Japanese flattening of space and subjective use of color that also influenced Whistler. In addition to formal influences, a debt is owed to Whistler in Henderson's development of the use of pastel.
After returning to the United States in 1904, Henderson accepted a teaching position at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. In Chicago, Henderson met and, in 1905, married the poet Alice Corbin. Their only child, Alice Oliver, was born in 1907. Henderson's association with Corbin introduced him to a large circle of major modern poets and artists, which exposed him to an openness toward experimentation that ran contrary to his nature and training. His work from the years in Chicago reflect an artist searching for a mature style. He vacillated between early modern techniques and his academic training. During this time, Henderson focused largely on commissioned portraiture, but he also produced ten large murals of the exploration of Lake Michigan and the Mississippi by Marquette and Joliet, pastels of Lake Bluff gardens, wood-block illustrations for Alice Corbin's Adam's Dream as well as her translation of Hans Christian Andersen's Best Fairy Tales, and costume and set designs for Alice in Wonderland. He also received a commission from Frank Lloyd Wright to design and execute murals at Midway Gardens that reflect an Art Deco motif.
In 1916, due to Alice Corbin's declining health from tuberculosis, the family moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and they quickly came to play a central role in the burgeoning artistic community. Henderson continued to work on a broad range of subject matter, but the emphasis shifted based on his new environment. He produced brilliant landscapes including six large murals created under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration for the Santa Fe Federal Court House, interpretations of Native American ceremonial dances, some portraiture primarily of the indigenous people, and a final illustration project for Corbin's Brothers of Light, a book which deals with the rites of the Penitente Brotherhood during Lent and Holy Week.
In New Mexico, Henderson's work took on a new freedom and vigor. While he held to the realistic subject matter and solid draftsmanship produced by his training and temperament, his colors became brilliant and expressive, and his work moved toward abstraction and, later, stylization. Cezannesque techniques including simplified volumetric forms constructed of planes, descriptions of objects through facet-like planes of color, and multiple-point perspective became an important part of his composition after 1917.
In 1919, Henderson undertook careful study of Dynamic Symmetry, a theory of design based on proportion believed have been used by the Greeks and the Egyptians and based on ratios found in nature. The goal of Dynamic Symmetry is to relate parts of a design to the whole so that the final piece provides what its major proponent Jay Hambridge called "the balance of variety in unity." Unlike so many modernists of the time, however, Hambridge believed that instinct and feelings had to be controlled by intellect. The study of Dynamic Symmetry and its two-dimensionality may have increased Henderson's move away from naturalistic perspective. Interestingly, Henderson applied Dynamic Symmetry to his furniture design and architecture as well as his fine art, and Alice Corbin, simultaneously applied the theory to poetry.
Henderson also immersed himself in color theory in pursuit of a harmonious palette. In the latter part of his career, his intense interest in color led him to attempt to capture the spontaneity, tonality and texture of pastel in an oil palette. Extensive color schemes worked out in manuscript notation can be seen in Henderson's manuscripts.
Principles of composition and color, underlain and reiterated by draftsmanship, were the foundation of Henderson' work. He felt free to depart from the exact transcription of nature as long as the he held to the these basic principles. Indeed, the rationalist in Henderson seemed to find a comfort in tradition and technical theory that allowed him freedom of expression. But above all, Henderson believed that the artist had to be concerned with organic unity. Henderson continued to apply these principles to his work until his death in 1943.


Kronz, Leslie. The of William Penhallow Henderson, 6 June-22 December 1994. Austin: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin, 1994.

Scope and Contents

The Alice Corbin Henderson of William Penhallow Henderson Art Collection consists of drawings, prints, and paintings by William Penhallow Henderson. The works include portraits, landscapes, designs for Navajo sand paintings, and sketches of people, animals, and nature.

Related Material

Correspondence and designs for furniture, fixtures, and sand paintings can be found in the Alice Corbin Henderson Collection (TXRC92-A24).

Separated Material

Index Terms


Indians of North America--New Mexico--Religion and mythology.
Japan--In art.
Navajo Indians.
Portraits, American.
Still lifes.


New Mexico.

Document Types

Pastels (Visual works).
Pencil works.

Item List