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Henry Hensche

 (1899 - 1992)
Henry Hensche was active/lived in Massachusetts, Louisiana / Germany.  Henry Hensche is known for landscape, still life, and portrait painting, art education.

Henry Hensche

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Henry Hensche
Henry Hensche (1899-1992)

According to Ellis Island and the Art Institute of Chicago records, Hensche was born on February 25,  1899 in Germany and came to the United States via Antwerp, Belgium, arriving on March 3, 1909 at Ellis Island aboard the S.S. Kroonland at age 10, with is father Fred and sister Erna.   His mother had died before he was 2 years old. 

Henry Hensche was a teacher at the Cape School of Art at Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he taught for more than fifty years, beginning 1935 and painted for more than seventy years.  He carried on the tradition of Charles Hawthorne, the School's founder, whose untimely death in 1930 closed the Cape Cod School of Art, where Hensche had been a student and assistant of Hawthorne.

Hensche taught students in the tradition of Hawthorne to focus on color relationships and paint in color blocks outdoors in the brilliant sunlight.   He was much influenced by Claude Monet's Impressionist tradition and the way colors were influenced by changes in the atmosphere.

However, in his teaching, he divorced color from drawing, perceiving drawing as lineal perspective while painting is the "color of masses."

Hensche's work was realistic in style but more concerned with color and shape than actual subject matter.  Some of the students who credited him, even though their work was much more abstract, were Hans Hofmann and Franz Kline.

He spent his retirement years in Louisiana, where he gave private lessons.  After his death in 1992, the Henry Hensche Foundation and Gallery was created in Gray, Louisiana to preserve his work and to provide workshop opportunities to carry on the tradition of his work. 

Sources include:
The Henry Hensche Foundation,

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Henry Hensche
The following is from Marjorie Osborne Whorf:

I was a student of Henry's at the Cape School for five full summers in the early 50's, leaving to return to the Art Student's League every winter.  I not only considered Henry to be a fine teacher and mentor but also a good friend, deriving many an insight into his vast and passionate knowledge of painting and drawing.

His idea to his students on the Cape was to spend all possible time studying the light and color available in the ideal weather of the Cape summers.  We would go back to our schools and studios in the winter and to the discipline of drawing from the figure, casts, and all other sources.  What he believed was that a strong ability to draw combined with a sensitive eye for light and atmosphere would give us the understanding of Hawthorne and the great color impressionists.

As he stated it, put the right color in the right spot and there you have it.  Easier said than done, but well with the adventure of trying.  His heroes, by the way, were Velasquez, Monet, Pushkin, and the great Roman and Greek sculptors.  These are a but a few.

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Henry Hensche
Note from Robert Savini:

Growing up in Provincetown I became acquainted with Henry Hensche and his wife Ada, who was a wonderful artist in her own right.  I got to know them through my aunt and uncle Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Irmer.  Uncle Ernie went to Provincetown to study art but left his love for his first love, my aunt Pal(Palmyra).  Many a time I posed for his students on the beaches of Provincetown.  They would each give me a nickel and sometimes I made a whole fifty cents.

Henry has his studio and students, and his wife Ada could be seen on the streets of Provincetown painting landscapes.  I interrupted her many times to converse with her, and she never acted like I was a bother.  Because Henry was a ladies man, he and Ada divorced when Henry was an old man.

Anyway I do have very warm memories of the two of them.

Biography from Julie Heller Gallery
Biography photo for Henry Hensche
HENRY HENSCHE (1899-1992)

"We must get rid of the talking painters - those who talk but do not paint, who teach in our art schools, and replace them with practicing painters who have proved by their work that they have something to teach."

Born February 25, 1899 in Germany, Henry Hensche came to the United States by way of Antwerp, Belgium.  He arrived March 3, 1909 at Ellis Island aboard the British steamship S.S. Kroonland, along with his sister Erna, and his father Fred.  He was 10 years old.  Henry's mother died before he was two.

As a painter and teacher of consumate skill, Hensche is considered by many in the art world to be unparalleled as a fine color visualist in the "art of seeing and painting". He has been called an iconoclast, a pioneer, and the late Grand Central Art Galleries of New York named him, "L'Enfant Terrible of Academie".  He is known for teaching his students how to "key" a painting.

When Henry Hensche was seventeen, he worked in the stock yards to earn the money that would send him to the Art Institute of Chicago.  There he studied with tonalist George Bellows.  Hensche later attended the National Academy of Fine Arts, the Art Student's League of New York, the Beaux Arts Institute of Design, and Charles Webster Hawthorne's Cape Cod School of Art.  It was there in Provincetown, Massachusetts where Hensche had found his niche and calling.  Just as Charles Webster Hawthorne became assistant instructor to William Merritt Chase, Henry Hensche became assistant instructor to Charles Hawthorne.

It happened to be right at the time when Hawthorne was intently involved in the study of Claude Monet and his application of color according to different light, such as Monet's series paintings.  Hawthorne, nevertheless did not always implement in his commissioned paintings the knowledge he had gained from studying Claude Monet - many of Hawthorne's later works began to show his development in color. The last fifteen years of Hawthorne's life was dedicated to understanding what Claude Monet was doing in practice with the new color pigments.  Henry Hensche was instrumental in taking Hawthorne's approach, "mudheads", a step further to the "color block studies", which although simple in shape, are quite effective in developing the painter's basic visual ability.  The human eye can not see unless there is light on the subject it is studying.  Hensche started students with sun light key, gray day key, north light key, and as one progressed, then to late afternoon light key and early morning light key and finally to the season and time of day.  It is the study of the color blocks under different light conditions that give a simple reference yet continually challenge the painter's ability to see the light key and to record it accurately and effectively.  Hensche devoted most of his life to this cause of developing a method of study whereby a student painter could grow visually in the understanding of color masses.  As his teacher, Charles Hawthorne would say, "beauty in painting comes from putting spots of color together in a beautiful way".

After Hawthorne's death in 1930, the mantle had been passed to Henry.  Mrs. Hawthorne wanted to sell the name of the Cape Cod School of Art to Henry but he refused.  From 1932 to 1935 Henry taught with no name to his school.  Then in summer of 1935, he began using the name, The Cape School of Art and taught in the fine Hawthorne tradition.  He carried on the intense study of color, each summer until his death December 10, 1992.  The schools of Hawthorne and Hensche were only open summers because the winters were too harsh for painting outdoors.

In 1974 Hensche began teaching during the winter months at Studio One in Gray, Louisiana.  Between 1922 and 1930 he won the Pulitzer Traveling Prize from Columbia University and the Hallgarten Award from the National Academy of Design.  He has exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, The Corcoran, The Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, and many others.

Henry Hensche is beloved by all who studied with him and his teachings and influence are evident in the work of the current Cape School style painters including Hilda Neilly, Mary Giammarino, Lois Griffel, Heather Bruce and many others.

The above text is the copyright © 2003 Albert R. Guidry & The Henry Hensche Foundation All Rights Reserved

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

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About  Henry Hensche

Born:  1899 - Germany
Died:   1992 - Gray, Louisiana
Known for:  landscape, still life, and portrait painting, art education