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Hal Robinson

 (1867 - 1933)
Hal Robinson was active/lived in New York / England.  Hal Robinson is known for landscape and cityscape painting.

Hal Robinson

Biography from the Archives of askART

This following biography was researched, compiled, and written by Geoffrey K. Fleming, Executive Director, Huntington Museum of Art, Huntington, WV.  

Harry Robinson (October 20, 1867 – March 18, 1933)
AKA “Hal Robinson”

Landscape painter in oil and watercolor.  Though long considered an artist who was born and raised in America, he was actually not named “Hal” and was not American at all.  Harry Robinson was born in Leominster, County Hereford, England (though his obituary says Newcastle, England), the son of Hannah G. (b. 1844) and Dr. Henry Robinson (b. 1844), a prominent doctor and master chemist.  Harry Robinson spent much of childhood in Liverpool, where his father practiced his profession, and where he was raised alongside his younger brother, George Robinson (b. 1869).  Though American sources often report his birth year as 1875, according to his parish baptism record he was actually born in 1867.  He should not be confused with the American artist Harry A. Robinson or the British painter Harry W. Robinson.

Exactly where he received his artistic training remains unclear.  When he arrived in the United States in 1893 he already listed his profession as “artist,” indicating that he was already actively engaged in his chosen profession.  An examination of the records of a number of the more important schools – including the Royal Academy in London – did not reveal him as a student.  According to Karine Sarant-Hawkins, Research Assistant at the Royal Academy of Arts Library, the most important school in Liverpool during the late 19th century where Robinson could have trained was the Liverpool John Moores School.  An examination of their records also failed to reveal him as a student.  So exactly where and under who Robinson trained remains a mystery.

By the early 1890s it appears that Robinson’s parents were deceased, and he and his brother George decided to emigrate to America.  At the time it appears they were residing in the city of Hereford, England, not far from where Harry had been born.  They returned to Liverpool to board the Guion Line ship Arizona (which was built in 1879 and was the first Atlantic liner with a compound 3-crank engine).  They arrived in New York City on the 17th of April 1893.  While Harry Robinson listed his profession as “artist,” brother George Robinson listed his as “clerk.”  The ship’s register notes their final destination was supposed to be Boston, Massachusetts, though it does not appear Harry Robinson ever traveled to that city.  At least one researcher has proposed that Robinson exhibited at the Boston Art Club, however, the date of the exhibition and age of the artist precludes it being Harry Robinson.

While residing in New York City, or perhaps while traveling in New Jersey, he met and began courting Louisa Bram (b. 1864), a native of that state.  On the 1st of March 1894 Harry Robinson and Louisa Bram were married in Manhattan and just a few years later, on the 29th of October 1896 their only child, Grace, was born in the town of Chad, located in Morris County, New Jersey.  That year his residence was reported as 406 West 57th Street, though this was most likely only the location of his studio.  In 1900 the young family was residing at 503 138th Street in northern Manhattan and by 1910 his studio appears to have been located at 45 John Street.

As a professional artist in America, Robinson does not ever appear to have used his given name, “Harry.”  Instead he chose to use a common nickname for that given name, “Hal,” and always signed his paintings “Hal Robinson.”  The reason for his change of name is unknown.  Perhaps it sounded more “American” to him.  This was not unusual, other artists in America adopted pseudonyms or dropped parts of their name when they became a success.  Richard Hayley Lever became “Hayley Lever,” and Frederick Childe Hassam became simply “Childe Hassam.”  And the Jewish painter Max Cohen became “Maximilien Colin.”

While it was unusual to exhibit at a major venue prior to having participated in a few smaller gallery shows, the first recorded exhibit Robinson participated in was at the National Academy of Design in 1896.  Thereafter it took some time before he appears as an exhibitor again, though it is not clear why.  He returned to the Academy in 1909, and in 1910 participated in a group exhibition held at the art rooms of James Rice in New York City (Robinson designed a group of envelope covers depicting an artist at work and fishermen cavorting which he sent to Rice during this period).  A reviewer of the exhibit remarked “In his large pictures Mr. Robinson shows that he has grown in breadth and strength in the past year and maintains his signal ability for catching the spirit of the day and the place.”  Robinson’s daughter Grace also apparently had some artistic talent, and in 1909 she was featured in the New York Press for her photographic like drawings in an article entitled “The Child Artists of New York.”

From this point forward, Robinson would be a regular exhibitor in New York and elsewhere along the eastern seaboard.  In addition to the National Academy, he participated in exhibitions at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and submitted works to the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh in 1911 (unfortunately, both the paintings he submitted were rejected).  He was also a regular exhibitor at a number of important art galleries, including Katz and Snedecor galleries in New York City, and at the Lauterbach Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York.  Robinson was also a participant at the inaugural exhibition of the recently formed group, Allied Artists of America, in 1914.

Snedecor Gallery (later to become Babcock Galleries in 1918) seems to have been his most supportive dealer during the teens, including him in his first exhibition in 1912 and continuing to show his work regularly through at least 1916.  He received a solo show at the gallery in 1914 which was chiefly composed of scenes painted in western Connecticut (he apparently favored locations close to Nyack, New York), and where a reviewer noted that the “qualities which make them appeal are their directness – all were painted from nature instead of from sketches…”  At least one work was of a New York scene, and depicted the grounds of Samuel Untermyer’s House “Greystone” (the former home of Samuel J. Tilden) in Hudson, New York.  

There has been the suggestion by a number of different researchers and historians that Robinson was associated with the colony of artists working at Old Lyme, Connecticut during this period (c. 1910-1915).  After careful investigation, there does not appear to be any evidence to support this claim, even though it is noted in Peter Hastings Falk’s massive work, Who was Who in American Art.  The Florence Griswold Museum, which holds a large collection of material concerning the colony, has revealed that there is no mention of Robinson being involved there and no evidence he ever exhibited with the group.  Further, there is also no evidence he was ever a regular visitor to that part of the state and no identified paintings of that area have ever surfaced.

In 1916 Robinson again participated in a number of exhibitions – including at the Marshall Field Art Gallery in Chicago – and then the following year something happened – he disappeared.  For nearly a decade he vanished from the art world altogether.  Part of his vanishing can be explained by the fact he had moved his residence from New York City to the lower part of upstate New York.  He appears first as a resident of Pawling, located in Dutchess County in 1925 and by 1930 was residing in Carmel, located in Putnam County.  He finally settled in the small village of Mahopac Falls, also located Putnam County, New York, sometime after 1930.  

However, it is entirely unclear why he made this move and why he chose to no longer participate in the regular, public exhibition of his work.  He could certainly have continued to submit, even from his new home.  Perhaps America’s entry into World War I in 1917 made him nervous about having to serve in the military.  Or maybe he got tired of the hustle and bustle of the city.  One can only speculate.  Some records indicate that Robinson may have been widowed or divorced by the time he moved, but these references are also mired in mystery.  At least one indicates he was widowed before his death, but his wife was actually alive long after he died, living comfortably with her daughter in New Jersey.  These strange discrepancies may never be resolved.  

Whatever the reason, from the point of his move to upstate New York Robinson only appears here and there as an exhibitor.  In 1925 he exhibited a painting of the “Cagayan Valley” as part of the Philippine Cigar Exhibit, which was designed to promote the cigar factories of the Philippines – hardly the level of exhibition he had once been used to.  Then, in 1929, he participated in his last known exhibit at the local Mahopac Firemen’s Fair.  Records in Mahopac reveal little about his activities in the community, other than he was a well-known artist who had a successful career.

Harry Robinson died after suffering a heart attack at Mahopac Falls on Saturday the 18th of March 1933 at the age of sixty-five.  Local papers noted he was an “an artist who specialized in landscapes and animal pictures… and in recent years had devoted himself entirely to his paintings,” and that he was survived by his sister-in-law, Berline H. Williams.  His body was brought down to the city and the funeral services were held at St. Michael’s Church, located at 99th Street and Amsterdam Avenue at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, the 21st of March 1933.  In another unusual twist, Robinson’s body was buried in Section K, Lot 590 of St. Michael’s Cemetery in Astoria, Long Island, New York.  What makes it odd is he is buried in a plot belonging to Mrs. Sophia E. Ransford.  There appears to be no relation between the Ransford family and Robinson, and no indication of how or why he was buried in the plot.  If nothing else, there was never anything simple about the life (or death) of Harry Robinson.

As an artist, Robinson was perhaps best known for his works that were inspired by the impressionist movement, and his oils (he also worked in watercolor) are usually characterized by a rich impasto.  But he was just as comfortable working with a tonalist palette when the need arose, and many of his works have a soft, atmospheric quality to them.  While on occasion he did depict urban scenes (primarily in and around New York City), many of his paintings offer a view of rural America.  Scenes drawn from the heart of the wooded landscapes of lower New York State were a recurring theme for Robinson, perhaps because of his upbringing in England, where the majority of the great forests had been swept away by the advent of the industrial revolution.  

Though many of the titles of his works are generic, such as “After a Spring Rain” or “Last Glow,” some reveal the locations where they were painted, such as “Farmington River, CT,” “Dawn, Darien, Conn.,” “Piermont [NY] Winter,” "Saw Mill River,” and “The Ice-Bound Hudson,” the last two which were exhibited at the National Academy in 1911.  Views along the Hudson and other rivers appear to have been a particular favorite of Robinson, as were the bridges located around New York City.  Recently (2015) a painting purportedly showing a view of Gloucester Harbor at night appeared at auction, however, the identifying inscription on the verso appears to be later than the painting, which more likely depicts an event along the Hudson River.

Though there are undoubtedly other exhibitions in which Robinson participated, those presently known include the following:  National Academy of Design, New York, NY, 1896, 1909-1911;
James Rice Art Rooms, New York, NY, 1910; Katz Gallery, “Thumb Box” Exhibition, New York, NY, 1910; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1910; Lauterbach Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, 1913; Babcock & Snedecor Galleries “All American” Exhibition, New York, NY, 1913; Arnot Art Gallery – American Federation of the Arts Exhibition, Elmira, NY, 1913; Snedecor Galleries, New York, NY, 1912, 1913, 1914 (solo), 1916; Allied Artists of America Inaugural Exhibition, New York, NY, 1914; Lotus Club “Unhung” National Academy Exhibition, New York, NY, 1916; Marshall Field Art Galleries, Chicago, IL, 1916; Philippine Cigar Exhibit, 1925; Mahopac Firemen’s Fair, Mahopac, NY, 1929.

His landscape works are known to be in the following public institutions at present:  Cigna Museum and Art Collection, Philadelphia, PA.  The majority of his works reside in private collections throughout the United States.

Biography from the Archives of askART

Robinson painted at Old Lyme and exhibited After a Spring Rain, After the October Storm, The Last Glow, Saw Mill River and The Ice-Bound Hudson between 1909 and 1911 at the National Academy of Design.  At the Corcoran Gallery he showed After a Spring Rain in 1910.  In the following year he exhibited A Gray Day in November and The Ice Pond after a Thaw at the Carnegie International. 

Basically a naturalistic landscape painter, Robinson shows a degree of assimilation to impressionism in his use of violet hues and in the expressive application of impasto pigment.  He obviously worked from a fully loaded brush that results in a textural impasto that is a delight in itself, yet there is no systematic use of broken color, as Childe Hassam practiced.  Hassam's arrival at Old Lyme in 1903, along with that of Willard Metcalf, changed the orientation of the artists' colony almost completely from tonalism to impressionism.  Robinson was obviously responding to those innovations.

When Robinson died in 1933, the Lyme Art Association was undergoing financial problems.  Florence Griswold would live until 1937, guiding visitors through her colonial house.  But largely the Griswold Mansion had become a nostalgic curiosity.  On the other hand, Old Lyme remained the choice of many landscape painters, and into the early 1960s, Will Howe Foote (1874-1965), William Chadwick (1879-1962), Guy Wiggins (1883-1962), and Harry Hoffman (1874-1966) were still exhibiting there.

Submitted by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.
R.H. Love Galleries

Biography from the Archives of askART
A New York landscape painter, Hal Robinson became known in the early twentieth century for Tonalist and Impressionist-inspired paintings of rural subjects, winter scenes, and river, ocean, harbor, town, and garden views. The details of his training are unknown.

By 1896 he was living at 406 West 57th Street, and that year he showed for the first time at the National Academy of Design, contributing a work entitled "The Meadow" to the Academy's spring annual. By 1909 Robinson had moved to 45 John Street in lower Manhattan. That year he exhibited two works at the Academy: "After a Spring Rain, and After the October Storm." In 1910 he sent "After a Spring Rain" to the Corcoran Annual in Washington D.C. and showed the "Last Glow" at the Academy. His last contribution to the Academy was a year later when he exhibited "Saw Mill River and The Ice-Bound Hudson.'' The Hudson was a subject of particular appeal for Robinson, who portrayed it from the Palisades, north of Manhattan, as well as at night in softly toned images. In addition to painting in Westchester and upstate New York, Robinson is known to have worked in Old Lyme, Connecticut, where he joined the town's artists' colony.

Cavalier Galleries

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About  Hal Robinson

Born:  1867 - Leominster, County Hereford, England
Died:   1933
Known for:  landscape and cityscape painting