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Artist Biography

Henry Roderick Newman was best known for his watercolor paintings of flowers and architectural subjects. He was born in Easton, New York and later moved to New York City with his family around 1845. He was persuaded to follow in his father’s path as a physician, but in 1861, with the death of his father, Newman abandoned his studies and immediately took up painting. His mother gave him one year to prove himself as an artist and so he spent six months painting in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The results were several highly finished nature studies, three of which were exhibited later that year at the National Academy of Design.

From 1861 to 1870, Newman was an active member of the art community, exhibiting almost yearly at the National Academy and Brooklyn Art Association. Encouraged by his friend Thomas Charles Farrer, Newman became interested in Ruskin and the American Pre-Raphaelite tradition of accurately portraying nature in art. He was elected a member of the short-lived Association for the Advancement of Truth in Art in 1864. From 1865 to 1866, Newman taught at the Free School of Art for Women at The Cooper Union. In 1868, he moved to Florida, but the following year he was living near Sing Sing, New York, on the Hudson River. Newman traveled to Europe in 1870 and first enrolled in the atelier of Jean-Léon Gérome at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Within weeks, his studies were interrupted by the Franco-Prussian war and Newman moved to Italy, first to Florence, then to Venice in 1871.

In 1879, Newman met and befriended John Ruskin, who had already purchased several of his watercolors. In June 1883, Newman married and the couple settled permanently in Florence where he held a studio that attracted such luminaries as the Brownings, Henry James, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. From 1888 to 1891 and again in 1894, Newman wintered in Egypt. Newman traveled to Japan in the late 1890s.

Newman’s work is housed in important public collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Huntington Library & Gardens, Denver Art Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Nelson-Atkins Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Linda S. Ferber and William H. Gerdts, The New Path: Ruskin and the American Pre-Raphaelites (New York: The Brooklyn Museum, 1985)