Born in Charleston, South Carolina and orphaned at an early age, Edward Lamson Henry had sufficient means, family ties and social connections to enter the art circles of New York at the highest level. Following early art studies in that city with Walter Mason Oddie, he enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1858, coming under the instruction of Paul Weber. His most formative period, however, occurred in Paris between 1860 and 1862 at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts. There, he worked with the academicians Joseph-Nicholas Robert-Fleury and Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre, whose penchant for scenes of classical antiquity cast in nostalgic terms exerted a permanent influence. Henry returned to New York in 1862 and established a studio at the popular Tenth Street Studio Building.
During the Civil War, Henry served as captain’s clerk on board a Union supply ship in the James River. From this vantage point, he made a series of sketches, dating to 1864, based on his observations of the Virginia countryside under siege from Union forces. Station on the Morris and Essex Railroad, also painted in 1864, marked the beginning of Henry’s interest in sentimental depictions of antiquated train stations. He was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1867 and elevated to full academician in 1869. That same year, The Old Westover House, a painting based on the artist’s war sketches, was exhibited, the earliest of a series of works which recounted transformations in Southern life and culture. Henry made a study trip to Europe in 1871 and, upon his return in 1872, completed his monumental City Point, Virginia, Headquarters of General Grant. President Grant was said to be so taken with the accuracy of the painting that he invited the artist to the White House. At that meeting, the president told Henry that “we are the men who make history, but you are the men who perpetuate it.”
From 1875 to 1880, Henry and his wife lived in London where he exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Suffolk Street Gallery, home of the Gallery of British Artists, specialists in traditional historical genre painting. From an address in London, Henry exhibited at the 1878 Universal Exposition in Paris. Beginning in the 1880s, Henry became a central figure in the emerging summer art colony of Cragsmoor, located in Ulster County, New York, which later attracted such noted painters as Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh, Helen Maria Turner and Charles Courtney Curran.
In a tribute read at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Design following Henry’s death, academy president Samuel Herbert Adams noted that no one could “doubt the peculiar historic interest as well as the genuine charm of the paintings of Edward Lamson Henry” whose “art has a characteristic American quality.” In Sight of Home typifies one of the essential themes in Henry’s work, the passage from an unknown locale to one more endearingly familiar. An older couple would seem to be returning from a journey to the delight of their miniscule relations on the far horizon. Though the setting and models are associated with Henry’s life at Cragsmoor, the presence of the African American child riding on the back of the buggy echoes Henry’s Southern scenes.
Henry’s work can be found in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, New-York Historical Society and Terra Foundation for American Art.