Henry R. Kenyon was born to Quaker parents in Centreville, Rhode Island in 1861. He studied at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence from 1879 – 1882, then made his initial trip to Europe at age 21. He studied in Paris at the Academie Julian, and traveled extensively in France.
Contemporary American painter, printmaker, and photographer Arthur Wesley Dow also studied at the Academie, and the two became lifelong friends. Mr. Dow also became an influential artist and arts educator.
The French Impressionist style suited Kenyon and he remained devoted to his art throughout his life. He typically painted humble everyday landscapes, often with brilliant color choices.
By 1886 he had produced 33 paintings of the French Brittany coast. His first major exhibit in Providence that March lead to sales of all but one painting. Kenyon returned to France in September, visiting Dow at Pont-Aven – where the preeminent painter Paul Gauguin was also staying, though the two may never have met.
By the fall of 1887 Kenyon had amassed over 15 months a sufficient collection of his works for another US exhibit and he planned to spend a week in Holland. Unfortunately he was taken ill, and his voyage postponed.
On November 19, 1887 he left for America with his works in cabin class on the steamer W. A. Scholten, sailing from Rotterdam. That night, in a thick fog, the Scholten collided at sea with the steamer Rose Marie in the English Channel (Straits of Dover). The side of Kenyon’s vessel was crushed, she listed to starboard and sank. Kenyon was able to cling to floating debris, was rescued in less than two hours by the Ebro, and taken to Dover. All his posessions were lost.
There was much confusion about casualties from the calamity, and Kenyon’s father thought for more than a week that the artist had perished. After returning to Rotterdam the following week, Kenyon finally crossed the Atlantic and arrived in New York on December 10.
The paintings and sketches he had worked on for the previous 15 months lay at the bottom of the English Channel. Kenyon’s resigned comment about this was that he’d had a “fine adventure″ which he couldn’t afford every year.