Henri! Sargent! Savage! Read All About It!

Middle School, 6-8th Grade / Art & Social Studies
Author: The Newark Museum


Lesson Description

With even a brief glance at John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of a Boy, we know that this child of the Gilded Age led a protected, comfortable life. By comparing it to Robert Henri’s portrait of Willie Gee and Augusta Savage’s Gamin, both poor African American newspaper boys, students will learn that life was not easy for all children of this era. 



At the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

+        Contrast the lives of poor and affluent children of the second Industrial Revolution.

+        Explain Progressives’ concerns about child labor.

+        Create a portrait that represents a late nineteenth- or early twentieth-century child laborer.

+        Write a description of what a child laborer’s day may have been like during the nineteenth or twentieth century. 


Learning Standards

NAES – VisArts – 5–8, 4 
NAES – VisArts – 5–8, 6 

Lesson Activies 

Activity: Look and Think Worksheet 
Each student should have a good view of Willie Gee, by Robert Henri, and Portrait of a Boy, by John Singer Sargent either on a computer, a projection, or as printed color copies. Before discussing these paintings, have students study them silently and write their answers on Worksheet 1 Look and Think. Use the worksheet questions and students’ answers as a framework for class discussion about Henri’s and Sargent’s portraits. Encourage students to notice details that suggest the boys’ personalities, attitudes, and relative affluence. 


Activity : Sculpture Analysis 
Students will view the Newark Museum’s image of Augusta Savage’s Gamin, 1929, a nine-inch plaster bust of a boy, and relate it to the lives of early twentieth-century newsboys.

+        While viewing the sculpture, ask students to describe this boy’s personality from the set of his head and hat.
+        Have students compare Gamin to Henri’s Willie Gee.
+        Ask them how these artworks are alike and different. Explain that a bust is a sculpture of a person’s head, shoulders, and chest. 


Activity: Primary Source Documents
Distribute the excerpt from The Boy’s Life on the Street from The Newsboys of Milwaukee, a report written by Alexander Fleisher in 1911. After students have read the excerpt, ask them to describe some of the things that newsboys did. What did the author consider to be the problems in this job? Explain that usually newsboys paid for their bundle of papers, and if they did not sell the papers, they lost money. Tips were an important part of their income. Reports such as this eventually led to the implementation of child labor laws. Does the student think there is any historical basis for the Gamin sculputre of Willie Gee painting?


Activity: Primary Source Documents
Students create a portrait representing a child laborer from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. They may draw or photograph their subject. Collect clothing for costumes and props, such as hats, old jackets, apples, and a copy of the Newark Museum’s image of  newspapers (see Resources section below). Students may take turns posing as newsboys or other child laborers. In a darkened room, shine a bright spotlight on one side of the student model’s face. Point out the darkest shadows and brightest highlights. Have students create portraits by photographing or sketching these value contrasts.


Activity: Writing a Narrative Journal Entry
Have students write an imaginary jounal entry for a day in the life of the late nineteenth- or early twentieth-century child laborer. They should include information about the job he did, the dangers of the job, and the reasons he had to work. This information should be based on what the students have learned from the previous activities. Display these diary entries with a drawing or photograph of their subject.

Extending the Lesson

  • Art students may create a plaster, papier-mâché, or clay bust similar to Augusta Savage’s, based on their drawing or photograph of a child laborer.     Robert Henri created portraits of children from several cultures including Native Americans and Irish and African Americans. Students may research other portraits of children by Robert Henri.
  • Students can learn more about the life of Homer Saint-Gaudens, the boy in Sargent’s painting, on the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site’s website. After he attended Harvard, he became a respected art museum director, writer, and art critic. They may see the portrait of Violet, John Singer Sargent’s sister, that Augustus Saint-Gaudens sculpted in exchange for Sargent’s portrait of his son, Homer Saint-Gaudens.



Robert Henri
Willie Gee, 1904
oil on canvas
31¼ x 25¼ in.
Newark Museum, Anonymous gift, 1925  25.111

Robert Henry Cozad was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1865. Because of a scandal involving his father, he changed his name to Robert Earle Henri (pronounced hen-rye). From 1886 to 1888, he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, in Philadelphia, before relocating to Paris in 1888 to attend the Académie Julian. After a year in Paris, where he began experimenting with Impressionism, he returned to Philadelphia to complete his schooling.He was a leader of the New York Ashcan School. These artists painted New York City’s back alleys and changing landscape as immigrants and migrants poured into the city. Henri died of cancer, in New York, in 1929.

Newsboy Willie Gee was part of the Great Migration, the human tide of southern African Americans migrating into northern cities after the Civil War and during the early twentieth century. They sought higher pay and better living conditions. Willie Gee and his mother, a former slave, had only recently moved to New York from Virginia when Henri painted his portrait. Willie delivered the daily newspaper to Henri’s studio.



Augusta Savage
Gamin, ca. 1929
painted plaster
9 in.
Newark Museum Collection
Purchase 2005 Helen McMahon Brady Cutting Fund—2005.60

African American sculptor Augusta Fells Savage was born in 1892 in Green Cove Springs, Florida. As a child, she enjoyed creating small clay figures. When her family moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, the principal of her school encouraged her art making, even paying her to teach modeling when she was a high school senior. In 1921, she studied at the art school Cooper Union, in New York. Although she was married for just a short time to James Savage, she kept his name after they divorced. She received a fellowship to study art in Paris and won awards in two salons. During the Great Depression, she ran a basement studio in Harlem. Jacob Lawrence was one of her students. Over time, her studio evolved into the Harlem Community Art Center. Eventually, she moved to Saugerties, New York. Throughout her life, she fought for equal rights for women and minorites. She died of cancer, in New York, in 1962.

Savage’s nephew was probably the model for her 1929 sculpture Gamin. He lived nearby in Harlem. The title Gamin comes from the French word for street urchin. This sculpture became an icon for the Harlem Renaissance, a flowering of black culture centered in Harlem during the 1920s and 1930s.


John Singer Sargent
Portrait of a Boy, 1890
oil on canvas, 56 1/8 x 39½ in.
Carnegie Museum of Art, Picturing America Collection
National Endowment for the Humanities, Picturing America Collection

See 12a, John Singer Sargent, Portrait of a Boy, in Picturing America Educators Resource Book for a description of Sargent’s life, this painting, and how he and Augustus Saint-Gaudens created portraits of each other’s families. Questions for guiding a careful study of Sargent’s Portrait of a Boy are also in the Resource Book.



Newark Daily Advertiser
March 25, 1852
Newark Museum Teaching Collection


Additional Resources

Selected EDSITEment Lesson Plans

What's in a Picture? An Introduction to Subject in the Visual Arts

Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series: Removing the Mask

Portraits: I've Just Seen a Face



Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication does not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Arts.