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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Henry, Lucien Felix (1850–1896)

by Arthur McMartin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Lucien Felix Henry (1850-1896), artist, was born at Sisteron, France, son of French parents. He studied under Viollet-le-Duc and at the Ecole des Beaux Arts under Gérôme. A communard, he was sentenced to death for political offences in the 1871 Paris commune but was exiled to New Caledonia. In June 1879 after a political amnesty he went to Sydney where on 6 January 1880 he married a widow Juliette Lopes, née Lebeau, according to Presbyterian rites. 'After a struggle' he was appointed instructor at the first modelling school in the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts. In 1883 his appointment as art instructor at the Sydney Technical College was probably due to Edward Combes. In 1884 Henry was paid £250 a year for teaching 'Geometry, Perspective, Freehand, Drawing and modelling' and was also given the fees of all students entering his classes. In 1886 he asked for a salary increase for his additional work in teaching and preparing diagrams for the design class; he also taught privately. In 1888 he arranged the New South Wales court at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition. A founder of the Art Society of New South Wales, he was a committee member by 1884 and often exhibited for the society.

Active as both an artist and a teacher, Henry worked in many fields including sculpture, modelling, terracotta work, architecture and design. He discovered the artistic possibilities of the waratah and advocated the use of Australian colours, fauna and flora for decorative art. He executed many portraits and busts and designed the stained-glass windows in Sydney Town Hall. His series of Australian designs, now in the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, show his technical skill. He also drafted a 'majestic' design for a stillborn parliament house. Although not a member of the Heidelberg school he sympathized with its efforts to develop a distinctively Australian art, but failed in his own similar ambitions. Handsome, 'with a Victor-Hugo head and the Victor-Hugo enthusiasm', a magnetic personality and tireless energy, Henry exercised a powerful influence for good on Australian sculpture and on his students who included the well-known Benjamin Minns, Sydney Cathels, G. H. Aurousseau and Lucien Dechaineux.

On 25 May 1891 Henry returned to France after a farewell banquet. In that year he published in Paris the Legend of the Waratah and dedicated it to Fred Broomfield, prominent in Labor circles in New South Wales. In Sydney, 'with intent to vex and harass', bankruptcy proceedings were taken against him by his stepson at the instance of his wife who also started divorce proceedings. Henry died on 10 March 1896 at Le Pavé, St Léonard, Haute-Vienne, where he was buried. He left his estate of £23 to Harry André Henry, who was living with him at Le Pavé and whom he left to the guardianship of Elizabeth Kenny of New South Wales. Aged 58 Juliette Henry died on 25 January 1898 at Sydney and was buried in the Catholic section of Waverley cemetery. Before her death she had lectured on French literature in Tasmania and wrote French plays that were translated by Lady Hamilton, wife of the governor.

Select Bibliography

  • R. T. Baker, The Australian Flora in Applied Art (Syd, 1915)
  • Bernard Smith, Australian Painting 1788-1960 (Melb, 1962)
  • 'Henry, Lucien', in A. McCulloch, Encyclopedia of Australian Art (Lond, 1968), pp 263-64
  • G. H. Aurousseau, ‘Lucien Henry: First Lecturer in Art at the Sydney Technical College’, Technical Gazette of New South Wales, vol 2, part 3, Aug 1912, pp 33-35
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 4 Apr 1889
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 May 1891
  • Board of Technical Education, minute books, 1883-89 (State Records New South Wales)
  • bankruptcy file, 8815 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Arthur McMartin, 'Henry, Lucien Felix (1850–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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