Henry, (Emily) Grace (1868–1953), painter, was born 10 February 1868 at Kirktown St. Fergus, near Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, ninth of ten children of the Rev. John Mitchell and Jane Mitchell (née Gardner). Her maternal grandmother was a cousin to the poet Lord Byron. She was educated at home, where the family enjoyed a comfortable existence, and through her mother's family she experienced London society when staying at their house in Piccadilly. She remained in the family home until the death of her father (1895). Finding herself in somewhat reduced circumstances, she embarked on an artistic career. She is first recorded as exhibiting at the Aberdeen Artists Society (1896, 1898), though none of her paintings from this early period can now be traced. She left Scotland in 1899 for the Continent, travelling in Holland and Belgium, where she studied at the Blanc‐Guerrins academy in Brussels, before arriving in Paris, where she attended the Delacluze academy. In Paris she met the Irish artist Paul Henry (qv), whom she was to marry in London in September 1903. The couple lived at various locations outside London for the next seven years. Only a handful of works by Henry are known from this period. They include the painting ‘The girl in white’ (Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, Dublin), which in its muted colours, strongly abstracting approach to composition, and restrained brushwork shows the influence of James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), with whom her husband had trained in Paris.
In 1910 the Henrys travelled for the first time to Achill Island, where they were to live until 1919. A notable feature of her work of this period is that many of her paintings are of nocturnal scenes. ‘Achill cottages’ (Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, Dublin) is a fine example of the richness of colour she achieved in such scenes. The composition is typical in that the eye is drawn into the scene through the lane winding through the cottages. The low viewpoint and emphasis on the lights shining from the houses capture a striking sense of atmosphere, something which was to be an enduring concern for her throughout her career. Other works such as ‘The top of the hill’ (c.1910–13; Limerick City Gallery of Art), which depicts a group of island women, are more illustrative in style. However, this period spent on Achill put considerable strain on her marriage, as she felt much less settled there than her husband. Problems began to appear that were to lead to the break‐up of their marriage (1924). Contributing to this was her affair (1921–2) with Stephen Gwynn (qv), whom she strikingly portrayed, wearing an orange jacket and slicing oranges, in an oil painting, ‘The orange man’ (Limerick City Gallery of Art). The Henrys were legally separated in 1930.
Having returned to live in Dublin in 1919 the Henrys were founder members, along with Laetitia Hamilton (qv), Mary Swanzy (qv), and Jack B. Yeats (qv), of the Society of Dublin Painters in 1920. This provided a much needed venue for the exhibition of modern art by younger Irish artists. In the 1920s and through the 1930s Henry continued to develop her individual style, and during these years she spent much of her time in France and Italy. In Paris (1924–5) she studied with the cubist painter André Lhote, as did a number of other Irish women artists including Mainie Jellett (qv), though he exerted the least influence on the style of Henry. She also painted in Venice and around the Italian lakes. Works such as ‘The red house at Mougins’, painted in the south of France, and ‘Sails at Choggia’, painted in Italy, with their fauvist tendencies, show the freedom of brushwork and vibrancy of colour she achieved at the height of her artistic powers. Her work could also be expressionistic, as in ‘Spring in winter’ of the 1920s. The overriding concern with all this formal experimentation, however, was to convey to the viewer the keenly felt sensations aroused in her by her subjects.
With the onset of war Henry returned to Ireland. She led a nomadic existence, staying with friends and living in hotels. Her vivacious and volatile personality tended to give way to melancholy with the loneliness of her later years. She continued to exhibit, however, showing her work regularly at the RHA and mounting solo exhibitions at the Waddington and Dawson galleries in Dublin. She became an honorary member of the RHA in 1949.
She died 11 August 1953 and was buried at Mount Jerome cemetery. She was overshadowed by her husband (who omitted any mention of her in his two‐volume autobiography) throughout her career and in the years after her death. However, her oeuvre began to be reassessed in the 1970s. As a result of the exhibition ‘The paintings of Paul and Grace Henry’ held at the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art (1991), Grace Henry emerged to a wider public as a significant artist in her own right. Having absorbed fully the lessons of the modernist movement, she was a much more adventurous painter than Paul, as seen in ‘The long grey road of Disting’ (1915) – a peaty precursor to ‘L'escalier rouge’ (1920) by Chaïm Soutine (1893–1943) – and her fauvist landscapes. Her distinctive work has continued to generate considerable interest as her popularity has grown.