Born in Ayrshire, George Henry was born into the Hendry family, and as an adult removed the ‘D’ from his name. In 1881 Henry joined the painters James Guthrie, Edward Walton and Joseph Crawhall to paint at Brig O Turk in the Trossachs. This group formed the ‘Glasgow Boys.’ Henry is probably best known for his influence on the group; encouraging them into a richer use of colour and slightly more decorative style.
In the 1880’s the Glasgow Boys were at the forefront in Scottish art, and they marked the beginning of modernism in Scotland. It was during this time that the Edinburgh based artists, Fergusson, Peploe and Cadell, known as the Scottish Colourists became aware of the Glasgow Boys. Both parties had a growing disillusionment with the traditional academic painting, something that was incredibly popular in Edinburgh at the time. Both groups preferred to paint directly onto the canvas, en plein air, and looked to Paris and the art of the Impressionists to infuse light and light into their work.
Henry worked with the Glasgow Boys consistently throughout his career, but in 1883 he lived at Eyemouth near Cockburnspath, with Guthrie. Guthrie and his impressionistic ‘Square brush’ technique influenced Henry’s work at this stage. In 1884 Henry returned to Cockburnspath along with Walton, Guthrie and Arthur Melville and his artistic style progressed greatly. His principal work that summer was ‘Playmates,’ painted mostly ‘en plein-air,’ in a manner learnt from the emerging Impressionist movement.
In 1885 Henry met Edward Hornel who persuaded him to paint in Galloway, and in the following year they painted together at Kirkcudbright. His time in Kirkcudbright was incredibly formative; the surrounding landscape suited Henry and he was to paint many of his most successful works there.
He was working in watercolour as well as oil, a medium in which he was naturally gifted. In 1889 Henry painted A Galloway Landscape, which came to epitomise and define the style of the Kirkcudbright group; in particular an emphasis upon rich colour and a regard for decorative patterns of a flattened picture plane. The painting represents the most progressive aspect of the Glasgow School, and although Henry had no contact with France, it approaches the work of the Pont-Aven group. In 1890 Hornel and Henry worked together on The Druids in which incised gesso and overlaid gold provide a strong decorative element, while Celtic mythology provides the subject.
During the 1890s Henry painted fine portraits both in oil and watercolour, executed with great panache and a strong use of colour. His paintings maintained a Japanese flavour for the rest of his career. After 1900, he settled in London, which would be his home for the rest of his life, painting portraits and figures in landscape. He was elected a member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1902 and an associate of the Royal Academy in London.