Henri was raised in a well to do cultural family, but his father disliked his son’s interest toward painting. Music had always been always a major part in the Hucklenbroich Family. Henri himself played the cello, and his father played the violin.
The Institut Saint-Louis was founded in 1858 to accommodate pupils from the new district Leopold, located right next to Molenbeek. Henri, in all likelihood attended this prestigious school, and eventually moved on to a period of study of Horticulture at L’ecole Horticulturele de Gembloux. It may have been here that he discovered his ability for artwork,while studying plants and flora. Disregarding his father’s intentions, he decided to pursue a career in painting.
In 1879, Henri went to Germany to visit the Kassel Art Academy to study and practice under Hermann Knackfuß, a master pupil of Eduard Bendemann, historical-scenes painter of the Duesseldorfer school. The works of the painter Hermann Knackfuss – in styles of historicism – are dedicated partly generally historical representations, to partly church motives. In 1880 Knackfuss was appointed as the professor of the academy of arts in Kassel.
Here, under the tutelage of Herr Knackfuss, Henri honed his skills, making reproductions of 16th century art such as Rembrandt; his monumental reproduction was Rembrandt’s Jacob Blessing the Children of Joseph.
This painting was favoured by his own father, Joseph, taking a focal centrepiece in Joseph’s “wohnzimmer” or parlour room of his home in Molenbeek. Knackfuss built a solid friendship with Huklenbroich and allowed him to extend his stay in Kassel Museum which includes many works by Rembrandt.
Huklenbrok attended the Academie Julian in Paris in 1894. The Academy was founded in 1868 by the artist Rudolphe Julian.With its progressive ideas, the Academie became an alternative to the state-run art school, Ecole des Beaux Arts.
Henri, embarrassed by his complicated original name Hucklenbroich, reverted to a Flemish sounding name of “Huklenbrok” which he painted on his works.
Changes were in the air. Female students were allowed in the school and participated in life drawing classes, an activity that was considered improper for women at the time.
In 1888-1889, Les Nabis originated as a rebellious group of young student artists from the Académie Julian.By 1890, they began to successfully participate in public exhibitions, while most of their artistic output remained in private hands or in the possession of the artists themselves.
Huklenbrok was a student of Jean-Paul Laurens (1838 – 1921), a French painter and sculptor, and one of the last major exponents of the French Academic style. After his time with Knackfuss, the skills displayed no real challenge artically to Lauren’s classic style. The style adhered to the neo-classical masterpieces. Fortunately, like many students at the time, Henri was able to attend other classes at l’ École des Beaux-Arts.
Gustave Moreau (6 April 1826 – 18 April 1898) was a French Symbolist painter whose main focus was the illustration of biblical and mythological figures. Moreau in his elder years became more recolutionary in style, and when he joined the the École des Beaux-Arts, he preached a rebellious style to his students.
Henri,observing the indepedence of his fellow students, was able to see the opportunities arising to fulfil his dreams of a career as an artist. Networking with fellow artists came easily to the middle class who could afford the extremely well developed train network that had burdegeoned since the 1870s. Young men such as Henri travelled between Belgium, France, Germany and Holland with ease. He appears to have spent his time between Brussels at his parents’ home and for exhibits, Paris for his studio, and Brittany, where he would find subjects to paint with several other artists.
Henri befriended one of the member of les XX and La Libre Esthtique, Henri de Groux, a Belgian Symbolist painter, sculptor and lithographer. His 1889 painting Christ aux Outrages, widely described as his masterwork, depicted Jesus being attacked by a mob.. De Groux was a polyvalent individual, an accomplished individual who despite his leanings to socialism – this was unsettling mood at the time at the end of the 19th century Paris.
De Groux would eventually invite Henri to paint with him in Brittany at the end of spring in 1895. Huklenbrok’s encounters would change his life.