As artist, teacher and chief inspiration to the group known as the Ashcan School, Robert Henri (1865-1929) always sought to "paint the people," responding with immediate, vigorous strokes to teeming scenes of everyday life in New York City. Henri's techniques were conservative but his subjects were not, and as a result he gave new life to early 20th-century American realism.

Evidence of all of this -- plus Henri's passion for travel, and his wicked wit -- can be seen in the group of his drawings now on view at Mickelson Gallery. No scholarly enterprise, the show is made up of pencil, ink and crayon sketches from the Henri estate, none of them researched or dated, and only two of them signed (the others bear the estate stamp).

Many of the more personal sketches speak for themselves, such as the puckish caricature of fellow painter George Luks in "Luks Playing Ball," or the scene of an impoverished artist hard at work on a canvas propped against a crate. Another is "Street Scene in Pont Aven," the most significant image of the show. In it, Henri incorporates an inset of one of Gauguin's views of Breton women. But we don't have the facts here to provide historical context. Was Henri influenced by Gauguin? Was this just an esthetic pun? Other works look like studies for illustrations, but what illustrations?

True, Mickelson's is not a museum. But at these prices potential buyers might more willingly take the plunge if there were a more authoritative presentation. A treat in any case, the show will continue through Feb. 16 at 709 G St. NW. Hours are Mondays through Fridays, 9:30 to 5, and Saturdays 9:30 to 3. Agnes Jacobs at Kornblatt

Agnes Jacobs has produced a frenzy of work since her breakthrough shift from painting to sculpture last year. The happy results are now on view at Kornblatt Gallery in a show of barely contained exuberance.

An accomplished decorative abstractionist with Cubist influence, Jacobs was last seen as a painter who incorporated elements of collage. Since then, she has burst out of the confines of painting to create dozens of three-dimensional wall reliefs from cut-out wooden shapes -- circles, balls, finials, perforated disks, squiggles and pegs -- all attached to a large oval or rectangular backing, and stacked, tipped or otherwise locked into lively compositions that burst out at the edges.

Jacobs has not abandoned her gift for color, and has further enlivened her surfaces with brightly painted zigzags, stripes and dots, adding more texture with bits of corrugated metal and sand. Titles like "Blast Off" and "Playground" underscore the impression of celebration. Her show continues through Jan. 30 at 406 Seventh St. NW. Paul Davis at Osuna

It is never quite clear exactly what's going on in the best of Paul Davis' paintings, now at Osuna Gallery. Nudes, workmen, models and artists cavort in ambiguous settings that look like construction sites, and often are. And though the figures are rendered with photo-realist precision, they all dissolve into near-apparitions in his transparent, layered and often prism-like space.

Titles like "Night Swim" help in decoding these images, though it takes a bit of looking to see the pool in that spooky, mostly gray, black and white scene; or to bring into focus the back of the paint-splattered artist painting from a starkly lit nude model in "Brownstone." Though the works on paper tend to be strongest, some small new paintings on canvas show an interesting thrust toward greater clarity, while maintaining the mystery.

Davis heads the art department at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. His work will be featured at Osuna, 406 Seventh St. NW, through Feb. 1. Hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 6. Paintings by Jane Dow

In her last show two years ago, Washington artist Jane Dow had just begun to shift from making minimal abstract drawings to making large figurative paintings in which she scratched simple human outlines (including her own) into a thick, darkly painted gessoed ground. The result was taut, primal images, sometimes telling, sometimes not.

Since then, Dow has made another move, this one straight into the Neo-Expressionist camp. Paintings of cowering, fleeing figures -- often pursued by evil forces -- dominate her show. Perhaps because we have been gorged with such generalized angst, these paintings seem redundant and less affecting than the earliest work on view, titled "If," which recalls her last show. Though this outing finds Dow in an exploratory phase, and still seeking a fully realized style, she is always worth looking in on. Her show continues at Osuna through Feb. l.