Wednesday, June 29, 2011


William James Glackens, 1914
William James Glackens (March 13, 1870 – May 22, 1938) graduated from Philadelphia's Central High with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1890. Two of his classmates were fellow artist John Sloan, and noted Art collector Albert Barnes. Later on, Glackens helped Barnes start what became one of the most famous art collections in America. But first, Glackens started his career in art out by illustrating for various newspapers, books, and magazines. He was considered an 'artist reporter' and did work for the Philadelphia Record, the Philadelphia Press and other papers in the early 1900's. Reporters would rush to the scene, make a fast sketch and then later finish it from memory before bringing it to the press. At the same time, Glackens was studying painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with contemporaries George Luks, John Sloan and Everett Shinn. It was at the Academy where Glackens and his friends met master teacher and artist, Robert Henri. Henri had a profound influence on them. These artists, together with George Bellows, Ernest Lawson and others would later become known as the 'Ashcan painters' because they often drew their subject matter from real life, urban life. The Ashcan School was not really a school, but a way of painting. The artists in this movement wanted to show turn-of-the-century New York City as it was; through portraits of daily life in the city, not idealized versions. It's been said that Urban Realism was the first important American art movement of the early twentieth century.

Blind Beggar in Store
charcoal heightened with white gouache
From Philadelphia Museum of Art at

After school Glackens became an artist-reporter for the Philadelphia Record. In 1892 he left that publication and began illustrating for the Philadelphia Press, where he covered various subjects. He then began taking classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He was not a steady pupil, as Forbes Watson asserts in an article written in 1923: “So much impression did the various instructors make upon him that today he can hardly remember who taught there when he was a pupil.” John Sloan also attended the Academy, and he introduced Glackens to Robert Henri. Henri began to arrange meetings at his studio to have discussions and give artistic criticism.
In 1895, Glackens traveled to Europe with several fellow painters, including Sloan and Henri. He first visited Holland where he studied the Dutch masters. They then moved to Paris where Glackens rented a studio for a year with Henri. Such a trip was common for artists of the time who wished to establish themselves in the artworld. It was Glackens’s first trip to Paris, but for the others it was a return trip. While in Paris, Glackens painted independently, but did not attend any schools. He returned to America in 1896 to work in New York. Later in his life, Glackens returned periodically to paint in Paris and the South of France.
Upon settling in New York in 1896, Glackens attained a job as an artist for the New York World. He got this position through his friend George Luks who was also an illustrator. Glackens soon became a sketch artist for the New York Herald. He also worked for various magazines as an illustrator.
In particular, Glackens illustrated for McClure's Magazine. McClure’s sent him to Cuba to make a series of drawings covering the Spanish-American War. When he returned, Glackens continued to illustrate for magazines, although his real passion was in painting. In 1901, he exhibited at the Allen Gallery with Henri and Sloan, and began to gain notice for his artwork.
In 1904 Glackens married Edith Dimock. She was also an artist, and they lived together in New York.

Hammerstein's Roof Garden, 1901

While establishing his reputation as a graphic artist, Glackens also began to paint in oils and was a regular participant in the Pennsylvania Academy's annual exhibitions. Hammerstein's Roof Garden (above), a cabaret scene, was his first important oil painting and was exhibited at the Allen Gallery in New York.
(Encylopaedia Britannica 2004)

William James Glackens
Glackens began to associate with a group of artists now known as The Eight, or the Ashcan Group. They included Robert Henri, Arthur B. Davies, Maurice Prendergast, Ernest Lawson, William Glackens, Everett Shinn, John French Sloan, and George Luks. These men did not create the name themselves, but after their exhibition of 1908, it became their unofficial title. They decided to hold a separate exhibition after being continually rejected from the National Academy’s events. It was a way to reject the controlling group's rigid definition of artistic beauty. Their exhibit was well received and was sent on tour as a traveling show curated by Sloan. They gained national recognition and were invited to exhibit at many institutions. Most of the Eight also participated in the "Exhibition of Independent Artists" in 1910, an attempt to break down the exclusivity of the academy.
The Eight are known for their realist style and are considered key figures in the realist movement. They depicted urban scenes and welcomed artistic freedom. Like Glackens, they were journalists, writers, or illustrators before becoming painters. They chose to continue with the style of illustration, which emphasized immediacy as well as community and interaction. Glackens was an integral part of the group. The “genre aspects” of Ashcan art are evident in his work of the time.

Chez Mouquin
Oil on canvas, 1905
The Art Institute of Chicago

Chez Mouquin, above, is arguably Glackens’s most celebrated painting. It is set in the well-known restaurant regularly visited by many of Glackens' associates. The painting is a portrait of James B. Moore, who was a restaurant owner. It depicts him and Jeanne Mouquin at a table. He is drinking, while the lady is turned away looking uninterested. They are reflected in the mirror behind them, along with a large crowd of people in the room. The painting is often compared to those of Degas, but “the sense of despair in Degas’s picture is replaced in the Glackens by a buoyant 'joie de vivre'.” He portrays realist subject matter, the urban life, but does so with happiness and humor.

The Shoppers
Oil on canvas, 1907
The Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia

Two grand canvases dominated William Glackens's wall at The Eight exhibition: The Shoppers (above) and Chez Mouquin, originally titled At Mouquin's. In both paintings friends posed as elegant New Yorkers engaged in fashionable contemporary pursuits. The compositional sophistication and psychological complexity of these paintings prompted comparisons with the work of Manet. Glackens's other paintings in the exhibition depicted busy urban parks in Madrid and New York, as well as the more proletarian crowds at Brighton Beach. Less intense than the two large scale figure paintings, their dense and varied activity recalled some of the magazine illustrations he was making at the time.

Portsmouth Harbor New Hampshire
Oil on canvas, 1909
Private collection

Skating in Central Park
Oil on canvas, c. 1910
Private collection

After the Macbeth exhibition, Glackens moved away from making broadly brushed paintings in a dark toned palette toward manipulating stitchlike strokes of paint in brilliantly vibrating hues. Skating in Central Park, above, with its choppy brushwork and blue shadows, could have been inspired by the painting technique of the impressionists Claude Monet and Pierre Auguste Renoir, although the lively figures are distinctively Glackens's.
By 1910 Glackens began to focus on “highly personal coloristic style” instead of Ashcan ideas. His work was often compared to that of Renoir. It is said that “although he identified with The Eight, who struggled to infuse a lusty spirit into a nearly moribund American art, it was for a brief time only, because his art could not develop within the limits of Ashcan philosophy.” While Glackens continued to paint in a realist style emphasizing a single moment in time and real people, his art experienced a shift that distanced him from his fellow Ashcans.

March Day - Washington Square
Oil on canvas, 1912
Private collection

Italo-American Celebration, Washington Square
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

One of Glackens' favorite subjects was Washington Square Park (above), an old city square that separated Greenwich Village, a working-class neighborhood where many Italian immigrants had settled, and the well-to-do neighborhoods north of the square. Glackens drew and painted the view from his studio on the south edge of the square, focusing on the various types of people who frequented the park—children playing, boys with sleds, young tots with their mothers or nannies, people waiting for the bus, groundskeepers, casual strollers, people hurrying through the park on their way to or from work. Glackens' scenes record the mixing of social classes that occurred in New York City, as immigrants were transformed into American citizens.
In his more than twenty paintings of Washington Square between 1909 and 1914, Glackens often repeats certain figures and motifs. He frequently used the tree at the center of the picture to anchor his compositions, many of which depict the same corner as in the New Britain painting. The woman walking with her hands in a muff also appear in several pictures.
(Metropolitan Museum of Art).
What is more obvious is the artist's interest in using the Impressionist style to suggest weather conditions—rain, snow, mud. In the New Britain picture he uses thick brushstrokes of brown paint to suggest the heavy mud that comes with melting snow. The mud, however, is not just made up of one tone, but has other colors—reds, blues, greens—mixed in the brown brushstrokes. Similarly, the snow is not pure white, but has other tones mixed throughout. When he exhibited his Washington Square works in New York's Folsom Gallery in 1913, critics praised his colorful style and the convincing use of brushwork to suggest cloudy, misty weather.
After 1915 Glackens became most famous for his Impressionist still lifes and figure studies, which were often compared to those of the French Impressionist Pierre-August Renoir.
(Condensed from a larger manuscript written by Margaret Stenz for the museum's collection catalogue - New Britain Museum of American Art at
Glackens is often criticized for his similarity to Renoir. Some even call him an imitator. After the Exhibition of Independent Artists in 1910, Glackens’s style shift was quickly compared to Renoir’s style. It is said that during the 1920s and 1930s “his once vigorous artistic personality had been blunted by too close imitation of Renoir’s late style.” Glackens’s interest in color likens him most to Renoir; Watson claims Glackens to have a “rich palette akin to Renoir’s to express his pure delight in color.”
Glackens is compared to Pascin because they were both “among the best illustrators of their day.” They both used life for their subjects, and also cared about portraying how they view the world. But one strong similarity is the way they both are able to see and emphasize the “humorous aspects” of life.
Glackens died in Westport, Connecticut on May 22, 1938. His legacy is greatly linked to that of the Eight. Although having distanced himself from some of their ideals, he continued to be considered an integral part of the realist movement in American art.

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