William Glackens

William Glackens

by William H. Gerdts, Jorge H. Santis, William J. Glackens
     
 

William Glackens was one of the most influential American painters in the first decades of the twentieth century. From his beginnings as a witty magazine artist-illustrator in Philadelphia and New York to his participation in the forward-thinking group of artists dubbed The Eight, Glackens was a perceptive interpreter of his surroundings.
Glackens, one of the

Overview

William Glackens was one of the most influential American painters in the first decades of the twentieth century. From his beginnings as a witty magazine artist-illustrator in Philadelphia and New York to his participation in the forward-thinking group of artists dubbed The Eight, Glackens was a perceptive interpreter of his surroundings.
Glackens, one of the most versatile and popular artists of his time, assimilated the lighthearted modern French themes of spirited cafés and bustling parks and resorts in such canvases as Chez Mouquin (1905) and Sledding, Central Park (1912). An admirer of the more traditional figure painting of the Impressionist Renoir, his name also became closely linked to the modern artists who exhibited their works at the famous Armory Show of 1913, which Glackens helped organize.
This important study, the first major monograph on Glackens, includes an insightful essay by Dr. William Gerdts and a complete catalog, introduced by curator Jorge Santis, describing the incomparable holdings of the Glackens Collection of the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. With a chronology, bibliography, and index, this profusely illustrated volume is sure to become the standard reference on Glackens for historians and collectors of twentieth-century art.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Glackens (1870-1938) was a leading American impressionist, a great realist figurative painter and a witty chronicler of urban life; all these aspects of his work are on full display in this vibrantly illustrated study. It catalogues the amazing Glackens Collection of the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, to which Ira Glackens, the artist's son, bequeathed more than 400 of his father's artworks in 1990. The Philadelphia-born painter's mainstream impressionist pictures, made under the influence of Renoir beginning around 1910, look sensuous yet stilted. Much more convincing are his gritty Paris street scenes (1895-1896) and the poetic, magical renditions of ephemeral urban and suburban pleasures made in and around New York City. In his engaging essay, City University of New York art history professor Gerdts, an authority on American impressionism, shows how Glackens's embrace of the incisive Ashcan school realism of The Eight, a group that also included John Sloan and Maurice Prendergast, flowed from his experience as a freelance illustrator and artist-reporter. Santis, the museum's curator, provides selective commentary on individual works. (July)
Library Journal
Glackens, perhaps the most sublime of the artists collected under the rubrics "The Eight" or the "Ashcan School," worked in an idiom that echoed the work of Manet and Renoir. Though his work is less well known than that of his friend, John Sloan, it lies at the heart of American Impressionism. Gerdts, one of the foremost historians in the field of American art (Art Across America, LJ 12/90), has written extensively on Impressionism in the past (American Impressionism, 1980). His critical biographical essay on Glackens is informative and provides a good basic background for the artist's work. The heart of this particular volume, however, is the catalog (and complementary essay) by Jorge H. Santis of the nearly 500 works that form the Glackens Collection of the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the most comprehensive collection of the artist's work. Extensively illustrated, this work is highly recommended for larger collections of American art.Martin R. Kalfatovic, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Arlington, Va.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781558598683
Publisher:
Abbeville Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/01/1996
Pages:
279
Product dimensions:
10.30(w) x 12.30(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Early Life and Travels
William Glackens was born on March 13, 1870, at 3214 Sansom Street in Philadelphia; his early years in that city would provide him with an educational and artistic heritage that would be crucial to his mature artistry. The son of Samuel Glackens, an employee of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and his wife, Elizabeth Cartright Finn Glackens, William had two siblings: an older sister, Ada, and an older brother, Louis. William first attended the Northwestern School on the corner of Race and Carlyle Streets in Philadelphia, and then he followed Louis to Central High School, studying there from 1885 to 1890.
Central High School had long been a breeding ground for the city's artistic talents. The school was a progressive institution, with a drawing curriculum that had been established in 1840 by the distinguished painter Rembrandt Peale. The most eminent artistic alumnus before Glackens was Thomas Eakins, who had attended Central High School a generation earlier, graduating in 1861, having been fastidiously inculcated with drawings skills that stood him in good stead during his entire career. Not surprisingly, a few years later Glackens led his associates John Sloan, George Luks, and Everett Shinn in admiration of Eakins's art, along with that of Winslow Homer, and in the future, Glackens would refer to Eakins as "a genius."
Blackness skills as a draftsman were nurtured at Central, where he made tight, precise, and correct drawings as illustrations for a mathematics textbook and for a dictionary, though the vivid calligraphy he later developed was worlds apart from these early illustrations and from Eakins's methodical drawings. Glackens and a schoolmate, under the pseudonyms "Gracie and Kafoodle," also prepared an illustrated story, the "Cruise of the Canoes," the manuscript of which is still extant (Glackens Archives, Susan Conway Gallery, Washington, D.C.). One of Glackens's schoolmates at Central was his future friend and associate John Sloan; equally significant for his future was another fellow pupil, the future art patron Albert C. Barnes, who also entered the school in 1885 and graduated a semester before Glackens.
After graduation, Glackens traveled to Florida with some friends, a trip whose only artistic results were a couple of landscape studies in oils—one of a palm tree and one entitled Florida Swamp (Samuel Vickers collection, Jacksonville, Florida) (the two may, in fact, be identical). He designed the cover of the May 1891 The Fern Leaf (plate 1)—published in Philadelphia by Charles W. Edmonds. One of the artists earliest published illustrations, and signed with his nickname "Butts," it depicts a conventionally idyllic though quite sensuous young woman among the ferns in a wooded bower—much in keeping with contemporary figurative illustration but very different from the newspaper work that Glackens was then beginning to undertake. Utilizing his talents as a draftsman and following in the footsteps of his brother (who worked for Puck in New York), William Glackens signed on as an artist-reporter at the Philadelphia Record in 1891 (see plate 2). His signed illustrations were reproduced there beginning that March; a year later he left for a position at the Philadelphia Press, under the art directorship of Edward W. Davis (father of the future painter Stuart Davis). He was joined there the following year by Everett Shinn, and then by George Luks in 1894 and by Sloan in 1895; this association would be crucial to the new urban realism that culminated in the establishment of The Eight with their joint exhibition held in New York City in 1908.
Newspaper illustration had been popularized by Joseph Pulitzer when he took over the New York World in 1883, and by the early 1890s, most dailies contained pictures. The Press led the field in Philadelphia though until 1892 its artists were generally copying photographs. From that year on, however, fires, strikes, accidents, trials, suicides, and murders were the order of the day for the artist-reporters at the Press. Glackens was particularly remembered for one assignment for the Press when he stood on a reporters shoulders, wriggled through a small window to get into a room, locked by the police, where a murder had taken place, and landed in a pool of the victims blood. Glackenss professional artistry, aided by a prodigious memory, thus emerged in the world of practical experience rather than solely in the confines of art school. Glackens and his colleagues were especially inspired by the graphic modes of the celebrated European illustrators George Du Maurier and Charles Keene.
Meanwhile, Glackens also enrolled in night classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1892 (see plate 3). There he studied along with Sloan under Henry Thouron, instructor in composition, and briefly with Thomas Anshutz; he remained for two years. Sloan introduced Glackens to Robert Henri, who became a close friend and a significant figure in Glackenss artistic career. Henri, recently back from three years of intensive study in Paris, was continuing to take classes at the Academy while teaching at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. In 1893 Sloan, Glackens, and their colleagues organized the Charcoal Club (see plate 4), which met twice a week to work from the nude model, with Henri giving criticism; after half a year the club was disbanded, due both to the arrival of summer and to the depression of that year. In the company of Sloan, Glackens had begun painting landscapes in the countryside around Philadelphia at least as early as the summer of 1892 and possibly even 1890. His Philadelphia Landscape (plate 5), painted in 1893, is one of his earliest oils, and its vivid painterly approach to the urban landscape is a harbinger of his later interpretations of Paris and New York. Despite the currency that the Impressionist movement was gaining at the time in the United States (though less in Philadelphia than in New York), Philadelphia Landscape is more tonal than coloristic, reflecting James McNeill Whistlers impact on Glackens; in 1899 Glackens was noted as considering Whistler and Edouard Manet the great artists of the century. In 1894, with Sloans help, Glackens also undertook to depict the local landscape in a group of etchings, a medium that Sloan had previously explored; Sloan recalled preparing his etching The Schuylkill River that year, "with William Glackens beside me, absorbing his first and only lesson in etching."
In the summer of 1893, Henri assumed leadership of the group of young illustrators of the Philadelphia press, who met at his studio at 896 Walnut Street. From the fall of 1894 through the spring of 1895 Glackens and Henri shared a studio at 1717 Chestnut Street; both artistic discussion, as a sort of sequel to the Charcoal Clubs activities, and lively theatricals, in which Glackens participated, took place there (see plate 6).
Glackens had already spent a weekend with Henri in New York City in April 1894, where presumably he painted The Brooklyn Bridge (now lost), which was shown at the Pennsylvania Academys sixty-fourth annual exhibition—the first public display of his art. The picture was praised in the Philadelphia Public Ledger: "Highly successful, its effect being convincing. It is interesting to note that it hangs in the same place as did Whistler last year. While it would be rash to compare it with the master, it is pretty sure to be more popular." Glackens also submitted two other now-unlocated paintings, The Cathedral and Portrait, but these were not accepted for the show; in 1894, he also produced caricature works for the Fake Exhibition at the Academy.
Factory Scene (plate 7) is another rare early picture, dating possibly from 1895. It depicts a row of industrial buildings, with the emphasis on the tall smoking chimneys, and constitutes a precursor both to the gritty scenes of urban life associated with the future Ashcan School and to the industrial imagery that would become so prevalent in the United States beginning in the 1920s. Autumn Landscape (plate 8), also from this period, is a figurative piece, with women and children dancing in a park to music provided by male musicians, including a harpist; here the overall amber tone and lyrical mood justify the Ledger critics suggestion of a Whistlerian association in Glackenss early paintings.
In June 1895 Glackens—along with his fellow Philadelphia painters Elmer Schofield, Augustus Koopman, and Colin Campbell Cooper plus the newlywed sculptor Charles Grafly and his wife—accompanied Henri to Paris; for all but Glackens, the youngest of the artists, this was a return visit to the French capital. Glackens thus joined the vast contingent of American art students and tyros who traveled to the French capital, beginning in the years immediately after the Civil War, to establish their professional credentials. Unlike the great majority of these (including all of his traveling companions, who had studied at the Académie Julian in the late 1880s and early 1890s), Glackens did not enter any of the popular art schools, nor did he seek private instruction from any of the renowned French artist-teachers.
These Philadelphia artists were not in Paris long, before Henri proposed a bicycle trip to Belgium and Holland. That August he, Glackens, and Schofield, and possibly the Canadian painter James Wilson Morrice, toured the galleries in Brussels, Antwerp, The Hague, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam, attracted especially by the work of Rembrandt and even more by that of Frans Hals. Glackenss painting reached full maturation soon after the friends returned to Paris that autumn. There the lessons of Frans Hals were merged with the inspiration offered by the work of the Impressionists from the Gustave Caillebotte bequest, which went on view in the Musée du Luxembourg in February 1896, while Glackens and Henri were in Paris. Glackens had already admired Manets work at an exhibition at Durand-Ruels New York gallery in March 1895, and in Paris, Manet became an idol for both Americans; Henri would later be referred to as the "American Manet."
Glackens and Henri remained extremely close, renting studios near one another, visiting the Louvre and Luxembourg museums, and enjoying the friendship of the painter Morrice. During their fifteen months in Europe, Glackens and Henri also painted in the countryside around Fontainebleau, but they concentrated on scenes in Paris and the suburb of Charenton, painting with dark, dramatic colors applied vigorously in slashing brushstrokes.
While Glackenss technique bespoke seventeenth-century Baroque masters such as Hals and Diego Velázquez, his subject matter was drawn from Manet, Edgar Degas, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: scenes of Parisian streets, theaters, and cafés, peopled by couples enjoying the freedom of modern urban nightlife. Bal Bullier, No. 1 (plate 9) depicts a couple in the famous dance hall in Montparnasse; the woman's wide skirt slightly indecorously reveals her white petticoat while she enjoys the gaze of a variety of male and female spectators. The work, which was illustrated in Bookman in May 1900 and was perhaps the earliest oil by Glackens to be reproduced, suggests comparison with Manets Ballet Espagnol (1862; Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.).
Outdoor Theatre, Paris (plate 10), of probably the same time, is another scene of Parisian amusement, with women on a stage dancing, perhaps the can-can, clad in more suggestive costumes and exhibiting a good deal more abandon. The vermilion structure and warm yellow glow of the theater lights add to the seductiveness of the scene. One of the most exuberant and striking of Glackenss Paris scenes is Circus Parade (plate 11). It is another night scene, with figures in theatrical costume riding on horses and elephants, their exotic dress constituting brilliant flashes of color against the dark animals and the nocturnal setting. These works introduce Glackenss fascination with the world of entertainment, which he would sustain back in America.
One of Glackenss most unusual compositions of this period is La Villette (plate 12), which shows a cast-iron pedestrian bridge arching over a waterway, against a backdrop of tall Parisian buildings. La Villette was then a commercial section in northeastern Paris, with open-air livestock markets and slaughterhouses, but Glackens has transformed this rather sordid reality into a parklike setting, and what may have been industrial and tenement buildings look more like fashionable apartments. Interestingly, Glackenss etching of the same theme shows a much more gritty background of factories and commercial life. In the painting, adults tend children playing at the water's edge—a favorite motif of the artists that he developed at this time and that found its fullest expression in the series of paintings he created of Luxembourg Gardens, including Sailboats, Luxembourg Gardens (plate 13) and In the Luxembourg (plate 14). These paintings seem partly indebted to Edouard Manets La Musique aux Tuileries (plate 15); Glackens would have seen this painting in the spring of 1895 at the Manet show at Durand-Ruels gallery in New York, just before Glackens left for France. Manets is a brighter scene, and though more crowded it is also more sedate, with the activities of children far less emphasized. Henri, too, painted Luxembourg Gardens, and his Parisian pictures of these years, such as The Storm—La Rue (private collection), are extremely close to Glackenss.
In the Luxembourg shows children playing with hoops and sailing miniature boats in the basin, while a nurse at the left attends an infant in a perambulator. The most prominent figure is the unaccompanied woman with an elaborate flowered hat, hitching up her skirts and striding purposefully toward the viewer. Sailboats, Luxembourg Gardens, a darker painting, situates the viewer almost in the middle of the pond among the miniature boats, with children and adults on the distant walkway watching the informal regatta. Both of these pictures bear comparison with a slightly earlier painting by the renowned American painter William Merritt Chase, The Lake for Miniature Yachts (c. 1890-91; Peter G. Terian collection), which Glackens could well have known from its illustration in Harpers Weekly. One of Glackenss paintings of the Luxembourg Gardens was shown in 1896 at the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts; this may have been In the Luxembourg.
One of the grittiest of Glackenss Parisin pictures is Quatorze Juillet (plate 16), a night scene with celebrating figures densely packed in front of the glowing windows of a café. Both old and young are dancing in the streets, figures larger and more individually characterized than most that appear in his Paris scenes. They seem to represent all strata of society, from top-hatted gentlemen to rough working men in smocks and stout women in aprons—a far cry from most French scenes celebrating Bastille Day.
Almost all of Glackenss Parisian pictures emphasize the casual pleasures of city life. An exception to this is On the Quai (plate 17)—a rather mysterious scene of violent confrontation set against an industrial background. The pictures date has been debated, with the scholar Paul Shakeshaft opting for 1905-6, during the artist's second visit to Paris. But both Ira Glackens and Antoinette Kraushaar (the artist's son and longtime dealer) strongly upheld an 1895 date for the work, and the dark palette and rather summary forms of both figures and buildings do seem to conform to the earlier period. Shakeshaft has identified the location of the scene as the port of Dieppe, with the Quai du Hable on the right bank of the Arques River in the foreground, looking across to a tobacco factory on the Quai de la Marne and the rue Aguado.
As in other of Glackenss 1895-96 paintings, the artist purposefully emphasized a variety of participants in On the Quai: a number of well-dressed boys and girls as well as adults of both genders and various ages, and judging by their costumes, of diverse social and economic status. These figures, positioned both singly and in small groups, appear unconnected, reflecting perhaps the isolation of modern life. What they do have in common is their apparent unconcern about the scene of physical violence at the center of the painting, where a young woman struggles against the aggressively passionate embrace of a black frock-coated male. It is a scene that suggests the world of art illustration and that seems a forerunner to some of Glackens's own narrative work, such as his 1912 illustration There Was a Short Struggle That Brought Nell up against the Wall.
Glackens returned to Philadelphia from Paris in the autumn of 1896. He exhibited again in the Pennsylvania Academy annual that December, showing two French pictures: one of his scenes in the Luxembourg Gardens and Head of a French Girl. Glackenss first significant work on his return to his native city, which also constituted his final engagement there, was the creation of two murals—Science (plate 18) and Calliope (destroyed)—for the lecture room at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. These were two of a series of twenty-two paintings assigned to twelve artists who had studied at the Academy—primarily students of Thouron, who supervised the project. Though referred to as murals, they were, like the great majority of such decorative schemes of the period, paintings done not directly on the walls but on canvas that was then attached to the surface of the room.
The project was completed by April 1897, but its starting date is uncertain. It is possible that Glackens had gone to France with some idea of studying the possibilities, both technical and interpretive, for mural work; Sloan was already at work on his Academy murals by the time Glackens returned from Paris. The instructions that Thouron had prepared for Sloan are extant, and presumably, these same guidelines were issued to Glackens. The color was to combine richness with delicacy, with yellows and greens prevailing. Full-size figures were not to exceed nine and a half feet, and Thouron called upon Sloan to recognize flatness as "one of the essential qualities of good mural painting," with simplified modeling and firm contours.
These last directions suggest as models the mural work of the great French artist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, a painter much admired at the end of the century both in France and in the United States. Indeed, much allegorical decoration in America, including almost all of the Academy murals, was inspired by Puvis. Glackenss multifigure composition of heroic nudes for Science is no exception, though it is exceptional in his oeuvre. Glackens no doubt encountered Puviss paintings while in

Meet the Author

Dr. William H. Gerdts is a leading authority on American Impressionism and has written extensively on this and many other topics related to American art. His numerous books include Abbeville's American Impressionism and Art Across America. Dr. Gerdts held various museum and teaching posts before becoming Professor of Art History at the Graduate School of the City University of New York. Jorge H. Santis is Curator of Collections at the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale.

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