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William Glackens

See also: American Art


Two grand canvases dominated William Glackens's wall at The Eight exhibition: The Shoppers 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.

Glackens settled in New York after a trip to Europe with Henri in 1895-96. In Paris, with Henri's encouragement, he had sought out paintings by Manet (several of Glackens's paintings of parks seem to be based on Manet's Concert in the Tuileries) and had begun to make his own studies of streets, parks, and cafes. These informed the dark-hued views of parks and harbors that he painted in New York at the turn of the century. Like Shinn and Luks, Glackens moved from drawing for the New York World and Herald into magazine work, where his talents were much in demand. One of his first major assignments sent him to Cuba to cover the Spanish American War for McClure's. (Unlike his friend Luks, Glackens really did travel with the troops, and contracted malaria for his troubles.) Although the articles Glackens illustrated ranged from tales of the Wild West and travelogues to historical fiction, most of his drawings emphasized expressive human figures, and many were set in New York. Two unpublished drawings of the Wall Street Curb Exchange show the artist's eye for detail and telling comic gesture, some of which he learned from studying British cartoons and some of which came from his remarkable imagination and visual memory. Working drawings show how Glackens made quick sketches on the street, then went through a painstaking process of compositional studies to arrive at a finished illustration, sometimes making several versions of the drawing before he was satisfied. The precision of the signage and architectural settings in these drawings suggests that Glackens may have used photographs for the background, but the variety, frenetic energy, and clever rendering that make the traders far more individualistic than they would appear to a camera are the artist's invention. A similar treatment of figures and incident informs paintings like Skating in Central Park.

At times Glackens's paintings were closely related to his illustration assignments. (The setting and overall mood of Hammerstein's Roof Garden are quite similar to a drawing for an article published in Harper's Bazar the year before.) But at times there were differences. Chez Mouquin certainly achieves a different level of disquieting subtlety than any of the captioned illustrations Glackens drew for magazines. Magazine work, in turn, took him to a greater range of locales than he chose to treat in his own art. For example, as early as 1899 he illustrated Abraham Cahan's stories of Jewish life on the Lower East Side and developed a specialty in the subject; over the years he returned to the neighborhood to produce drawings for muckraking exposés as well as for humorous fiction. But Glackens seems to have ventured there only on assignment. For all of his knowledge of the area, he never depicted it in paintings. His drawings maintained a certain ambivalence or discomfort with the people there, who often appear forbidding, even grotesque, and always foreign. Glackens's paintings, filled with affectionate renditions of familiar foibles, stayed closer to the more respectable neighborhoods that the artist called home, including the park outside his studio on Washington Square. These works are often more decorative and slightly more decorous than his drawings.

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, 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. His interest in modern art, deepened during a trip back to Europe in 1906, led him to return to France in 1912 to select paintings for the collector Albert Barnes and then to organize the American section of the Armory Show. In the meantime, he continued to produce ingenious, stylized drawings of urban subjects for Collier's and other magazines; the most impressive of these were large drawings apparently made on his own initiative, which were published as magazine covers or full page illustrations independent of text. Although the pictures seem to belie it, Glackens evidently came to loathe his illustration assignments. By the late teens he was able to support his family with picture sales, augmented by his wife's inheritance, and stopped making illustrations altogether to spend more time painting at home and abroad.

- From Metropolitan Lives: The Ashcan Artists and Their New York

William Glackens Images

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c. 1901 Hammerstein's Roof Garden
1905 Chez Mouquin
c. 1905 May Day, Central Park
1907 The Shoppers
c. 1910 Skating in Central Park
1911 Far from the Fresh Air Farm
1912 Christmas Shoppers, Madison Square
1912 March Day - Washington Square

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