An Appreciation: William Glackens
William James Glackens was an American artist in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Strongly influenced by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, Glackens was instrumental in introducing European modern art to America.
Glackens was born in 1870 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where his family had lived for several generations. His family was middle class but William was able to attend the prestigious Central High School. He had an interest in art and drawing from an early age.
After he graduated high school Glackens found work as an illustrator and sketch reporter for various newspapers such as the Philadelphia Record and the Philadelphia Press. Although photography had been invented, much of the illustration for newspaper was still done by hand. As a result, Glackens met many other artists such as John Sloan while working for the newspapers.
Interested in becoming a painter, Glackens took evening classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Glackens and Sloan formed the Charcoal Club to explore topics that were not covered in the school's curriculum.
Through Sloan, Glackens became friends with Robert Henri and other young artists who wanted to break away from the highly-polished art favored by the art establishment of the day. Rather than historical and classical subjects, these artists were interested in depicting scenes of modern, everyday life. Henri would host social gatherings in the evenings where Glackens and other young artists would talk about art and display their works.
In 1895, Glackens, together with Henri and others, traveled to Europe to study European art. Glackens set up his own studio and spent a year in Paris. Glackens was impressed by the work of Edouard Manet and the work of the Impressionists. Like them, He liked to explore subjects based on everyday life. However, his own style at this point was more of a Realist style, employing a darker palette than the Impressionists.
Returning to the United States in 1896, Glackens took up residence in New York City. His primary source of income was his work doing illustrations for newspapers and magazines. This work would take him as a war correspondent to Cuba where he covered the Spanish-American War. While there, he caught malaria, an illness that would trouble him for the rest of his life.
In 1904, he married artist Edith Dimock who had trained at the Art Students League of New York. She came from a wealthy Connecticut family and they lived a happy and comfortable life in a townhouse in the Greenwich Village section of New York City. Interested in politics, the Glackens protested calls for prohibition and supported votes for women. Edith and their children appear in several of Glackens' works.
During this period, Glackens continued to paint. His friend Henri was also living in New York and Glackens continued to frequent Henri's open-houses. Together with Henri, John Sloan, George Luks, Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson and Maurice Prendergast, Glackens became part of a group that would come to be known as “The Eight.” Its members were bound together by a dislike of the conservative policies of the National Academy of Design. In 1908, the group held a breakaway exhibition in protest of the definition of artistic beauty endorsed by the art establishment. The exhibition drew considerable attention and Glackens became a recognized artist as well as a successful illustrator.
Henri and several other members of The Eight, went on to become leading members of the “Ashcan School.” However, like Maurice Prendergast, Glackens was not so interested in focusing on the grittier side of contemporary life. He preferred subjects such as people in parks, relaxing at the beach and landscapes. Consequently, Glackens began to move towards pure Impressionism. This move came about after Glackens viewed an exhibition of 41 paintings by Pierre Auguste Renoir at the Durand-Ruel Gallery in New York City in 1908. He was so impressed that he wrote to the gallery requesting information about Renoir's palette and the colors the French master used.
A few years later, in 1912, Glackens' boyhood friend and alumnus of Central High School Albert C. Barnes asked Glackens for assistance in building a collection of contemporary art. Accordingly, Glackens traveled to Paris to purchase paintings for his friend. The works he purchased became the nucleus of the Barnes Foundation Collection and included a number of paintings by Renoir.
Glackens' later work became more and more influenced by Renoir both in colors used and subject matter. Indeed, Renoir's influence was such that Glackens became known as the “American Renoir.” That title did not offend Glackens. Rather, he reportedly said: "Can you think of a better man to follow than Renoir?”
New York's Armory Show of 1913 is considered a landmark event in introducing Modern Art to America. Glackens showed three of his works at this exhibition and helped to organize its American section. However, he felt that the new European art overshadowed the American works. Although impressed by the abstract works, Glackens continued to work in his Impressionistic style.
During the 1920s and 1930s Glacken spent time in France studying Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. He also won gold medals for works he submitted to annual exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1933 and 1936.
Glackens died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1938 while vacationing in Westport, Connecticut.
Above: "Harbor, Portsmouth, New Hampshire".
Below: "Tug and Lighter".
Above: "Young Woman in Green"
Below: "Italian-American Celebration in Washington Square."
Above: "At the Beach."
Below: "The Soda Fountain."
Artist appreciation -William Glackens