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Like any other discipline, Art History has a tendency to lump groups of artists together. Sometimes these associations are fictions with no real similarities among the artists in question. In other cases, they’re based on ephemeral linkages that fade, or even vanish, as careers progress.

In the case of William Glackens, usually considered a member of the Ashcan School or The Eight, his association with the core group of American painters was tenuous at best when it existed at all and disappeared almost entirely over time.

Glackens, who was born on this day in 1870, was a member of the Ashcan School largely by virtue of his personal and professional associations with other group members, first as a newspaper illustrator in Philadelphia and later as an emerging artist linked to  influential educator Robert Henri.  In 1908, when Ashcan artists finally got tired of  being denied the opportunity to exhibit their work by the National Academy and organized their own show, Glackens’ work showed some affinity for that of John Sloan or  George Bellows and the rest. By the time the organized their second show in 1910, Glackens had begun to swing over to the Impressionistic style that the group was rebelling against.

Battery Park (William Glackens, 1902 - 04)

Over time, Glackens became fully committed to Impressionism. He even became known, somewhat derisively, as the “American Renoir,” If we look back over the trajectory of his career, this transition is hardly surprising. Chez Mouquin, among his better-known paintings, shows a strong Renoir influence that predates even the first Ashcan exhibition.

Chez Mouquin (William Glackens, 1905)

What’s really unfortunate about lumping people together for academic convenience is that the contribution of individual artists to the development of a uniquely American statement gets lost in the shuffle. Glackens was a stylistic hybrid in that he painted the same fragments of life that appealed to his friends yet did so in a style that bridged the space between Sloan’s hard-edged realism and the softer visual language of Impressionism. Glackens has become a footnote the discussion of the contribution made by the Ashcan School to American art and is left out of the history of American Impressionism almost entirely.

The Promenade (William Glackens, 1925-26)

There is no easy alternative to the imperfect grouping of artists into schools and movements scattered across the art historical timeline. I suppose we simply need to remember that there will always be multiple layers to the story and try to peel them away when we can, always remembering that we never know the whole story.





One Comment

  1. Did you know that Glackens reaped success with three different art styles: illustration, realism and impressionism!

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