At the beginning of the twentieth century, Americans flocked to cities to find work that had been generated by the Industrial Revolution. The world was changing, and newspapers and magazines depended on illustrators to create drawings to accompany articles and stories, often written by the artist, as well…much like what the modern photographer does today.
William Glackens was one of the best reporter-artist-illustrators of his time, rendering fast, accurate and compassionate drawings for the Philadelphia Record, and the New York Herald. When the half-tone printing process was finally successfully engineered, so that it was good enough for commercial use (around 1898), illustrators, like Glackens, were replaced by photographers.
Glackens was able to get work with magazines like Scribner’s, Collier’s and McClure’s Magazine, which sent him to cover the Spanish-American War in Cuba.
Though his illustrations were wonderful, and he was able to make a living working for magazines, Glackens wanted to be an independent painter.
Advancing Art in America
Before his trip to Cuba, William Glackens went on a trip to Europe with Robert Henri and a few other artists and was exposed to Impressionist and post-Impressionist art.
When he returned to New York, in 1896, he became part of a group of artists who met at Henri’s studio, exchanging ideas about their work. Henri encouraged the group to focus on the urban landscape that surrounded them. The group, of which Glackens was a part, became known as the Ashcan School.
Initially, their work was rejected by the public and the art establishment, but after several exhibits, around 1910, the Ashcan School, a name originally meant as an insult, became an accepted, and even complimentary, title.
Glackens’ works were so well received, that he was selected to be on the committee that chose American artwork for the famed 1913 Armory Show in New York, which introduced modernism to the American public.
“Everything worthwhile in our art is due to the influence of French art.” he wrote, “We have not yet arrived at a national art […] I am afraid that the American section of this exhibition will seem very tame beside the foreign section. But there is a promise of renaissance in American art.”
Glackens was married to artist, Edith Dimock, and chose several of her works for the show, in which female painters were not well represented. Glackens also accompanied his wife on suffrage marches (the first suffrage parade in New York City was held in 1910) until women were given the right to vote in 1920.
A year before the Armory Show, Glacken’s old high school friend, Dr. Albert Barnes, gave Glackens a $20,000 check and asked the artist to go to Europe and bring back “some good paintings.”
The thirty-three works that Glackens sent back, works by Cezanne, Renoir, Picasso, Van Gogh and other artists became the basis for the prestigious Barnes Foundation collection. The collection also includes works by William Glackens.
The Works of William Glackens at the Surovek Gallery
Please contact us if you would like more information about the works of William Glackens available at the Surovek Gallery.
Gaston Diehl. The Moderns. Crown Publishers, Inc. 1961.
Bob Duggan. William Glackens: Forgotten Father of American Modernism? Big Think. November 19, 2014.