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William Glackens

American Painter

William Glackens Photo

Born: March 13, 1870 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Died: May 22, 1938 - Westport, Connecticut

"The man with something to say is an important man in art - in fact, the only man who may claim the title of artist. The manner of his expression matters very little. That will take care of itself. The man with something to say generally says it pretty well."

William Glackens Signature

Summary of William Glackens

William Glackens invigorated American painting from its Eurocentric, tradition-bound academicism, bringing the observational skills learned as a newspaper illustrator to new urban subjects. One of the first American artists to find success without training in Europe, Glackens's attention to color and expressive brushwork, along with his willingness to experiment, marked a turn towards modernism. A founding member of the group of artists known as "The Eight," also referred to by critics (and later, scholars) as the Ashcan School, Glackens differed from his colleagues by focusing more on scenes of leisure and entertainment rather than the slums of the Lower East Side. He was also unapologetic of his admiration for European painting and popularized the quick brushwork and bright palettes of the Impressionists among American audiences.

Key Ideas

Although he did not self-identify as part of the Ashcan School, Glackens's attention to ordinary, modern, urban subjects and their unidealized presentation connects him to the core tenets of that movement. In documenting his world, he also incorporated the style of the Impressionists, as well as their interest in contemporary, urban leisure.
An admirer of French Impressionism, Glackens adopted the free brushstroke and brilliant color of his role models. Known as the "American Renoir," he reinterpreted the Impressionist focus on modern Paris by depicting similar scenes from 20th-century New York. Rather than cafe culture and the boulevard, he painted nightclubs, department stores, and crowded slums. His version of these scenes, captured with a sense of immediacy and freshness, helped to popularize an American Impressionist movement.
An active planner and participant in several groundbreaking art exhibitions, including the Macbeth show of 1908, the Armory Show of 1913, and the Society of Independent Artists, Glackens created an important precedent for the display of art in the US and abroad.
A childhood friend of the businessman Albert C. Barnes, Glackens was instrumental in the formation of the Barnes Collection, one of the leading collections of modern art assembled by a single owner in the 20th century. In gathering works for Barnes, Glackens brought together works by European and American painters, allowing their mutual influences to be better understood.
William Glackens Photo

Williams Glackens was born the youngest of three children to Elizabeth and Samuel Glackens, a clerk and cashier for the Pennsylvania Railroad. While a family of modest means, Glackens was well educated, attending Central High School with future artists John Sloan and James Preston, and the future pharmaceutical inventor and collector Albert C. Barnes. Glackens, whose nickname in school was "Butts," showed a proclivity for art at an early age and often produced funny drawings and scenes of school life for the amusement of his fellow students.

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