Editor's note: The following preface and essay were reprinted, without accompanying illustrations, in Resource Library on May 3, 2006 with the permission of the University of Iowa Museum of Art and the author, Kathleen A. Edwards, Curator of European and American Art at the University of Iowa Museum of Art. The texts are included in the catalogue titled Subject Matters: The Alan and Ann January Collection of American Prints and Drawings. If you have questions or comments regarding the texts, please contact the University of Iowa Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:
by Kathleen A. Edwards
An observant life, as lived by the Januarys and as celebrated in their collection of prints and drawings from the first decades of the twentieth century, is a life spent actively immersed in one's surroundings. Engagement with a subject and commitment to its realistic portrayal are the essential ingredients of the works of art in the collection. Viewers of this exhibition will encounter revelations of how artists looked at modern life, in depictions enhanced with allegory and romance, anecdote and humor, experience and inspiration. There is something magical and transcendent about the private reflections that past artists now share with us. The fact that this potential for personal encounter was recognized in the varied and sometimes seemingly humble work in the collection says much about Alan and Ann.
Alan and Ann January have to date donated twenty-six prints by nineteenth-century American etchers to the museum. Among the artists represented in this group are such stalwarts in the history of American art as Otto H. Bacher, Albert F. Bellows, William Merritt Chase, John M. Falconer, Henry Farrer, Robert S. Gifford, John H. Hill, Charles F. Kimball, Charles H. Miller, Thomas and Peter Moran, Mary Nimmo Moran, Stephen Parrish, Charles A. Platt, and James D. Smillie. While their depictions of landscape have been considered primarily reproductive, these artists valued direct observation of their surroundings, a point of view that was transmitted to and magnified by many urban artists at the turn of the century.
The physical environment of East Coast urban areas had radically changed by 1900. Artists of the time were eager for new experience and wanted to provide viewers with the same visceral sensations they had felt when in contact with the most modern American subjects. Engineering feats of wonder, the artist's studio and the street, female vitality, the symbolic world of nature, and the transformation of printmaking technologies are just some of the novel subjects and practices that captivated artists of the time. These topics are also the primary themes in the January Collection.
The collection presents a fascinating web of influences, connections, and relationships. As is always true, artists of the early twentieth century came together through their commercial work, teaching and studying, exhibitions, clubs, and neighborhoods, and during social gatherings. Many had immigrated to the cities and surrounding towns from other areas of the United States and from abroad, coming to live and work not only in Manhattan, but in nearby Woodstock, New York, and the countryside of Connecticut, in Philadelphia and New Hope, Pennsylvania, in Boston and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and in Cleveland, Chicago, and the Januarys' home state of Indiana. Many artists worked in the commercial arena as illustrators or cartoonists for newspapers like the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Daily News, the Illustrated Daily News, and the New York Herald, and such magazines as Harpers, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, The Masses, Life, and the Saturday Evening Post, among many others. Approximately half of the artists were instructors and/or students at the Art Students League in New York. Robert Henri taught George Bellows, William Glackens, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan in Philadelphia and in Manhattan. Another significant instructional circle centered around Kenneth Hayes Miller and his students Reginald Marsh (who had also studied with John Sloan) and Isabel Bishop. Group exhibitions were a popular venue for public presentation. Arthur B. Davies co-organized the Armory Show of 1913, a pivotal event in the history of American art. The artists in the collection who exhibited in the Armory Show were George Bellows, Bolton Brown, Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, Childe Hassam, Robert Henri, Walt Kuhn, Kenneth Hayes Miller, Walter Pach, Boardman Robinson, and Abraham Walkowitz.
The relationships that developed in Philadelphia among William Glackens, Robert Henri, Joseph Pennell, John Sloan, and Everett Shinn are well established. Philadelphia was the center of a burgeoning commercial art industry and the home of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which nurtured realism. These artists, though steeped in realism, rebelled against the academy and embraced notions of topicality, human interest, and speed in their work. Robert Henri described their commonly held belief in the primacy of the subject in art: "An artist must first of all respond to his subject, he must be filled with emotion toward that subject and then he must make his technique so sincere, so translucent that it may be forgotten, the value of the subject shining through it."
After living or traveling abroad and relocating to New York City (the majority of the artists represented in the collection traveled to Europe), Glackens, Shinn, and Sloan joined forces with other artists living in the Lower East Side, Union Square, and Greenwich Village neighborhoods. Socializing regularly as part of art-world "bohemia," they were drawn artistically to the pleasures of life and the highly melodramatic character of the journalistic subjects of their day.
The generation following this group continued to challenge the practices of the academy, focusing on direct observation and "authentic" representation of American subjects. They also resisted the radical experimentation in abstract forms and the deeply personal content of artists whose style derived from advanced European modernism; yet they were extremely interested in form and structure. Kenneth Hayes Miller, who taught Renaissance composition at the Art Students League, stated, "What makes the old masters great is the rightness of their abstract design." His observation is borne out in the January Collection: much of its imagery, although obviously realist, is not entirely removed from modernist influence. Indeed, a combination of old master and modernist inspiration -- restricted depth, frontal presentation, ordered flatness, patterning, and a baroque style emphasizing the dynamism of motion -- is evident.
In the same way that many artists of this period considered industrial devices to be natively beautiful -- through some quality inherent in the objects themselves -- nature was also deemed to be inherently symbolic. Although artistic collaboration in America's self-definition as a rural society eventually gave way to the depiction of industry, some artists presented nature as a specific antidote to modern life. This can be seen in works in the collection by Albert W. Barker, Frank W. Benson, Charles E. Burchfield, Arthur B. Davies, Arthur Wesley Dow, Ernest Fiene, Emil Ganso, Pop Hart, Childe Hassam, Rockwell Kent, Bertha Lum, Jerome Myers, and Georges Schreiber.
Female artists and female subjects are also strongly represented in the collection. Peggy Bacon, Isabel Bishop, Minna Citron, Victoria Hutson Huntley, and Helen Farr, were active in the bohemian milieu of artists and art students situated around Union Square. In the 1920s American women had become preoccupied with self-development, making independent choices in career, politics, relationships and individual style. Helen Hyde, Bertha Lum, and Lilian May Miller studied and lived in Japan. Ethel Mars and Maud Hunt Squire worked in New York and were also part of Gertrude Stein's group in Paris. These artists turned their sympathetic eye on women, reflecting the subject of the "New Woman" in pursuit of independence, and actively participated in the construction of female identity through their lives and work.
In the first decades of the twentieth century, artists embraced new media and technologies, including color lithography and color woodcut, applying aesthetic methods seen in French, German, and Japanese practices. Many artists wished to utilize the more spontaneous and autographic quality of lithography. Among them was George Bellows, who worked with the lithographic technicians George C. Miller and Bolton Brown; Bellows wrote, "I have been doing what I can to rehabilitate the medium [lithography] from the stigma of commercialism which has attached to it so strongly." Other artists, including Arthur Wesley Dow, Helen Hyde, Bertha Lum, and Lilian May Miller, pursued their interest in ukiyo-e, Japanese color woodcuts.
As galleries and exhibitions, and societies and clubs, promoted the collecting of prints, they established a support system for prints as art. In 1935 graphic workshops were set up in locations across the United States by the Works Progress Administration in response to the financial need caused by the Depression. The largest and most experimental project served the Greater New York area. The Depression brought with it a wave of attention to American subjects transmitting American ideals. People sought a clear view of themselves and their country, and artists provided it, particularly in New York City and the Midwest.
The establishment of printmaking as an essential aspect of studio art training at the University of Iowa began with Grant Wood and Emil Ganso, who taught in the School of Art and Art History. Beginning in 1934, the New York gallery Associated American Artists published nineteen Wood lithographs, spreading his imagery across the country. Stated Wood, "I am building an art of, and for, a specific locality. If I have reached an audience wider than my own region, it is only proof that Iowa is a cross-section of the world and that art created out of local situations can attain a significance that is not limited geographically." Experimentation in printmaking became the defining characteristic of the program at the University of Iowa, as Professors Mauricio Lasansky, Keith Achepohl, Virginia Myers, and Robert Glasgow have famously transformed, expanded and spread the technical and expressive potential of printmaking through their teaching and work.
The realist portrayals in the January Collection-both dramatic and modest-of industry, nature, the street, home life, and women tell remarkable stories of teachers and students, artists and dealers, immigrants, and lovers participating in a cultural and technological transformation, while revealing what modern life looked like, or, more important, how it was seen through artists' eyes.
From a Distance: The New York Skyline and the New Woman
by Kathleen A. Edwards
An initial scrutiny of the January Collection suggests that realism was the common objective of both the artists and the collectors. However, further investigation suggests a more complex set of characteristics. The work in the collection seems to demonstrate a unique "realist modernism," indigenous to America. One major aspect of this idea is a perception of distancing -- between artist and subject, artist and viewer, and subject and viewer. This phenomenon is most apparent in depictions of the New York City skyline and of the "New Woman."
Offending not only the public but also critics, the eight "rebels" -- Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, Robert Henri, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan, together with George Bellows and other adherents -- were dubbed the "Ashcan School," referring to their interest in tenement life, workers, and activity on the streets as subject matter. Although scenes of urban life were commonplace in French painting during the fin-de-siècle, American audiences and artists had only just begun to accept such depictions in art. Combining elements of illustration and caricature in their work, urban artists drew their content and style from the immediacy of their responses to their changing environment.
The Ashcan artists deemed America's immigrant and working-class populations to be their most "authentic" subjects because they were without the "burden of bourgeois convention." Sympathizing with the experiences of members of the working class and borrowing from the tenets of realism and the commercial realm, artists created figurative modes that were loose and spontaneous -- very different from the polished techniques taught in the American art academies of the period. The instinct and talent for successfully communicating direct experience through visual record suggests that American artists knowingly absorbed the strategies of the mass media, illustrated newspapers, and books, and observed their effect. Motivated by a compelling belief in the potency of artistic representation to depict lived conditions, artists applied seductive strategies learned in illustrational work, like carefully composed dramatic scenes and touching, even sentimental, instances of human interaction. Artists and viewers assumed the vantage point of the pedestrian witness. This combination of realism and journalistic treatment, and the grafting of new European styles onto American subjects, resulted in what is now beginning to be considered a kind of indigenous realist modernism.
Members of the Ashcan School are represented in the January Collection with six works. John Sloan's The Show Case is third in a series of ten etchings titled New York City Life, published in 1905. The series was censored: not all of the impressions were selected for public exhibition in 1906. Commenting later on the major theme of his work, Sloan wrote, "From the New York life etchings, which were considered vulgar back in 1906, to the nude figures of the later years -- still I feel that my point of view has been consistent: I have been interested in life, in the reality of things." In The Show Case, a quartet of girls is captivated by the corsets on display in Madam Ryanne's shop window, while a buxom matriarch, corseted herself and appearing somewhat offended, passes by with her oblivious husband. The shop window with the girls on the left and the more mature couple on the right present contrasts of new and old. The sign "Corsets à la Mode" and the naturalness of the girls imply that new fashions are arriving, while the senior couple, a stereotype of the Victorian, appears to be exiting the scene.
Artists living and newly arrived in Manhattan and its boroughs reflected the cityscape and all manner of human activity with a fresh vision. Changing values brought an end to the repressive Victorian era; urban liberalism emerged; the federal bureaucracy was expanded; pluralism became increasingly important to America's heterogeneous society; and different religious, ethnic, and cultural groups encountered the homogenizing force of a powerful consumerist mass culture. Everett Shinn, a member of the Ashcan group, grew up in the rough-and-tumble world of commercial illustrators racing to meet newspaper and magazine deadlines with quickly produced pictures of contemporary life geared to capture the public interest. Shinn's drawing Lady Seated on Bed Putting on Stockings takes cues from certain nineteenth-century French masters, especially Degas. There is a sense of slice-of-life reporting, a condensation of reality not unlike a photographic snapshot. While American photographers like Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis were striving to capture the deplorable realities of the lives of the poor, Ashcan artists worked more like reporters, with energetic and often humorous results.
Reflecting a perceived stimulating spirit of independence, artists applied descriptive elements to the growing city skyline. The shaping of visual messages was supportive of expansion and the developing cultural environment. Reginald Marsh remembered that "New York City was in a period of rapid growth; its skyscrapers thrillingly growing higher and higher. There was a wonderful waterfront with tugs and ship . . . sand steam locomotives on the Jersey shore . . .dumps, docks and slums -- subways, people and burlesque shows."
By 1890 New York City had a population of one million. Half of all Americans lived in cities, whereas fewer than one in ten had done so in 1830. New skyscrapers and industrial complexes appeared. Artists began to depict the effects of modernization in the manner of popular print "views" of European cities, or like fashionable illustrations for travel journals.
Seen as both a symbol of contemporary life and a resource, the modern urban complex of buildings and bridges was observed and depicted from a distance. This vantage point, both frontal and oblique, best communicated a drama of scale -- and such distanced views of the city expressed cultural aspirations. The placement of the artist (and the viewer) so far from the scene also implied that the vastness of the skyline and what it represented caused sensations of loss.
Specific impressive structures, especially skyscrapers, bridges, and modes of transportation were popular subjects for many artists. In Earl Horter's The Dark Tower, a rooftop view of a corner in Lower Manhattan where many artists lived and worked, appears to show the Church of the Transfiguration, also known as the "Little Church Around the Corner," on East 29th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues. The dramatic foreshortening in this view may have been influenced by photography (Berenice Abbott's Changing New York, for example). The first of the elevated rail lines that enabled people to travel beyond their immediate neighborhoods was constructed between 1867 and 1870. The sketchy style of The Elevated, by Joseph Pennell, suggests the complicated engineering of the rails. Pennell's depiction of the shadows, contrasting light and dark, implies energy, and the obtuse angle of view captures its looming grandeur and power. The four bridges over the East River, particularly the Brooklyn Bridge, are represented in the collection in works by Walter Pach and Martin Lewis. Arguably the most influential bridge in American history, the Brooklyn Bridge remains one of the most celebrated architectural wonders in the city. Designed by the engineer John Augustus Roebling and completed by his son Washington Roebling, this elegant structure was, at the time of its completion in 1883, the longest suspension bridge in the world. Lewis's gorgeous watercolor of the Brooklyn Bridge and its busy river presents a neo-Gothic tower anchoring a lacework of soaring cables. Brilliant sunlight and clear atmosphere must have been in abundant supply that day for Lewis to have utilized such a sparkling palette of color.
Other views of Lower Manhattan in the collection, like Glowing Towers by Anton Schutz, an immigrant to New York City in the late 1920s, depict the city as one form "like a titanic fist of mountains." These were utopian visions -- the muscular yet ghostly structures seem independent of society and its attendant problems. Schutz's depictions of New York City were so impressive that the newly formed USSR invited him to Moscow to produce similar images. After returning from Moscow in 1928, Schutz toured Europe as an "American" artist. His style and spirit represented an immigrant's perception of the modern American metropolis.
In Storm over Manhattan, Louis Lozowick, also an immigrant artist, suggested the importance of managing the disquieting beauty of industry through visual order, particularly after World War I and the Depression. His view of Manhattan from across the Hudson River in New Jersey could be thought of as a construction of opposites. The opposition of humanity and nature is obvious, but more to the point is a symbolic tension in the relationships between the storm as an uncontrolled phenomenon, and the city and the river as tentatively controlled phenomena. Lozowick placed an overall formal visual order on the composition which appeased viewers' uneasy feelings. It seems significant that so many artists placed themselves on distant shores (New Jersey, Brooklyn, on a rooftop) away from the interior spectacle, to provide these grand yet restrained views.
The construction of distanced views of modern life extended not only to the New York City skyline but to the "New Woman" of the city. There was no aspect of social change in the early decades of the twentieth century more controversial in its implications than that of the new status of women. The women's movement had demanded the removal of social, political, and economic discrimination based on sex and sought rights and duties on the basis of individual capacity alone. Fully visible in Manhattan, women were given the right to vote in 1920, and were present and participating in all aspects of urban life.
Since realist artists were oriented to the depiction of "authentic" views of life on the streets, their subjects included the "New Woman." As had historically been true, women were still objects of perception, but were seen in the 1920s in New York as closer to culture than to nature. The emerging urban culture promoted freer social contact and expression between the sexes. This trend, especially among working-class women, was widely commented upon and fretted over by social reformers. Mary Augusta La Selle, for example, lamented how, in their attempt to seek upward social mobility, working-class women wore "décolletage blouses, sheer gauze stockings, and high-heeled shoes, sported enormously outlandish hats, and coiffed their hair with rats and puffs." The depiction of the New Woman in the media and in art played upon the voyeuristic curiosity of the middle and upper classes, giving them glimpses of changing roles, while at the same time presenting the changes as more approachable than they otherwise might have been.
The percentage of female professionals reached a historic peak in the early twentieth century while new and highly visible white-collar occupations provided work for secretaries and "salesgirls." Martin Lewis's Corner Shadows presents people on a busy city street corner walking toward home at the end of a workday or heading out for the evening. The street lights and setting sun create a formal structure of light and shadow crisscrossing the composition. Lively legs are revealed through transparent backlit dresses. The combination of formal composition and titillation creates a parade-like spectacle. In the guise of formalism and naiveté, the women seem at arm's length from the artist and the viewer.
Indeed middle- and upper-class society tended to refer to the New Woman in an idealized manner. The progressive essayist and intellectual Randolph Bourne wrote of such women,
Similarly, a modernist composition is grafted onto a realist subject in Mary Fife Laning's The Stoop. Laning was married to the artist Edward Laning and studied with Kenneth Hayes Miller and Reginald Marsh. A chaotic jigsaw puzzle of bodies possessed by zesty lust writhes outdoors on a summer night in Greenwich Village. Baroque poses inspired by European old master compositions are jammed into a shallow space, emphasizing the flatness of the sheet. The scene, although timeless, is staged by "real people," rather than by cupids. Yet the work imparts a distanced point of view rather than a sensation of intimate experience.
When a subject is identified by name as in Abraham Walkowitz's drawing Dancer, Isadora Duncan, the viewer expects some evidence of the model's character to be communicated. Yet in this drawing it is the personality of the artist's style, not the dancer, that comes through. Walkowitz first saw Duncan in Paris. He ultimately made more drawings of her "than I have hairs on my head," reusing her figure as an archetype for the next four decades, even well after her death. Walkowitz was among a new faction of American artists who believed that a rich visual language would emerge from their inner life. Walkowitz recognized in Duncan the physical embodiment of his personal artistic philosophy.
Another female celebrity employed as an archetype by an artist can be seen in Helen Farr's Aphrodisiac-Angna Enters. Enters was billed as "America's Greatest Dance Mime." The performing arts -- dance, music, theatre, and cinema -- had a significant impact on the realist depiction of female sexuality and on actual relationships between the sexes. In the early 1930s, in the wake of the Depression, the public was presented with Broadway shows like Girl Crazy and Anything Goes; Blondie and Dagwood in the daily comics; radio dramas; Lee Strasberg's method acting; films like The Front Page and Grand Hotel; and tunes like It Don't Mean a Thing, If It Ain't Got That Swing. These distracting entertainments, along with vaudeville, burlesque, and the accompanying marketing of stars, established visualized personalities and caricatures as trademarks. This device served to remove or distance the more "authentic" knowledge about a subject.
The complicated discourse on the definitions of "nude" and "naked" in art -- from Kenneth Clarke's concept of the nude as "a transformation of matter into form" to John Berger's evaluation of the "nude" as "ideal," and "naked" to be "oneself," to later critiques of assertions of inherent "good" relationships between artists and models -- creates a quagmire of issues to sort through when contemplating the subject of the female nude. The cultural, sociological, and sexual relationships between artists and models, as well as concepts of "spectacle" and "spectatorship," have been widely theorized. It is not possible to engage fully in this discourse here, yet three works can be mentioned as useful examples of the genre of the figure study at the time.
The standard training for art students in the early decades of the twentieth century was still organized around the "life class." This traditional classroom format was also utilized in the artist's studio and "in situ." One classic example of this setup is George Bellows' Morning, Nude on Bed. The leisurely diversions of Bellows's upper-class life have been well documented. Bellows presents the nude model in a traditional pose surrounded by the formal décor of his studio. The model seems quite genteel, yet a more relaxed interiority is expressed by the way she appears lost in thought and her left foot is rather casually arched.
A commonplace routine of life is depicted in quite a different manner by Isabel Bishop. The Pedicure, one of series of drawings by Bishop of a turbaned model, is a sensitive portrait of an intimate activity, not a portrait of an individual. Influenced by Italian old master figure studies, Bishop's subject is the human form observed in an active, private occupation. In describing her work Bishop stated, "In this particular kind of artistic expression the subject must seem unmanipulated as though a piece of life had been sneaked upon, seized, and somehow become art, without anything having been done to it." 
For the male artist "masculinity" signified a commitment to life itself as the source of inspiration. The male artist as flâneur, famously described by Baudelaire, was a role that symbolized the freedom to move about the public arenas of the city observing but never interacting, "consuming" the sights through a controlling but rarely acknowledged gaze. In his work John Sloan exemplified the realist artist-flâneur. Yet Nude with Wineglass acknowledges reciprocal pleasure. With empty wineglass in hand the model nonchantly grins at the artist. At the time this print was made, Sloan was said to be having an affair with his model, Gitel Kahn, as he was falling out of love with his wife, Dolly, and falling in love with his student Helen Farr, whom he later married. In this work Sloan acknowledges a relationship with his model, while attempting to understand the human form and himself.
With passionate agendas, artists wholly observed, encountered and recorded their complex modern environment. What resulted is evidence that while artists pursued visual "authenticity," they simultaneously reflected intensely complex artistic, cultural, and social changes, which also produced a distancing affect. This complexity, evident in the views of the New York skyline and of the New Woman in the January Collection, could be described as characteristic of a unique "realist modernism," indigenous to America.
1. Richard S. Field, American Prints 19001950 (New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1983), p. 11.
2. Eileen Wiley Todd, The "New Woman" Revised: Painting and Gender Politics on Fourteenth Street (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), p. 76.
3. Ibid, p. 4.
4. Carl O. Schniewind. George W. Bellows, Lithographer and Draughtsman (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1946): 33, quoted in James Watrous, American Printmaking, A Century of American Printmaking 18801980 (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), p. 50.
5. Karen F. Beall, "The American Printmaker Comes of Age," in Graphic Excursions: American Prints in Black and White, 19001950: Selections from the Collection of Reba and Dave Williams (Boston: David R. Godine, 1991), pg. 19.
7. Wiley Todd, p. 8.
8. John Sloan, notes on etching, John Sloan Archive, n.p., quoted in Janice M. Coco, John Sloan's Women: A Psychoanalysis of Vision (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004), pg. 97.
9. Norman Sasowsky. Reginald Marsh (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1956), p. ix.
10. Field, p. 31.
12. Field, p. 34.
13. Wiley Todd, p. 32.
17. Kenneth Clark, The Nude: A Study of Ideal Art (London: John Murray, 1956), p.1, quoted in Marcia Pointon, Naked Authority, The Body in Western Painting 18301908 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 12.
18. John Berger, The Ways of Seeing (London and Harmondsworth: BBC and Penguin, 1972), p. 54, quoted in Pointon, p. 17.
19. Lynda Nead, The Female Nude (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 15.
20. American Artist, vol. 17, No. 6 (June 1953), p. 46 quoted in Karl Lunde, Isabel Bishop (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1975), p. 60.
21. Field, p. 20.
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Editor's note: The following email letter from Michael R. Shaughnessy, Ph.D. was received by Resource Library on October 3, 2011. He requested publication of it as an editor's note in connection with the above text. His letter was published October 3, 2011.
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