The Spectacle of Life: The Art of William Glackens


Images, page 2


(above: William Glackens, Outside the Guttenberg Race Track (New Jersey), 1897, Oil on canvas)

Pictures like this one earned Glackens, as well as Robert Henri, John Sloan, George Luks, and Everett Shinn, such nicknames as the Black Gang and Devotees of the Ugly. The main theme here is motion -- seen in the speeding trolley and echoed in the merry-go-round, the high-flying swing set, the willowy plumes of smoke, the horse-drawn buggy. This is among Glackens's first known paintings specifically related to the greater New York area, where the artist had moved in 1896, although it was not exhibited until 1901, at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.


(above: William Glackens, Sledding, Central Park, 1912, Oil on canvas)

In his monograph William Glackens, William Gerdts wrote: "This is a truly Impressionist scene, with the bright colors of the children's winter clothing played off against the white snow filled with blue and violet shadows. Painted from on high, the view follows the course of the sleds and suggests a limitless play field for the young folk; right of center, and about to join the fun, is five-year-old Ira Glackens, dressed in a distinctive Scottish costume."

Glackens took great pleasure in following the activities of his children. But even in this disarming depiction of children at play, the artist remains keenly aware of differences in social status -- on the far left of the painting, a nanny leans against a large tree, watching over the children in her care.


(above: William Glackens, Tugboat and Lighter, 1904-05, Oil on canvas)

The Statue of Liberty, symbol of the highest aspirations of American values, appears on the horizon, a pale, ghostly presence that reigns over the daily toil in the harbor. The focus of the painting, however, is the unassuming encounter between a tugboat and a lighter, two workhorses of the urban waterways. It was for eschewing the grandiosity of New York and concentrating instead on the beauty of its backbone and underside that Glackens and "the Eight" became known.

Glackens biographer William Gerdts wrote about this painting: "The urban realists, Glackens among them, were drawn especially to the tugboats on the rivers and harbors, the workhorses of the seaways, rather than elegant steamships. He made one the center of focus in Tugboat and Lighter... The dark, dramatic tug is contrasted...with the white paddle steamer at the left, more graceful and elegant. This vessel bears the name Sloan, but whether this was the boat's actual name or a witty tribute to Glackens's colleague is not known. If the painting does date to 1904, this might have been in recognition of Sloan's recent move to New York."


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