THE REALIST “ASHCAN SCHOOL” OF ARTISTS REFERRED TO AS “THE EIGHT”: AN EXPLORATION OF THE ROBERT HENRI SCHOOL OF REALISTS WHO CHALENGED MODERNISM IN THE 20TH CENTURY. AN APPRECIATION OF ROBERT HENRI( 1865-1929) EVERETT SHINN( 1876-1953) GEORGE LUKS ( 1866-1933) AND JOHN SLOAN ( 1871- 1951) :PART 1

Portraits of Artists from Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

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In this post I am going to look at the great development of Realism at the beginning of the century mainly confined to New York. These realists who were referred to as ‘The Eight’ were responsible the development of Realism which Gustave Courbet in the 19th Century had advocated. I will also mention the contribution of George Wesley Bellows but I will concentrate more on his art in a separate Posting.

Baigell in his Book on American artists explains the development of the Ashcan School.

” The painters who matured  during the early years of the 20th century belonged to the first generation of radical American artists .Their radicalism lay in their attitudes towards Art rather than Politics”.[1].

” The artists of the new generation used art as a means of personal expression as a way to visualise their feelings in the presence of a sitter or a landscape”. [2].

This of course is subjective nonsense from Baigell. The realists of the Ashcan School painted what they saw whether it be a landscape or a portrait.

” This generation found its stylistic sources in European art. of the two major groups of artists-The Realists and the Modernists-the former derived their art from Courbet , Whistler and Sargent”. [3].

Now at last Baigell gives the credit to Courbet that he deserves.

” Robert Henri led the Realists and Alfred Stieglitz  supported the modernists. both recognised the necessity to develop a new art indicated by Henri’s statement that the big fight between traditional and Modern forces had been joined”. [4].

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” But a group of newspaper artists illustrators  prompted by the galvanising presence of Robert Henri did begin to develop a more up to date realism in Philadelphia in the Mid-1890’s which reached maturity in New York City after the turn of the Century”.[5]

Baigell shows how in this closed circle many of the most original Realists emerged in New York . Later New York would be the centre of Revolutionary abstraction led by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko William De Kooning and others. In the 1940’s Revolutionary Art will pass from the Europeans to the Americans developing after Abstract Expressionism Pop art and Minimalist art.

” These included George Luks , Everett Shinn and John Sloan , But Henri’s arrival in 1900 may conveniently symbolise the beginning of modern American realism”. [6].

” Henri sough a more generalised expression. he wanted to express the spirit of the people today believing that the artists who produce the most satisfactory art are those absorbed in the Civilisation in which they are living”.[7].

Baigell now shows that Artists like Shinn and Sloan painted working class Life particularly the Slum Tenement blocks workers and their families had to Live in.

” Among the Realists Everett Shinn painted Slum life accurately and bleakly but only in a handful of paintings and sketches made just after 1900″.[8].

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Baigell explains the different techniques that Henri, Luks and Sloan used in depicting their pictures. some favoured the studio and other favoured outdoor scenes.

” Like Henri , Luks painted portraits in studio settings but with Sloan he also favoured another type. Usually these works consisted of three main masses – The Grand, The neutral wall and the figure itself”.[9].

Baigell now considers Luks and his contribution to Realism.

” Luks , he rarely painted a scene that could not fit into a lower class setting. His street scenes filled with narrative incidents are quite different from similar contemporary works”.[10].

Now turning to George Wesley Bellows who I will consider later in more depth. Here I am showing his contribution to the realist milieu.

” George Bellows sought more than the sparkle. Luks and Henri found. he wanted to express the raw physical impact of Modern Life. during the opening years of the Century he turned to themes of Violent recreation”. [11].

” He (Bellows) viewed the artists as a kind of superman who could know and feel and experience everything. Bellows not only recorded his own exuberance but wanted his paintings to throb and pulsate in their own right”. [12].

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1907 Throbbing Fountain in Madison Square

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Baigell continues with his commentary on Bellows.

” Trained to record neither the telling gesture nor the critical narrative incident he could let his imagination range more freely as it confronted urban life”. [13].

” But at the same time he imposed firm compositional restraints on his effusive responses. Of all the Realists Bellows had the best sense of pictorial Organisation”. [14].

Baigell now comes to discuss for me one of the most important realists John Sloan , a member of the Socialist Party and a active fighter against oppression and injustice for me is the most Political of all the Social Realists and his influence would reflect on the Social Realists  who were to follow later in the Century Ben Shahn , Reginald Marsh and Isobel Bishop.

” John Sloan also responded to the new abstract Art in the later years by substituting Idiosyncratic stylisms for his genuine powers of observation. His finest works then were his earliest ones in which he recorded City activities”.[15].

” But Sloan’s infatuation with activities of daily life was not as mindless as this observation might suggest. a member of the socialist party from 1910-and an Editor of ‘The Masses’ the socialist Magazine from 1912-1916″. [16].

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Baigell shows how Sloan use different tones of colours to create the right effect.

” Like his fellow realists Sloan used a nearly monochromatic palette early in his career, his forms emerging through his modelling of tones rather than from separate touches of colour”.[17].

” The Realists -nevertheless their art one of human engagement prolonged the Humanist tradition of Daumier and Courbet into the 2oth Century and provided a base for its revival and continuation into the 1930’s”. [18].

Robert Atkins in his Book Art Spoke 1848-1944 gives a good explanation for the definition of ‘The eight’.

” The eight was the first formally constituted group of American artists to make their shared purpose the creation of native style that reflected American Experience. Robert Henri along with his 4 disciples William Glackens, George Luks , Everett Shinn and John Sloan attempted to take on New York’s Conservative National academy of design by painting images of gritty urban street and working class haunts”.[19].

This completes my first part into the Birth of American Realism. I will in my next posting consider Part 2 and show how American Art would lead the World  in its innovative art practices up to and after the second World war.

FOOTNOTES

  1. A CONCISE HISTORY OF AMERICAN PAINTING AND SCULPTURE:  MATTHEW BAIGELL. PG.192
  2. DITTO.PG.193
  3. DITTO.PG. 193
  4. DITTO.PG.193
  5. DITTO.PG.195
  6. DITTO.PG.195
  7. DITTO.PG.197
  8. DITTO.PG.199
  9. DITTO.PG.200
  10. DITTO.PG.200
  11. DITTO.PG.201
  12. DITTO.PG.201
  13. DITTO.PG.204
  14. DITTO.PG.204
  15. DITTO.PG.205
  16. DITTO.PG.207
  17. DITTO.PG.207
  18. DITTO.PG.209
  19. ART SPOKE FROM 1848-1944 ROBERT ATKINS PG.96

 

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