THE REALIST ‘ASHCAN SCHOOL’ OF ARTISTS REFERRED TO AS ‘THE EIGHT’: AN EXPLORATION OF THE ‘ROBERT HENRI’ SCHOOL OF REALISTS WHO CHALLENGED MODERNISM IN 20TH CENTURY AMERICA. AN APPRECIATION OF ROBERT HENRI ( 1865-1929)EVERETT SHINN ( 1876- 1953)GEORGE LUKS ( 1866-1933) AND JOHN SLOAN (1871-1951). PART 2

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I will firstly show how Henri and his colleagues organised their first successful Exhibition.

”  In 1908 Henri and his fellow artists including George Luks, Everett Shinn and John Sloan staged a ground breaking Exhibition in New York- Henri and his colleagues who dubbed themselves the eight -rejected dominant neo-classicism of the Academy in favour of depicting Urban Life in the raw”.[1].

” like many of the artists associated with the ashcan school Everett Shinn works engaged directly with modern life in New York City”.[2].

American Art goes on to explain how John Sloan was one of the most politically motivated artists being a member of the Socialist Party.

” Among these John Sloan , later provided illustrations for the left wing journal ‘The Masses’. Sloan first arrived in New York in 1904 and soon adopted the urban realism of the ashcan school producing his most famous work McSorley’s Bar 1912″. [3].

” Few artists claimed the epithet man of the people more audaciously than the ashcan school artist George Luks. By the early 20th Century he had moved to New York lower east side where he lived amongst the predominantly immigrant community of this poor quarter of the City”. [4].

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1907 Throbbing Fountain in Madison Square

Ann Lee Morgan in her Oxford Dictionary of American artists explains the origin of the ‘The eight’.

” the eight- a group of anti-academic painters who bonded together to show their art in 1908. Most depicted subjects from contemporary American life. five of the group under their leader Robert Henri sometimes are known as the ashcan School because of their interest in painting scenes from everyday urban life among the working and impoverished classes ( George Luks, Everett Shinn and John Sloan shared Henri’s Ashcan Approach”.[5].

Morgan explains how the ‘The Art Spirit a document written by Henri shows and advocates their approach.

” The art spirit announces a broadly humanistic approach in the opening words Art when really understood is the province of every Human being”. [6].

” Henri befriended a circle of artists who met regularly in his studio they included George Luks , Everett Shinn and John Sloan”.[7].

Concentrating on Robert Henri Morgan describes Henri’s artistic output.

” Henri’s art from the earliest years of the 20th Century includes dark but vigorous city scapes as well as some what brighter Landscapes studies , portraits and figure studies increasingly dominated from 1904″. [8].

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Morgan now comes on to discuss the contribution of George Luks another Realist in the Ashcan mould.

” George Luks a painter associated with the ashcan School , best known for vivid scenes of Immigrant and lower class New York from the first decade of the 20th century”. [9].

” George Luks while working for Philadelphia Newspapers in the mid-1890’s he met Robert Henri as well as fellow illustrators including John Sloan and Everett Shinn”. [10].

Morgan describes how Luks on his return from Europe joined his new colleagues in 1908 at the eight’s famous Exhibition.

” After his return from Europe he joined his transplanted friends in Philadelphia in Exhibiting opportunities more importantly the 1908 show of the eight”. [11].

” His characteristic work of this time such as Hester street emphatically depicted the street life of the Working class. immigrant neighbourhood seen with the observant eye of his newspaper years and rendered with sketchy brushwork”. [12].

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1907 Movies, Five Cents oil on canvas 59_7 x 80 cm

Morgan gives credit to Shinn for developing new materials in his work particularly pastels.

” As a participant in the ashcan school Shinn recorded New York street Life. he also gained favour for pastels and drawings representing his City’s quick paced drama”. [13].

” More often the incisive reality Shinn had strikingly captured earlier gave way to a decorative flair that served him well as a Celebrity  Portratist and Muralist for private homes and public Buildings”. [14].

Turning now to my favourite artists of all the Ashcan School Morgan now considers the contribution of John Sloan.

” Remembered especially for sympathetic portrayals of urban life executed in a rich painterly style during his early career. He remained an important force in the art life of New York for many years”. [15].

” He exhibited with the eight , participated for decades in organising and promoting Independent Exhibitions. Taught for more than 20 years  at the art Students league”.[16].

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Morgan explains like all the other commentators I have quotes about John Sloan’s commitment to socialism and social justice depicting the exploitation and grinding poverty of the working class and by teaching at the art Students League he had a desire to pass his knowledge onto new students.

” Sloan demonstrated a commitment to social justice and Pacifism in drawings and cartoons for politically motivated publications”. [17]

” Through his mastery of the compositional principles of Japanese prints and art nouveau ornamentation he gained national recognition as a graphic artist”. [18].

” Sloan served as Director from 1912-1916 for the Masses. From 1916-1938 he taught regularly at the Art Students League”.[19].

This completes my appreciation of the Ashcan School of artists who followed in the tradition of Gustave Courbet. It would be left as I have argued in Part 1 to the Social realists like Ben Shahn , Isabel Bishop and Reginald Marsh to later bring to the attention of the public the exploitation and suffering of Working classes masses during the depression.

FOOTNOTES

  1. AMERICAN ART FLAME PUBLISHING. PG.26
  2. DITTO.PG.174
  3. DITTO.PG.182
  4. DITTO.PG.176
  5. THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN ART AND ARTISTS ANN LEE MORGAN. PG.144
  6. DITTO.PG.216
  7. DITTO.PG.217
  8. DITTO.PG.217
  9. DITTO. PG.288
  10. DITTO.PG.288
  11. DITTO.PG.288
  12. DITTO. PG.288
  13. DITTO.PG.444
  14. DITTO.PG.444
  15. DITTO.PG.446
  16. DITTO.PG.446
  17. DITTO.PG.446
  18. DITTO.PG.446
  19. DITTO.PG.447

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