The Beginning of the 20th Century in Art: 1913 The Armory Show Brancusi and the Ashcan School


Supreme Abstraction
Malevich, Kasimir The Aviator  1914
Oil on canvas  49 1/4 x 25 5/8 in. (125 x 65 cm.) 
State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Malevich, Kasimir. Suprematism 1915
Oil on canvas 34 1/2 x 28 3/8 in. (87.5 x 72 cm.) 
State Russian Museum, St. Petersbur
Form: Oil on canvas. Geometrically abstract though still has a sense of depth. uses dark muddy looking colors with bright saturated ones. Iconography: "He sought to distill into painting, experiences of consciousness that eluded representation. Malevich invented a language of geometric forms that presented a wholly conceptual reality. It seems more than coincidental that he relied upon the metaphor of flying in order to describe his radical innovation. Malevich envisioned himself as an aviator who has flown through the blueness of the sky and punctured it, piercing the firmament, coming to exist in a free infinite realm: "I have torn through the blue lampshade of color limitations, and come out into the white; after me, comrade aviators sail into the chasm-I  have set up semaphores of Suprematism. Sail forth! The white, free chasm, infinity is before us."
With suprematist abstraction, Malevich is saying that he has found the purest from of abstraction, and is intent on creating new realities with it. 
Context:"Suprematism began in Russia c.1913 and was based around artist Kasimir Malevich. It was first launched publicly in 1915 by him through both a manifesto and exhibition titled '0.10 The Last Futurist Exhibition' in Petrograd. Malevich built up pictures from geometric shapes without reference to observed reality, producing an art that expressed only pure aesthetic feeling rather than with a connection to anything social, political or otherwise. To Malevich the purest form was the square while other elements were rectangles, circles, triangles and the cross.Malevich presented an art of dynamic purity to stir emotions and promote contemplation, and dispense with subject matter (although some painting titles refer to reality eg., 'Suprematist composition: Airplane Flying'), perspective and traditional painting techniques. His paintings were carefully constructed with the focus centering on the visual qualities of shape and space, free from the constraints of real world objectivity. Suprematism promoted pure aesthetic creativity. Malevich, his colleagues and students designed textiles, typography and architectural structures in the Suprematist style, even to the extent of creating ideas for buildings and satellite towns, which were never realised however due to their impractibility. Several of Malevich's pupils became prominent Soviet artists although only Nikolai Suetin took up the Suprematist style, developing Malevich's concepts int a practical system of design which he applied to architecture, furniture, book production and ceramics. Although initially Malevich had a small group of followers (including Rodchenko, Tatlin, Gabo and Pevsner), it was always destined to be a short-lived movement because of its rigid parameters and hence its limited creative potential. Malevich's assertion that art could be composed without reference to the real world was highly influential both in Russia where it made possible Constructivism, and world-wide where it became the catalyst for a variety of styles of abstract art, architectural forms and utilitarian designs.  Suprematism was a revolutionary movement, fundamental in shaping a new artistic vision of the world, but by 1918 however, Constructivism had replaced it as the preferred style. Although Malevich continued painting, by 1930 his art had returned to the figuative." 
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"Born near Kiev; trained at Kiev School of Art and Moscow Academy of Fine Arts; 1913 began creating abstract geometric patterns in style he called suprematism; taught painting in Moscow and Leningrad 1919-21; published book, The Nonobjective World (1926),on his theory; first to exhibit abstract geometric paintings; strove to produce pure, cerebral compositions; famous painting White on White (1918) carries suprematist theories to absolute conclusion; Soviet politics turned against modern art, and he died in poverty
and oblivion. He began working in an unexceptional Post-Impressionist manner, but by 1912 he was painting peasant subjects in a massive`tubular' style similar to that of Léger as well as pictures combining the fragmentation of form of Cubism with the multiplication of the image of Futurism (The Knife Grinder, Yale Univ. Art Gallery, 1912). Malevich, however, was fired with the desire `to free art from the burden of the object' and launched the Suprematist movement, which brought abstract art to a geometric simplicity more radical than anything previously seen. He claimed that he made a picture `consisting of nothing more than a black square on a white field' as early as 1913, but Suprematist paintings were first made public in Moscow in 1915 and there is often difficulty in dating his work. (There is often difficulty also in knowing which way up his paintings should be hung, photographs of early exhibitions sometimes providing conflicting evidence.) Malevich moved away from absolute austerity, tilting rectangles from the vertical, adding more colors and introducing a suggestion
of the third dimension and even a degree of painterly handling, but around 1918 he returned to his purest ideals with a series of White on White paintings. After this he seems to have realized he could go no further along this road and virtually gave up abstract painting, turning more to teaching, writing, and making three-dimensional models that were important in the growth of Constructivism. In 1919 he started teaching at the art school at Vitebsk, where he exerted a profound influence on Lissitzky, and in 1922 he moved to Leningrad, where he lived for the rest of his life. He visited Warsaw and Berlin in 1927, accompanying an exhibition of his works and visited the Bauhaus. In the late 1920s he returned to figurative painting, but was out of favor with a political system that now demanded Socialist Realism from its artists and he died in neglect. However, his influence on abstract art, in the west as well as Russia, was enormous. The best collection of his work is in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam."
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Piet Mondrian Landscape Near Amsterdam c1900
Form: Oil, charcoal, and pastel on canvas. Iconography: Although this peivce is more realistic then his later peices, there is still a hint of him moving toward his later devices. The foreground seems to be a combination of different color shapes. Thre distinction comes when you add the background to it. "The subject matter, landscapes at first, became concentrated on natural elements that best lent themselves to communicate the language of visual phenomena, such as trees, windmills, water and dunes. Mixing charcoal, pastel, watercolor or gouache, the experimentation began early with his drawings in which, as early as  the 1899 'Forest', trees are treated as the natural element 'parexcellence'. He felt that its graphical form embodied the basis of the art of drawing and of art in general: “I find that the great line is the primordial element in a subject; color comes afterwards” (
Context: "For him it is not by imitation that we can understand the significance of life: it was more through analysis, or more precisely through perpetual speculation: “Experience is my only teacher”. Therefore, the artistic path that started with naturalistic representational figuration of the old masters (during his studies at the Fine Art Academy of Amsterdam), going through virtually every artistic movement (between 1900 and 1911), reached the logical destiny of abstraction or neo-plasticity (from 1912 until his death). This coincided perfectly with his mental and spiritual path, i.e. the Theosophical doctrine that meant going further than communicating with the divine and aspiring at finding the secret of creation — taking it further by participating in the work of the ever-expanding universe. “The artist is born from the past and  goes as far as his imagination can take him”. During his visit to Paris in 1911, his painting style was even more profoundly impacted. The fateful encounter with Van Gogh's hatched lines and brilliant color as well as the Cubists’ re-interpretation of plastic form ushered him gradually into the absolute simplification of his work. Unlike the Impressionists, Pointillists and Fauvists, who were concentrated on breaking with the canons of color rather than form, or even the Cubists, who broke with tradition in forms but still used tones of color,  Mondrian pushed the simplification further in both areas." (
Mondrian is seen in almost every important art movement of his time. What is important about what we see here is the fact that he was an exceedingly talented artist, but that he is not known for these early works, only for his later abstractions such as "Broadway Boogie Woogie." Since he studied art in the tradition of the Old Masters while in Amsterdam, it can be assumed that this is one of the studies he did while living there.
"Our collective memory is marked forever by Mondrian's colorful geometrical abstractions, and this exhibition, dedicated to his 1892-1914 period, clearly brings out the extraordinary path this 'polyglot' of many an artistic language chose. We see how, after many years of experimentation, there resulted a significant ‘quantum’ leap, abandoning representational art. For those of us who were only familiar with his apparently simple geometrical compositions, his versatility and facility with painting are amazing, as can be seen from an early 1883 still-life composed ‘à la Chardin’ and executed like an old Dutch master. He changed style and technique incessantly, traveling through Realism, Pointillism, Expressionism and Fauvism to settle in the realm of Cubism and formal abstraction. What at first seems like an assimilation of the old masters by an  assiduous student, developed through the years through intensive and inquisitive research. We witness the discovery of the mysterious world of visual phenomena, its infinite source of interpretation, its close relationship with the psyche, its linkage with the spiritual, and its universality of intelligence." 

Piet Mondrian. Molen (Mill); Mill in Sunlight, 
1908 Oil on canvas
114 x 87 cm (44 7/8 x 30 1/4 in) 
Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague
Form: Oil on canvas Iconography: We can see Mondrian moving away from his earliest style of realism. Here he is using bright, saturated colors, pointallism, fauvism, abstraction, a modge-podge of techniques to create this piece. The composition is that of a VanGogh, the subject sits in the middle of the canvas, the movement is created by the colors and the brushstrockes rather than asymetry.His use of a mill as the subject shows he is still connected to his Old Master training, landscapes, horses, trees, and windmills being favorites.
Context: The mill under the sun, shows Mondrian’s confrontation with this classical hollandaise
 theme. The painting reflects the influences of the “fauvism”, and Van Gogh’s painting principles.The mill, appears against the light painted by several superimpositions of paintbrushes. The use of the “pointillism technique” allows Mondrian to dematerialize the form, and the utilization of“fauvism composition” to allow him reach new levels of abstract reality. 


Piet Mondrian. Horizontal Tree c1909

Piet Mondrian. Flowering Apple Tree
Form: Oil on canvas. abstract geometrical forms Iconography: "Focusing inwards is rejected by Mondrian when the object is rejected. Focusing  inwards is involvement. Involvement with objects entails suffering.  Growth is seen as an irresistible force moving through the tree - a river of life, spreading, demanding space into which it can expand. Pictures such as The Red Tree reflect not simply a tree seen now, but the way it has evolved, has lived, has been formed, is still in formation, will wither and die. In pictures such as The Blue Tree the urgency of the need to grow is such that it is as if the whole growth were telescoped into one explosive moment like a shellburst. Coursing with life, the trees are twisted images of torment and despair. 
Context:  In the paintings of chrysanthemums - that most centripetal of flowers - there is a sense of concentration that is agonising. It is as if the artist were trying to hypnotise himself  by gazing into this flower and as if he were trying to hypnotise the flower into suspending its process of growth, the process that will make the petals fall away, the flowers wilt and die (as it is seen to do in two of the paintings in the series). The rapt quality of the image seems to embody a longing to deny time, the flower is held together with a sort of desperation. In the series of images of trees that followed, the forces of growth can no longer be held in."Intense involvement with living things is involvement with death. If you follow nature, wrote Mondrian in 1920, you have to accept 'whatever is capricious and twisted in nature'. If the capricious is beautiful, it is also tragic: 'If you follow nature you will not be able to vanquish the tragic to any real degree in your art. It is certainly true that naturalistic painting makes us feel a harmony which is beyond the tragic, but it does not express this in a clear and definite way, since it is not confined to expressing relations of equilibrium. Let us recognise the fact once and for all: the natural appearance, natural form, natural colour, natural rhythm, natural relations most often express the tragic . . . We must free ourselves from our attachment to the external, for only then do we transcend the tragic, and are enabled consciously to contemplate the repose which is within all things.' "Mondrian could find a repose to contemplate in natural things so long as he could see them with their energy held in check, as with the chrysanthemums. The object was tolerated so long as it seemed to contain its energy. Looking at the trees, he recognised the forces flowing out of them - so that the tendency towards the centrifugal first appears among these images - felt the need to release those force from objects and objectify them in another way. Attachment had to be transferred from natural objects to things not subject to death. To an artificial tulip, which would be everlasting. To lines which were not lines tracing the growth in space of a tree but were lines not matched in nature, lines proper to art, lines echoing the bounding lines of the canvas itself."
- From David Sylvester, "About Modern Art: Critical Essays, 1948-1997"
"With the 1911 'Gray Tree', the artist-tree reappeared to draw the 1912 'Apple Blossom', this time beholding the sky with it's eye-shaped leaves, such as the thousand eyes of knowledge on the wings of a seraphim. And the primordial essence of a tree was reached with the 1912 'Tree II', a web of lines and flat color abstracted into the binary language of lines in which color became captive. The many faces of his trees were representative not only of all the different artistic currents he observed and experimented with, but corresponded also to his own interior metamorphosis as a man, artist and philosopher. If the trees in the 'Forest' bear the hallmark of the Symbolists, the 'Blue Tree' has a hint of the Pointillists, the 'Apple Blossom' is post-Cezanne early figurative Cubist, and his 'Tree II' shows that he was set to go even further than the Cubists, just to be in harmony with himself and in phase with his own philosophy that was so influenced by his Theosophical beliefs: to achieve knowledge, inspiration must be helped by experimentation. He believed that the secret of creation is revealed permanently and human intelligence has a role in this revelation. Similar to a tree, the artist is in fact a born 'Theosophist' sitting at the edge of the universe in between the ‘rational’ of earthly philosophy and the ‘irrational’ of celestial theology. If a tree was essentially line or the essential element of a visual language and the primary artist of a landscape, water and transparency were the receptacle, the canvas, the finished work in which the colors reflected and repeated in rhythmic echoes and, above all, the element that offered the stabilizing factor of equilibrium. For a Theosophist, even the irrational is part of the cosmic order and equilibrium where all elements fight for the final harmony. Since the 1892 'Singel' of Amsterdam's serpentine water, through the mirror-like water in 'Summer night' of 1906, the reflection in 'Gein: Trees on the riverbank' of 1907, the melancholy of dawn is transformed into the transparent vertical and horizontal lines of an 'Oval composition' of 1914, where capturing repetition and reflection is essential, not the representation of a natural phenomenon such as water." 


Piet Mondrian. Composition 1916

Piet Mondrian. Composition with Color Planes and Gray Lines 1, 1918
Oil on canvas 49 x 60.5 cm (19 1/4 x 23 7/8 in) Private collection
Form: Oil on canvas.abstract geometrical forms, dark lines with muddy and bright colors are paired Iconography:  She notes in these paintings by Mondrian, whose work has become synonymous with the grid, two signal opposing generative tendencies. Composition No. 1, in which the lines intersect just beyond the picture plane (suggesting that the work is taken from a larger whole), exemplifies a centrifugal disposition of the grid; Tableau  2, whose lines stop short of the picture’s edges (implying that it is a self-contained unit), evinces a centripetal tendency. Krauss argues that these dual and conflicting readings of the grid embody the central conflict of Mondrian’s—and indeed of Modernism’s—ambition: to represent properties of  materials or perception while also responding to a higher, spiritual call. “The grid’s mythic power,” Krauss asserts, “is that it makes us able to think we are dealing with materialism (or sometimes science, or logic) while at the same time it provides us with a release into belief (or illusion, or fiction).” 
Context: We have now moved completely away from his earliest works and nto the realm of pure abstraction. "In 1918 Mondrian created his first “losangique” paintings, such as the later Composition No. 1, by tilting a square canvas 45 degrees. Most of these diamond-shaped works were created in 1925 and 1926 following his break with the De Stijl group over Theo van Doesburg’s introduction of the diagonal. Mondrian felt that in so doing van Doesburg had betrayed the movement’s fundamental principles, thus forfeiting the static immutability achieved through stable verticals and horizontals. Mondrian asserted,
however, that his own rotated canvases maintained the desired equilibrium of the grid, while the 45-degree turn allowed for longer lines. Art historian Rosalind Krauss identifies the grid as “a structure that has remained emblematic of modernist ambition.” 
These begin the series of paintigs for which Mondrian is best known. He has created numerous works based on the theme of 'Composition', always with grids and various colors, though his earliest were black and white. The importance of these works cannot be denied, for though we see that he was an extremely talented artist, these are the only works with which his name is now mst readily known. It begs us to ask the question, does society have an ever-inceasing penchant for simplistic art, or is it just too jaded to be bothered with the works of the Old Masters?


According to the Brittanica,
The ARMORY SHOW, formally International Exhibition Of Modern Art, an exhibition of painting and sculpture held from Feb. 17 to March 15, 1913, at the Sixty-ninth Regiment Armory in New York City. The show, a decisive event in the development of American art, was originally conceived by its organizers, the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, as a selection of representational works exclusively by American artists, members both of the National Academy of Design and of the more progressive Ashcan School and The Eight. The election of Arthur B. Davies as president of the association changed this conception. A member of The Eight, Davies produced pleasant, Romantic paintings that enjoyed the respect of almost all of the American art establishment. He was also a man with a broad, highly developed taste, capable of appreciating trends in art far more radical than his own style, and he was aware of developments in Europe. Davies, with the help of Walt Kuhn and Walter Pach, spent a year, much of it in Europe, assembling a collection that was later called a "harbinger of universal anarchy." The exhibition traveled to New York City, Chicago, and Boston and was seen by approximately 300,000 Americans. Of the 1,600 works included in the show, about one-third were European, and attention became focused on them. The selection was almost a history of European Modernism. Beginning with J.-A.-D. Ingres and Eugène Delacroix, the exhibition displayed works by Impressionists, Symbolists, Postimpressionists, Fauves, and Cubists. Although the sculpture section was weak and the Expressionists were poorly represented, the show exposed the American public for the first time to advanced European art. American art suffered by contrast. Reactions to the show were varied. Marcel Duchamp's Cubist painting "Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2" was popularly described as "an explosion in a shingle factory"; and Henri Matisse, Constantin Brancusi, and Walter Pach were hanged in effigy by Chicago art students. Yet this show became the basis of many important private American collections.
For American art, the show had results more difficult to gauge. Stuart Davis exemplified one artist's reaction: "The Armory Show was the greatest shock to me--the greatest single influence I have experienced in my work." Similarly, the artists Joseph Stella, John Marin, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Arthur Dove were encouraged by the Armory Show to continue their avant-garde direction. American painting in general, however, continued to be dominated by the realists--the Ashcan School and its successors, American Scene painting and Social Realism--until some 30 years later. 
"Armory Show."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   November 24, 2002. 

Brancusi, Bird in Space, 1919
Excerpts from, FUNK AND CHIC by Robert Hughes
Time, 12/18/95, Vol. 146 Issue 25, p77, 2p
BRANCUSI, Constantin -- Exhibitions; SCULPTURE THIRTY YEARS BEFORE his death in 1957, there had ceased to be any doubt of Constantin Brancusi's status as a modernist master. He devoted a long life to distilling extremes of formal perfection from a narrow range of motifs. This perfection is never frozen: it always contains some organic character, an affinity to life and therefore to change. "I never seek what to make a pure or abstract form," Brancusi said. "Timelessness,'' "wholeness,'' "essence,'' "aliveness": such words inescapably recur in what has been written about him over the past 70 or 80 years. They are well-worn tokens, rubbed smooth by use, but you can't visit the Brancusi retrospective that is now in its last weeks at the Philadelphia Museum of Art without feeling how his work revives them. 
Brancusi was born in 1876, in a small village in Romania. He completed a long and thorough training in sculpture in Bucharest before reaching Paris, almost penniless, in 1904. He even worked briefly as a studio menial for Auguste Rodin before quitting in the realization that, as he later put it, nothing grows under great trees. Throughout his life, legends stuck to Brancusi like burrs; he was apt to be seen as a peasant sage, a Carpathian exotic (to most Parisians, Romania barely qualified as part of Europe). And he seemed even more of an original to American collectors, who, fervently egged on by Marcel Duchamp, were his chief support. 
But, in fact, he was an artist of immense sophistication, the friend of Duchamp, Erik Satie, James Joyce and Ezra Pound. His work, with its flowing contours and obsessively refined surfaces, was one of the main sources for Art Deco style. Imagine the top of the Chrysler Building carved from oak, and you have something very like his sculptural bases. As Rowell points out in the catalog, guests in his Paris studio would be regaled with homemade sheep's milk cheese and a glass of iced champagne--funk and chic together, essential Brancusi. He loved contrasting the rough with the smooth, the hyper-refined freehand curve with the lump and the block. And when those sleek organic forms, half-volatilized in light, rise up from their wooden pedestals, you think of the resurrection of glorified bodies. 


The Endless Column was created by Constantin Brancusi, the internationally acclaimed Romanian sculptor, and erected by the engineer Stefan Georgescu-Gorjan in 1937-1938. It was conceived as a tribute to young Romanians who died during World War I. The Column was seen both as a symbolic means of ascension to heaven for the soldiers’ souls and as Brancusi himself stated, a way to “sustain the vault of heaven”. It differs from classical columns comprising bases and capitals in that it consists of endlessly repeated identical modules (truncated pyramids joined by their bases), which give the impression of ‘endlessness’.
With its tubular metal spine, the Endless Column supports seventeen cast iron modules. Of these, two are half-modules and are placed on the top and bottom welded respectively to the whole structure itself and it’s below ground foundations. The height of the Column is almost 30 metres. The impression of continuity is ensured by the perfect superposition of the modules.
On the one hand, he could come up with images like his versions of the Bird in Space, those pure blades of stone or polished bronze that, soaring upward from their delicately flared connections to the base, are among the greatest images of transcendence in modern art--and that, even today, make the Concorde look like a Sopwith Camel. But he could also be as funny as Joan Miro, carving big wooden teacups, portraying the formidable matron Agnes Meyer as a black-marble visitor from Easter Island, and translating Nancy Cunard's chinless profile into a swell of bronze topped with a fat worm of a chignon, sitting on a carved-oak base, whose stacked lobes probably refer to the African bangles with which this socialite encumbered her anorexic arms.  It was one thing to be a peasant and quite another to draw on sources in folk culture, and Brancusi's "primitive" interests matched those of other Europeans, starting with Gauguin. Brancusi's own Tahiti was his childhood and youth. He remembered peasant Romania very well. Its big-boned craft shapes--lintels, shallow wooden arches, the massive oak screw threads of rustic presses for oil and wine--are preserved in his carvings, where they mingle with disguised quotations from African sculpture. The folk-legend of Maiastra, a miraculous bird with shining golden feathers that guided a prince to his imprisoned lover, helped to inspire his prolific series of bird sculptures. His Endless Columns, those stacks of notched hourglass units that could be piled up to tree-height or to heaven (late in his life, Brancusi had fantasies of building one more than 1,000 ft. high), derived from grave markers in village cemeteries. 
But this folk source doesn't explain Brancusi's spiritual aims in making them: he seems to have thought of the endless column as a link between man and God. Nor does the source account for the columns' strictly modernist power. Brancusi's decision to make a modular sculpture out of identical rhomboids, without a fixed end, opens on a world of sculptural possibility that hadn't existed before and was later to be colonized by American Minimalism. The list of sculptors whose work carries traces of Brancusi's dna is almost as long as those columns: Isamu Noguchi, Donald Judd, Carl Andre, William Tucker, Claes Oldenburg, Christopher Willmarth and so on to Scott Burton, who made sculpture as furniture and thought Brancusi's bases were as self-sufficient as his carvings. It seems strange, though, that Minimalists should have picked up on Brancusi's processes, such as the stacking of units, without paying the least attention to his spiritual ambitions. Whatever else Minimalism was about, it wasn't the aliveness and metamorphic intensity of Brancusi. 


Constantin Brancusi, The Kiss
1916 Limestone
23 x 13 1/4 x 10 inches
Philadelphia Museum of Art: 
The Louise and Walter 
Arensberg Collection, 1950
© 2002 Artists Rights Society 
(ARS), New York
On occasions, Brancusi was a brilliant manipulator of peasant "artlessness"--a fiction but a powerful one. For example, The Kiss, 1916, is an archetype of erotic modern sculpture. The two figures, minimally distinguished within the single block by the slight softness of the woman's breast and belly and the length of her hair, are united in substance: one flesh, or at least one stone. Their joined profiles make an ogival arch, with one split eye. The hair frames this like water running down a roof. It is an incredibly compressed image, just this side of absurdity.  Brancusi was after a healing wholeness. He didn't care about "truth to material," but he did strive to make the action of the hand and the movement of thought one. He believed that every aspect of sculpture--whether rough, like his urgently hewn oak and walnut carvings, or exquisitely nuanced, like his marble head or bird forms, polished to the point where light and substantial weight become mysteriously the same--needed to be manual before it could be whole. 
He loathed the fragmentation of Picasso's work and had no taste for the open, pieced-together asymmetry of Constructivism. Form for him is always closed and unitary, though different forms could be added to one another to make a whole, as in the interplay between sculpture and base. And he especially loved form that spoke of life or awareness at their origins: primal, self-enclosed, a marble egg floating in its own space like a cell, an egg like head lying on its side, filled with what the poet Octavio Paz called "the dreams of undreaming stone." 
Excerpted from 
FUNK AND CHIC by Robert Hughes
Time, 12/18/95, Vol. 146 Issue 25, p77, 2p
BRANCUSI, Constantin -- Exhibitions; SCULPTURE

Constantin Brancusi. Mademoiselle Pogany. 1912
Form: Carved marble, abstraction of a head, in a basic form Iconography: "Brancusi’s marble Muse is a subtle monument to the aesthetic act and to the myth that woman is its inspiration. The finely chiseled and smoothly honed head is poised atop a sinuous neck, the curve of which is counterbalanced by a fragmentary arm pressed against the ear. The facial features, although barely articulated, embody the proportions of classical beauty. As in the sculptor’s Mlle Pogany, also of 1912, the subject’s hair is coifed in a bun at the base of the neck. But while Mlle Pogany is the image of a particular woman, The Muse is the embodiment of an ideal." (
It was the beginning of his signature abstraction of heads down to their basic forms, "Constantin Brancusi revolutionized sculpture when, in the early years of this century, he began to render  the human head in simple abstract forms and smooth continuous surfaces." By his carving he felt that he got closer and more intimate with the material. All his work, both in wood and stone, reflects his love for life, the force and freshness of the images of the world around him. 
Context: Brancusi would make three versions of Mademoiselle Pogany throughout his lifetime. "Madmoiselle Pogany II" is part of his most important sculptural series, a sequence of three portraits of a young Parisian dancer originally produced in 1912, 1919 and 1931."
"The Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi was born of peasant parents in Pestisani, Southern Romania on February 21st, 1876. Constantin Brancusi made the earliest and sharpest break in the modern movement of abstraction. He defined new forms by carving in wood and stone. His simple, exquisite forms reflect attitudes of modern art. Although a pioneer of modern art, Brancusi was the least public and the most withdrawn artist. His working life was spent mostly in solitude in his studio. He allowed nothing to interfere with his work. To the few writers he permitted to see him he would say "Promise not to write about me until I am dead." His life was simply and completely dedicated to his work. His way of work was a concentrated dialogue between himself and his material, which gradually took forms. His passion for a direct and simple contact with life referred to his sculpture and everything he did. By his carving he felt that he got closer and more intimate with the material. All his work, both in wood and stone, reflects his love for life, the force and freshness of the images of the world around him. His work was presented and appreciated at different exhibitions around the world: France (Paris), USA (New York & Chicago), Switzerland (Zurich & Yverdon), India, and certainly Romania. He died in his studio in Paris on March 16th, 1957."


Constantin Brancusi, Head of a Boy 1905 bronze

Constantin Brancusi, Sleep. 1908 marble

Constantin Brancusi, Sleeping Muse. 1909-10
Constantin Brancusi, The Newborn 1915
Form: Bronze and marble busts. its sort of a time line to how he reached his minimalist approach. first its extremely realistic, second the head's still realistic, but now he's paying homage to the material he made it out of like Rodin. then he goes even simpler partially abstract, with just a head lying on its side no neck or base to support it, the last even though it has no realistic features, you get the distinct impression that a baby is crying.  Iconography: These heads, when viewed together, show eloquently how Brancusi developed. First, as an apprentice to Rodin, and then on to what he wished to do for himself and express to the world.  "When Constantin Brancusi moved to Paris from his native Romania in 1904, he was introduced to Auguste Rodin, the French master sculptor who was then at the height of his career. He invited Brancusi to join his atelier as an apprentice, but the younger artist—with the confidence, stubbornness, and independence of youth—declined, claiming that “nothing grows in the shade of a tall tree.” Brancusi rejected Rodin’s 19th-century emphasis on theatricality and accumulation of detail in favor of radical simplification and abbreviation; he suppressed all decoration and explicit narrative referents in an effort to create pure and resonant forms. His goal was to capture the essence of his subjects—which included birds in flight, fish, penguins, and a kissing couple—and render them visible with minimal formal means. Brancusi often depicted the human head, another favorite subject, as a unitary ovoid shape separate from the body. When placed on its side, it evokes images of repose. Some of Brancusi’s streamlined oval heads, whose forms recall Indian fertility sculptures in their fusion of egg like and phallic shapes, suggest the miracle of creation."
Context: It is easy for a viewer who is disinclined towards abstraction or 'modern' art to claim that the artist creates his abstractions in that manner because they simply do not know of any other way. In short, that they are untalented. However, by looking at the earliest works of Brancusi, much like looking at an early Picasso, it becomes clear that the opposite is true. The artist may be too talented, and disillusioned with the ideals that all fine art must inspire awe with its' obvious painstaking creation. Instead, Brancusi chose to simplify, and create a beauty which is no less awe-inspiring than that of The Pieta.
Beginning of the World 1920
Form: Carved marble, metal and stone Iconography: Brancusi may have been trying to answer the age old riddle, "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Here, we see that he thought it was the egg. And, who knows...maybe he was right. It is also known as 'Sculptur for the Blind'. Not as a joke, but to make people understand that sculpture is a three dimensional, tactile experience. Unlike a painting, which is, essentially, a lie because it is pigment on canvas meant to fool the viewer into believing things that aren't there, a sculpture exists in our reality. We are discouraged from touching a painting, while a sculpture may be felt, sat on, climbed over or caressed. In this sculpture the base is as much a part of the work as the supposed "main focus" sitting on top. 
Context: As one of Brancusi's later works, we can see how far he has taken abstraction and simplification. This may not even be meant to represent an egg, it may be little more than a smoothed out ovoid reminiscent of his 'head' sculptures. It may be 'The Newborn' simplified down as far as it can get.


Brancusi. Torso of a Young Man. 1917
Form: polished bronze on stone Iconography: "The Torso is not anatomy, it recalls none of that glorious straining of muscles and sinews, present in Greek or Renaissance marble sculptures. Nor is it a mere reduction to a metaphor ; it celebrates the beauty of the material itself, but a humanized material."
There may certainly be a bit of double meaning in this piece. In terms of simplification and abstraction of the torso, one thinks of it as being the upper body with or without the head and maybe a bit of the arms. Brancusi has chosen instead to include the hint of leg and the trunk of the body. In terms of simplification, it may be argued that the legs of a young man are rarely equal width of the torso. This is where the double entendre comes into play. It looks like an abstract bronze phallus. The implication that  it is a part of a young man suggests what part a young man may deem most important. Is this true? Maybe not. But throughout art history it must be noted that every artist, without exception, has lust or sex as a muse in at least half of their works. Whether it be a voyeuristic view of a young woman bathing, or greek kraters with older men and their boys depicted, it remains one of the strongest factors of art throughout time.
Context: Note how perfectly polished and symmetrical this bronze piece is, it is meant to invite the viewer to run their hands over it as a tactile experience, much like 'Beginning of the World'. 
                                                                More of Brancusi's works, if you are interested: (

19th and 20th Century American Painting
Asher B. Durand, Kindred Spirits
46x36, 1849
Form:  Oil on canvas.  Here he uses atmospheric perspective where there's high contrast in the for ground, gradually moving to little contrast and middle, washed out blue/grey tones in the back ground. There's great attention to detail in the rocks and trees and the surrounding area.  The painting depicts two figures standing on the edge of a rock.  Iconography: This scene is pure nature, no modern distractions. Here Durand is trying to get back to the basics, similar how we today go to far away places and to great lengths to be without technology. He's trying to erase the signs of culture. Durand spends a lot of time and work on the detail, the texture of the rocks and the trees shows this. 
"Cole, Durand and Bryant", Ms. Foshay writes in her catalogue essay, "shared the belief that nature, particularly nature in the New World, resonated with overtones of meaning."  "It was a sacred place, where true communion could bring not only joy in the beauty of the outdoors, but also enlightenment.  With ink and with paint, these artists explored the tangible appearances of the natural world in search of its intangible truths.  They communicated their perceptions in landscape paintings and nature poems that guided the direction of cultural ideas and aesthetic expression in nineteenth-century America," she continued.
Context: The two figures standing on the edge of the rock over looking the falls,  William Cullen Bryant and Thomas Cole in Kaaterskill Clove. Cole and Bryant are conversing on a rock outcropping in the Catskills with their names carved into one of the trees. Durand believed in the details of nature. He wanted to express nature how he saw it, and exactly like he saw it. 
 Foshay continued, "[they] sought through their writing and painting to embellish and dignify the New World with a culture sown on native soil.  The resource that they identified to inspire this native art was the American landscape - unique in its richness, variety and wildness.  This land was God's creation, still fresh from his hand.  It offered spiritual and moral possibilities, these men believed, for those trained to recognize them." Indeed, the purity of most Hudson River School paintings was bathed in the light of "Manifest Destiny,"  The artists would travel regularly to the Catskills, the Adirondacks, the White Mountains, the coast of Maine and Newport, R. I., and travel in those days was neither easy nor quick and their prolific production of paintings, sketches and engravings would provide many Americans with awe for their country's remarkable, bucolic landscapes..."Unlike his mentor and friend, Cole, Durand was attracted to the 'common details' of nature, spotted in situ.  He sought to study them with a clear eye and reproduce them faithfully.  He did not want to lose the keenness of his first impression….The simple design of these studies is also different from the complex compositions of Cole's allegorical landscapes.  Durand uses nature in the form of a dead tree or a bunch of rocks to compose the picture.  The artist sought to discover design in nature, rather than to rearrange the elements of nature to create a pleasing pictorial design. . . . Wandering through the woods and selecting scenes as he found them was, for Durand, a spiritual journey.  The works that he produced became acts of devotion….In Bryant's poems, Durand found confirmation of his belief that the particulars of nature were the embodiments of God's handiwork.  To study these particulars carefully was a process of enlightenment; to recreate them in text and image was a religious endeavor.  Durand produced several pictures based on themes from Bryant's verses."
"Asher Brown Durand was born in Jefferson Village (now Maplewood), New Jersey, the eighth of eleven children. His frail health exempted him from working on the family farm; instead, he helped his father, a watchmaker and silversmith. Following an apprenticeship to engraver Peter Maverick from 1812 to 1817,  Durand entered into full partnership with Maverick and ran the New York branch of the Newark-based firm. The partnership dissolved in 1820 in a dispute concerning Durand's acceptance of John Trumbull's commission to engrave The Declaration of Independence, which Durand had apparently taken on without deferring to Maverick's position as senior partner. (Maverick, who interpreted the act as a violation of their partnership agreement, heatedly accused Durand of trying to sabotage his career.) The completion of the work in 1823 established Durand's reputation as one of the country's finest engravers. An active member of the New York art community, Durand was instrumental in organizing the New York Drawing Association in 1825 (later the National Academy of Design, which he served as president from 1845 to 1861) and the Sketch Club in 1829 (later the Century Association). During the late 1820s and early 1830s, when his interest gradually shifted from engraving to oil painting, he demonstrated a growing competence in portraiture and genre subjects. With the encouragement of his friend and patron Luman Reed, Durand ended his engraving career in 1835. "In 1837, a sketching expedition to Schroon Lake, in the Adirondacks, with his close friend Thomas Cole seems to have determined Durand's decision to concentrate on landscape painting. In 1840, with money advanced by Jonathan Sturges, Reed's son-in-law and business partner, Durand embarked on a two-year European Grand Tour, part of which was spent in the company of the artists John Casilear, John Kensett, and Thomas Rossiter. Durand's annual summer sketching trips in the Catskill, Adirondack, and White mountains yielded hundreds of drawings and oil sketches that he later incorporated into finished academy pieces. These are the embodiment of his Hudson River School style. With the death of Cole, in 1848, Durand was recognized as the leader of American landscape painting. He died on the family property in Maplewood, to which he had retired from active professional life in 1869." 

Thomas Eakins, Portrait of Walt Whitman 1887-88 Form: Oil paint on canvas, portraiture. Somewhat loose brushwork, he uses earth tones for the majority except for the face. In the center at a somewhat angled pose, Whitman's gaze goes off the side of the painting. He is also sitting just to the left of the center. Iconography: "In the portrait, Whitman was represented exactly how he was. By 1888, Whitman showed his age. And Whitman appreciated Eakins' portrait because it showed his age, too. There is nothing picturesque about Whitman in the portrait -- he simply looks like an old man." This painting shows how Whitman was, realistically, Eakins wasn't trying to pretty him up and show him as something he wasn't. Showing the truth is part of what Whitman wrote about, and illustrating who he was should be the same way. Whitman looks like a tired old man, there also seems to be an energy about him, that even though he is a tired old man, he still holds himself up, in deep thought, he is a man who has ideals. 
Context:  "The friendship between Eakins and Whitman began in 1887. They had met in Whitman's Mickle Street residence in Camden. A few weeks later, Eakins went to Camden without warning to paint the portrait, a spontaneous act that Whitman much admired (Homer 210). "Much of Whitman's admiration for Eakins centered on the portrait" (Homer 213). In admiration of Eakins, Whitman said, "'I never knew of but one artist, and that's Tom Eakins,' he said another time, 'who could resist the temptation to see what they ought to be rather than what is'" (Goodrich 123). It was Eakins' realism that Whitman admired so much -- a realism extending even to the portrait of the aging poet. Whitman contrasted Eakins' portrait to Herbert Gilchrist's, "which is parlor Whitman" (Goodrich 123). Whitman, focused on the realistic aspect of human beings, told Horace Traubel not to glamorize Walt's last days." (
"As a painter, Thomas Eakins had a relationship with Walt Whitman unlike any other. Born in Philadelphia in 1844, Eakins did not meet Whitman until the latter half of the 1880's, but "the two men had a deep respect for each other" (Goodrich 122). In his old age, Whitman had relocated to Camden, New Jersey, right across the Delaware and very close to Philadelphia. Eakins "went into the wilds of New Jersey where he found. . . Walt Whitman, in a self-chosen exile of his own. Expelled from the bourgeois world, or so the legend ran, Whitman and Eakins together built the metaphysics for a distinctly American realism -- the poet's ecstatic and high-hearted, the painter's murky and inward-turning" (Gopkin 78). The two men shared not only a friendship and mutual respect, but an artistic vision of American democracy grounded in realism.  (Philadelphia-Camden Friendship: Celebrating America)  Whitman and Eakins were friends in more than just the sense of acquaintance; in fact, Eakins was one of 32 people invited to a dinner party for Whitman's 72nd birthday (Goodrich 124). They were so close that the day after Whitman died, Eakins went to Camden with some of his students and  made a death mask and hand cast of Whitman . When Eakins heard of Whitman's death, he immediately contacted Horace Traubel to make the mask of his friend, a man he admired very much. This illustrates that the relationship transcended a mere respect between two artists.  The two artists had similar ideas of America and art. "Whitman disliked European manners and conventions, and he was passionately devoted to America and to a celebration of the democratic ideal. . . The chief similarity between Eakins and Whitman was their self-sufficient confidence, which allowed them to disregard the conventions of their time. Eakins, like Whitman, insisted on making art in a way that seemed most appropriate and truthful, without giving in to popular or critical opinion" (Homer 217). They were individualists who did not waver in the face of criticism. Both men were artistically rejected in their lives -- though as Whitman aged he gained more popularity. Eakins was scrutinized by the bourgeois Philadelphia society. He paid a high price for his fascination with the nude body. Whitman also had a fascination with the body, but because of the nature of poetry -- words -- was less explicit than Eakins, who painted the body. "Both were democrats, despising forms and conventions which hid the essential human being" (Goodrich 122). The tendency to celebrate the human body was prevalent in both Whitman and Eakins' work. A major difference must be brought to light, though: "Eakins concentrated on the individual; Whitman, on humanity and the cosmos" (Homer 219). 
In spite of this idea, Eakins was still profoundly indebted to the poet. When Weda Cook (who wrote music to O Captain, My Captain!) was posing for Eakins, "the artist talked much to her about Whitman and would sometimes quote his verses" (Goodrich 122). Not only was Eakins fond of Whitman's poems, but "it was the concrete, realistic side of the poet, his observation, and his feeling for the body, that appealed most to the painter, who used to say: 'Whitman never makes a mistake'" (Goodrich 122). It is this admiration that Eakins can be classified as a Whitmanian painter." (

Winslow Homer Gulf Stream 1899 Form: Oil painting. This piece depicts a man on a broken boat in the middle of the ocean. surrounded by sharks and in the distance you can see a hurricane or wind storm  Iconography:  "In his Gulf Stream (1899; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City), the black sailor lying on the deck of a small, dismasted boat is dramatically highlighted at the center of a ring of predatory sharks." This shows man's struggle against nature, a stranded young black man who is surrounded by all sorts of doom, and yet the man still looks strong. It looks like the man has dog tags and camouflage pants, so he could be a soldier adrift after the war. The fact that the man is black is an even bigger deal. during, this time, african americans were said to be equal but they weren't treated that way. The piece depicts not only man against nature, but could also have a double theme of the african american against the white forces. 
Context:  Many artists use themes such as "storm tossed boat" or in the case of the transcendentalists, towering vistas that are meant to represent God, in nature. The theme of the boat in a stormy sea is meant to convey the futility of human struggle against the awesome forces of nature, as written on the site,  "A stay in England from 1881 to 1882, during which Homer lived in a fishing village, led to a permanent change in his subject matter. Thereafter he concentrated on large-scale scenes of nature, particularly scenes of the sea, of its fishermen, and of their families. Taking up solitary residence on the Maine coast at Prout's Neck, he produced such masterpieces of realism as Eight Bells (1886, Addison Gallery, Andover, Massachusetts); in it the drama of the sea scene is imbued with an epic, heroic quality that symbolizes the dominant theme of his maturity: human struggle with the forces of nature.
(Originally published in the Tennessee Tribune 3/9/00 ) "I have liked Winslow Homer's painting, The Gulf Stream, for many years, but I would never have understood what makes it so beautiful, nor that it can teach men and women about our own lives, had it not been for my study of Aesthetic Realism. Eli Siegel, who founded the education of Aesthetic Realism, defined what beauty is and pointed to its importance for every person's life in this principle: "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves."  People have been pained at not being able to make sense of their desire for energetic activity on one hand, and for rest or repose on the other. Aesthetic Realism teaches that we can learn from art how to put these opposites together in our lives. Homer’s painting — in its composition and technique shows that we can feel truly reposeful and energetic at once. It has in it a man on a boat whose mast has been broken and swept away by a hurricane, adrift in the restless sea, and surrounded by sharks. I once thought it justified my feeling that the world was cruel and battered one about.  I learned this was not what this painting is about, or why I liked it. Homer's The Gulf Stream met my deepest hope — to like the world honestly — because it puts opposites together in a way that shows the world makes sense.  At any age people can want to get away from things, and older people tend to go more and more for rest. At 88, I am grateful to continue to learn about this drive in myself and humanity in classes and public seminars at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, a not-for-profit educational foundation in New York City. In "Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites?" Eli Siegel asks about Repose and Energy: Is there in painting an effect which arises from the being together of repose and energy in the artist's mind? — can both repose and energy be seen in a painting's line and color, plane and volume, surface and depth, detail and composition? — and is the true effect of a good painting on the spectator one that makes at once for repose and energy, calmness and intensity, serenity and stir? The tumultuous sea and whitecaps, the sharks, broken boat and waterspout in the distance on the right — all have motion and turbulence. Yet  the man seems strangely at ease as he rests on his elbow, looking out. Homer’s composition shows that both man and world are a relation of "repose and energy, calmness and intensity, serenity and stir."  Before I met Aesthetic Realism I shuttled between feverish, exhausting activity in work or sports, to getting home, pulling down the blinds and going to sleep. I felt these different directions in myself had to fight. It was my good fortune that in 1947 I began to study it. In the thousands of Aesthetic Realism Lessons which Eli Siegel gave to people, he saw each person with the deep comprehension humanity hopes for, because he saw every person as an aesthetic situation of opposites.  When I told Mr. Siegel in a lesson, of a frightening dream about being on a train, on a stretcher, he explained:  You want to be on the move, but while being on the move you're afraid that something in you wants to be very quiet and take it easy. While you're on the train something in you would like to take it easy and be in the hospital. The opposites which were fighting in me, are made beautifully one in The Gulf Stream. There is the activity of the waves, the waterspout, the sharks, as the boat is tossed about, while the schooner in the distance on the left is moving calmly. There is motion in the waves as they roll and peak, but there is ease at the same time because of the definiteness of the shapes and the rhythm of the curves. I believe that is why watching the ocean makes for composure in people. As the man reclines on the boat he is not taking it easy, as I once did, to get away from the world — his mind is alert as he looks out steadily for help. I understood more why this painting moved me, when I read this sentence by Mr. Siegel: "If we look at a desperate and controlled sea painting of Winslow Homer, we can see passion and control given to black muscles." Aesthetic Realism understands anger, which I was so pained about and unable to control. In a lesson Mr. Siegel said: While you jump from being sweet to angry you'll be tired. You want to like people and also hate them, and you go from hot to cold. While you play around with this you're going to be tired. This fight in me and so many men is resolved in The Gulf Stream. Look at the relation between the open mouth of the shark with its teeth and the dark opening of the boat’s hold from which sweet sugar cane extends. The cane represents a world giving the man sustenance. The fierce and the sweet do not jump from one to the other, as they once did in me. I learned my anger came from wanting to feel that people were against me; that I was in a hostile world I should be separate from. As Homer separates things, he also joins them and shows they are not against each other. The curve of the back of the boat is like the curve of the shark’s tail fin and body on the right, and the curves of waves and sharks are alike. Homer has bathed the man and boat in light and they seem to be safely nestled in a trough of waves. Does this say the world can be comforting? I believe Homer's work shows his hope to make sense of wanting to see the world as an enemy and as a friend — the fight Eli Siegel so kindly explained in me. Aesthetic Realism taught me that repose and energy do not have to fight, and saved me from a life of anger and loneliness. This is a hopeful and beautiful painting because it composes repose and energy, the fierce and sweet, in such a way that shows the world makes sense. We can all learn from it." 
Glackens, Hammersteins Roof Garden 1901
Form: Oil paint on canvas, a genre scene. Loose flowing brushwork, with a majority of neutral browns and grays, there are only a few spots of brilliant blues, reds, or yellows.  Iconography:  "At the top of the image, the painter—William Glackens—shows you a woman in a blue dress performing a tightrope act. Entertainment at roof gardens was on the seedy side: acrobats, exoticdancers, mermaids in glass tanks. Like the blockbuster movies we now flock to see during the summer, it was trashy but fun. It was also a tribute to technology. Audiences were carried to the roof on newfangled elevators. Electric lights lit the stage. A roof garden was held to be one of the crowning achievements of the modern city. Look at the people seated at the bottom of the canvas. The well-dressed women with their backs to you seem quite respectable. But the way the tables and chairs are jumbled together, it's hard to tell who is with who. Does the man in the group actually know any of these women? Have they been introduced? Will they speak to each other? The public mingling of the sexes you see here was new, just as new as light bulbs and elevators. The women are walking a tightrope of their own—the fine line between Victorian values and a new modern sensibility." (
Context: "In the Victorian era, women were kept like caged birds, something beautiful to look at, but not meant to roam freely. It was, in fact, a scandal if a woman left her home for the outside without the company of a male escort.  "At the turn of the century, New Yorkers began to frequent roof gardens—nightspots built on the roofs of buildings to escape the summer heat. This is Hammerstein's Roof Garden at the corner of Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street."(
Glackens was born in Philadelphia in 1870. He attended Central High School, where John Sloan was a classmate. With a keen eye and a natural gift for drawing, he landed a position as staff illustrator for the Philadelphia Record in 1891. The  next year he moved to the rival Press, where Sloan was in the art department along with Everett Shinn, and, after 1893, George Luks. At the same time, he took night classes under Thomas Anshutz at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. About 1894 Glackens met the magnetic Henri, who was then teaching at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. The two men shared a studio later the same year. Then in the spring of 1895, Glackens, Henri, and another Philadelphia artist-friend, Elmer Schofield, traveled eighteen months through France, Holland, and Belgium. Henri was particularly impressed upon seeing the work of Franz Hals, Rembrandt, Diego Velasquez, Francisco Goya, and Edouard Manet, and he led in adapting for his own expressive ends the dark-toned, freely brushed method of those earlier Europeans. By the time the party returned to America in late 1896, Glackens was confirmed to the Henri approach. Resettled in New York City, Glackens found that Shinn and Luks had transferred from Philadelphia. Luks, then with the New York World, gave him a job to create comic drawings for the paper's Sunday supplement. Shortly, Glackens also began illustrating for the Herald. Glackens and Luks shared a room and studio for several months, during which time Glackens is acknowledged for having provided Luks crucial encouragement to pursue painting seriously. In 1898 the national illustrated magazine, McClure's, sent Glackens to Cuba to cover events of the Spanish-American War. After the important 1906 European trip, and after having been elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design the same year (he was not raised to full membership until 1933), he concentrated more and more on painting. He gave up illustration altogether in 1914. As one of the Henri circle, Glackens had six pictures in the showing by The Eight at New York's Macbeth Gallery in 1908. In 1910 he helped organize and participated in the first large no-prerequisite (only a modest entry fee), no-jury, no-prize show in the United States, the controversial Exhibition of Independent Artists. It was also in 1910 that Glackens was re-acquainted with an old high school friend, Dr. Albert C. Barnes, a wealthy manufacturer and the inventor of the antiseptic compound, Argyrol. Barnes heretofore had been a diletante art collector, acquiring little of note or value. But he wanted to improve his holdings significantly, and to that end sought Glackens' help. In February 1912, Barnes sent Glackens to Paris with a sizeable amount of money to buy for him whatever paintings he thought worthwhile. Glackens purchased twenty French modern works, including pieces by Cézanne and Renoir. Later Glackens counseled Barnes in buying paintings by each of The Eight. These two ventures established the nucleus of what would eventually become the esteemed Barnes Foundation Collection in Merion, Pennsylvania. Later in 1912 Glackens joined the planning group for the prodigious Armory Show, held in New York the following year. He served as chairman for the selection of American art, and, somewhat modestly, included only three of his own works in the exhibit. In 1916 Glackens was a founding member and the first president of the Society of Independent Artists. Throughout his New York years, he taught periodically at the Art Students League. After 1925 the artist and his wife divided their time between  America and Europe. Abroad, he resided mainly in France, a country he very much loved. In the mid 1930s, his health gradually deteriorated. While visiting in the Westport, Connecticut, home of long-time friends, artist Charles Prendergast (brother of Maurice) and his wife, in May 1938, Glackens died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was sixty-eight.
-- William Henning, Jr. & Ellen Simak (

Bellows, George
Stag at Sharkey's
Oil on canvas
36 1/4 x 48 1/4 in. (92.1 x 122.6 cm)
The Cleveland Museum of Art
Thomas Eakins, Between Rounds 1899
Oil on canvas 50.125 x 38.25
in Philadelphia Museum of Art
Excerpted from:
PAINTINGS of George Bellows, The (Exhibition)
 Source: Time, 8/3/92, Vol. 140 Issue 5, p68, 2p, 1c
 Author(s): Hughes, Robert
ENERGETIC, FULL OF JUICE, BRILliant m flashes but in the long haul a most uneven talent, George Bellows died of appendicitis in 1925 at the age of 42 with a reputation among-Americans that was not going to survive.  He appealed to "sound" taste in his day--and then got flattened from behind by the avant-garde as it developed after the 1913 Armory Show, which he had helped organize: road kill, as it were, on art history's Route 66. He didn't quite have the empirical genius of the older Winslow Homer, to whom his early work strongly relates; nor did he quite possess the visionary force of Marsden Hartley, with whom he shared a love of romantic, elemental images--sea, rock, the buffeting air of Maine. 
What he did have (but began to lose in his early 30s) was an abundant response to the physical world, a libidinous sense of fat-nuanced paint, sure tonal structure and a narrative passion for the density of life in New York City. 
If these attributes couldn't turn him into a major modernist, they certainly make him an artist worth revisiting. Hence the retrospective of paintings jointly organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, which runs at the Whitney Museum in New York City until the end of August. 
Bellows studied at the New York School of Art under Robert Henri, the American realist disciple of Frans Hals and Edward Manet. "My life begins at this point," he said of his apprenticeship to Henri. He soon developed a tough, pragmatic repertoire based on realist drawing and tonal composition. He was by far the most gifted younger member of the Ashcan School, a loose group that included John Sloan, George Luks and William Glackens. Not one of them ever painted an ash can, but they did believe, in a general way, that the artist should work from life as it was lived in the big dirty city and stay away from highfalutin symbolism. 
Their gods were Manet, Daumier, Goya and Hals; among Americans, Homer and Eakins. None were more direct than Bellows, who in the peak years of his youth became the entranced recorder of New York, the "real" city of tough mud larking kids, of crowded tenements and teeming icy streets, of big bridges and sudden breaks in the wall of buildings that revealed tugboats and a dragging tide. 
Bellows' most powerful image of the city as compressor of violence was the boxing ring. Prize fighting was made illegal in New York State in 1900. But that did not dispose of the semi-clandestine "club nights," with battling pugs drawn from the hard, desperate edge of Irish, Polish, Italian and Jewish street gangs--kids who would pound each other to hash for a purse under the eyes of a flushed, yelling house. The sport was barely a notch up from the bareknuckle slugging of Georgian England. 
Starting in 1907, Bellows made a small series of boxing pictures, of which the most gripping is Stag at Sharkey's (1909), an image of orgiastic energy, the boxers' faces reduced to speed blurs of bloody paint, the bodies starkly gleaming under the carbide lights, locked m a triangle, the strain of muscles so assimilated into the physical life of the paint strokes that the pigment runs over their contours. Bellows' contemporaries found such images "Hogarthian," but the closer ancestor of Stag at Sharkey's is late Goya. In particular the frieze of spectators' heads, yelling, gaping, sly, stupefied, brings to mind the faces in Goya's Witches' Sabbath or his Pilgrimage to the Miraculous Fountain of San Isidro. 
PAINTINGS of George Bellows, The (Exhibition)

John Sloan, Hairdresser’s Window (1907)
oil on canvas
81 x 66 cm (32 x 251/8 in.)
Form: Oil paint on canvas, a spectator scene that includes men and women. Earth tones with some spots vibrant color. The focus is on the hairdresser in the window. The people are more of a characature then realistically done.  Iconography: "In 1908 Sloan continues to explore the relationship between audiences and pictures. His Hairdresser's
Window, which art historians Robert W. Snyder and Rebecca Zurier describe as "a witty arrangement" that makes "visual equations between the rectangular window, the placards that punningly advertise hair products, and the flat, frontal canvas itself," can be interpreted as a reflection on the pervasiveness of pictorial spectacle and advertising."
Context: " The Ashcan artists—George Bellows, William Glackens, Robert Henri, George Luks, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan—recorded the vitality and diversity of life in New York at the turn of the last century. Each had to come to terms with the dynamics of modernity, including changing definitions of public and private life and evolving norms of conduct for men and women. Of all these artists, Sloan, was the most attentive to women's roles in urban society, and in his etchings, paintings, and drawings between 1905 and 1908, he created images of women of different ages and social classes at work and play."(" 
In focusing his gaze on women, Sloan (1871–1951) exercised the traditional male artist's prerogative and pictured them as alluring objects and the stimulus of "visual pleasure." But he was also an idiosyncratic and self-conscious observer who invested much of his work with a critique of spectatorship itself. Although Sloan  portrayed both men and women gazing at moving pictures (the precursors to today's motion pictures), shop windows, and billboards, one of the most telling features of his work is his depiction of women in the act of looking ,which became a theme in his early images, along with the related issue of commercial display and the culture of mass consumption. A new reassessment of Sloan's pictures can benefit from recent studies in both the history of cinema and art history that reveal the emergence of female spectatorship as an essential aspect of the unfolding of modernity. Such studies have also discussed new forms of advertising geared primarily toward women. Some scholars have suggested that there is a uniquely modern female onlooker who is analogous, in some respects, to the Parisian flâneur, or male stroller, of the mid-nineteenth century, who Charles Baudelaire described as anonymously, yet passionately, moving through the city in search of the distinctive quality that defines modern life. However, this new woman is born as a consumer. In her analysis of Edouard Manet's Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1881–82), art historian Ruth Iskin asserts that the painting marked "a shift of pictorial codes of representation from an exclusive single male gaze to an accompanying female spectatorial gaze and a new paradigm of crowd spectatorship that includes some women alongside men." Sloan's early work illustrates the relevance of this argument to early twentieth-century American art." 
John Singer Sargent
Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882
Oil on canvas 
221.9 x 222.6 cm (87 3/8 x 87 5/8 in.) 
Form: Oil paint on canvas. realistic, the figures are partly highlighted by a beam of light and are surrounded by a dark room, it has an odd composition, "It is a masterful composition with the four girls seemingly caught as if by snapshot during a quiet day of play. The youngest sits on the floor looking wistful. Another girl is standing on the sidelines. Her white apron catches the light. Half hidden in the shadow of a doorway stand two others, towered over by a large Japanese vase. A red screen at the right beside a matching vase perfectly balances the composition." Iconography:   The Daughters of Edward D. Boit: Jane, aged twelve, stands facing forward; Florence, aged fourteen, is immediately to her right, in profile looking left, her hands folded in front; Mary, aged eight, is next to Florence, her arms clasped behind her back; Julia, aged four, is sitting, playing with a doll."  ( What made this painting stand out from the other portraits which Sargent was commissioned to do was the unique composition. A recent exhibition of his work in Boston still has the art critics exclaiming over this, " Portraits became Sargent's most popular works, although, at first, critics weren't always happy with them. For example, "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit," which Sargent painted in 1882, is not a traditional portrait. It is a masterful composition with the four girls seemingly caught as if by snapshot during a quiet day of play. The youngest sits on the floor looking wistful. Another girl is standing on the sidelines. Her white apron catches the light. Half hidden in the shadow of a doorway stand two others, towered over by a large Japanese vase. A red screen at the right beside a matching vase perfectly balances the composition." (
Context: "Edward Darley Boit (1840-1915) “ was an ideal patron, a man quivering on the outskirts of art who encouraged John by the sheer force of his administration. He was, down to his toes, a Bostonian – Boston Latin School, Harvard, Secretary of Hasty Pudding, Freshman crew, tall, poetic, athletic, confident, and rich (richer still for having married a Cushing – Charlotte Louisa, known as “Iza” – the only daughter of a vastly wealthy merchant whose estate “Belmont” gave the town its name) – with a very curious difference. In 1868 he saw the work of Corot, and at that instant discovered painting in a blinding flash and spent the rest of his life in service to that revelation… John liked them (the Boits) for somewhat more basic, straightforward reasons. They were educated. They were musical, and also ardent Wagnerians. They were agreeably uncomplicated, and Edward Boit’s order for a group portrait of his young daughters interested John a great deal.”
"Sargent's works as a whole share an inherent sensuality. His love of paint -- its colors, textures and variety of light effects -- and the erotic charge given off by his subjects attest to Sargent's own intensely sensual nature. Although obviously attracted to women, Sargent never married. He remained energetic, somewhat naïve, poorly educated beyond the arts and devoted to his family and friends, who traveled around Europe with him. In contrast to current practice, he was unfailingly discreet about his private life. Always proud of his American heritage, Sargent was born to peripatetic Americans in Florence and studied briefly as they traveled, principally in France at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He did not arrive on these shores until he was 20, when he visited Philadelphia, his parent's hometown, to see the Centennial Exhibition. Sargent was already fluent in four languages and moving in a variety of social spheres. In 1879, his portrait of Carolus-Duran, in whose studio he had worked for five years, was awarded an Honorable Mention at the Salon. Sargent had painted his teacher while assisting him with a mural for the Luxembourg Palace, one reason why he admired and esteemed mural painting all his life. From Carolus-Duran, he also learned to admire Velasquez and employed that master's balance of black versus white with flair through out his life. With his Salon triumph at age 23, Sargent's career was off and running.  The Corcoran's show of drawings is titled with the artist's own words "Sketch Everything and Keep Your Curiosity Fresh." Sargent honed his talent razor sharp by drawing throughout his constant travels and by sharing his love of art and music (he was an accomplished pianist) with a close circle of friends. Artists, of course, were included in his coterie, and some of his best pieces capture them at work. The Fountain, Villa Tolonia, Frascati, Italy from 1907, for instance, shows Jane de Glehn painting. What makes the painting pop is the combination of a picturesque setting with a serious portrait study activated by the effects of sunlight. Although he knew Monet, collected his paintings and lightened his palette under his influence, Sargent was no Impressionist. He was part of an international movement at the turn of the century that combined realism with powerful, often slashing, brushwork and high-keyed color."(

Sargent, Street in Venice 1882
Form: Oil on wood panel. Loose, flowing brushwork, he uses a neutral pallette with a lot of darks. it has a possibly moody sense, but more of a calm, almost friendly atmosphere.  Iconography:  "I have little doubt that what we see here is Venice, not in how the tourist might see it, but in how the locals see it in everyday life in the year 1882. This is street-life on a chilly day in the fall or winter with men in top coats and the woman in a warm wrap, on an old narrow street with locals who talk to their neighbors.  
This is the real Venice on a cool autumn or winter day. And knowing Sargent, though it might not be pretty at first impression, it is probably a very accurate depiction of local  life." 
 By: Natasha Wallace, Copyright 1999.(
Context: " The National Gallery of Art, where this painting hangs, indicates this was painted at Calle Larga dei Proverbi, a back alley north of the Grand Canal and behind the church of SS. Apostoli (Linda Ayres, Patricia Hills Book, P. 56). They seem to think it was painted during siesta because, as you can see, the shop doors are closed and there are few people on the street. Though the tonality is very dark, and the shadows deep, which might give it a moody feeling, the subject is far from what the mood might indicate. If you compare Sortie de l’église, Campo San Canciano, Venice (1882) with Street in Venice you will see women headed home (from church no less) in roughly the same outfit as the young woman in Street in Venice. This is what women wore and how they wore it. 
 I am reminded of a famous photograph of a street in Paris in the 1940's which showed a beautiful young woman that had passed a group of young men all of whom are admiring her. Boys will be boys -- though I’m not sure it’s politically correct to say that. Remember, Sargent is 26 years old when he paints this, and I don’t think it beyond him to also enjoy the sight of a beautiful woman in a fleeting moment. But more importantly, I think you need to keep in mind that this was done in the vernacular of the great Spanish Master  Diego Velazquez (1599-1660), whom John admired greatly and was influenced by. In 1629, at the age of 30, Velazquez took a trip from Spain to Italy and studied the  masters and painted there for two years. He visited, among other places, Venice, Florence, and Rome. In 1882, Sargent travels to Venice, Florence, Siena, and Rome at a relatively similar time in his life, and I don't think this was lost on him. During this period, Sargent is actively studying and experimenting with the great Master's form and style. What Velazquez was able to capture was the deep, deep tonality of earthy colors, almost monochromatic in some cases, and the ability to freeze or capture the instantaneousness of people, of expressions, of movement. Velazquez was living at a time when the Spanish empire was near bankrupt and beginning to crumble and his paintings could be often moody in a dark tonal sense. In 1883, Sargent sent A Street in Venice to the Societe Internationale des Peintres et Sculpteurs, Rue de Seze, Paris. One critic called Sargent's work "banal and worn-out". " M. Sargent leads us into obscure squares and dark streets where only a single ray of light falls. The women of his Venice, with their messy hair and ragged clothes, are no decendents of Titian's  beauties. Why go to Italy if it is only to gather impressions like these." (Arthur Baigneres, critic for the Gazette des beaux-arts; Ratcliff, Carter, John Singer Sargent. Abbeville Press, New York, 1982.)"  
By: Natasha Wallace, Copyright 1999.(
"In the last quarter century of his life, weary of catering to the whims of sitters, Sargent largely abandoned portraiture to concentrate on oil and watercolor landscape, Alpine figure studies, architectural pictures of gardens and parks and fountains and statues, and genre scenes and mural work. Much of his time after 1900 was devoted to extended painting forays to diverse locales in France, Italy and Switzerland, often accompanied by the family of his sister, Violet Ormond, and other friends, who frequently acted as models. In an exquisite, highly expressive oil, "Group with Parasols (A Siesta)" (1905), he depicted several male and female friends jumbled together in a dreamy, shared siesta. Sargent featured two favorite traveling companions, British painter Wilfred de Glehn and his American-born artist-wife, Jane Emmet, in the setting of one of his beloved haunts, in the magnificent "The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy" (1907). The de Glehns also appear in another fine oil, "Villa Torre Galli: The Loggia" (1910), in which Jane reads in the foreground as Wilfred paints at an easel in the background of the villa where the Sargent party stopped on the outskirts of Florence.
Sargent returned often to Venice, where he reveled in depicting canals, campos and palace facades from different angles and under varying light conditions, in both oils and watercolors. Some of his finest watercolors were executed during these sojourns, notable for their spontaneity, freedom, luminosity and limpid style. Among the best, both painted from the vantage point of a gondola, are "Scuola di San Rocco" (circa 1903) and "On the Grand Canal" (circa 1907). Similar scenes, painted in oil, such as "The Rialto, Venice" (circa 1911) and "Corner of the Church of San Stae, Venice" (circa 1913) demonstrate Sargent's versatility in portraying his favorite Italian city in different media." 

  The Ashcan School
Title: The epic of the city.
Subject(s): ASHCAN school of art; METROPOLITAN Lives (Exhibition)
Source: Time, 2/19/96, Vol. 147 Issue 8, p62, 2p, 2c
Author(s): Hughes, Robert
Abstract: Profiles the Ashcan School of American painting. The exhibition `Metropolitan Lives: The Ashcan Artists and Their New York,' at the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C.; Background of the movement; Members including Robert Henri, John Sloan, George Luks and Everett Shinn; The Ashcan School as the first art of urban America.
AN: 9602137653
ISSN: 0040-781X
Full Text Word Count: 1308
Database:  Academic Search Elite
Notes: Check Periodical list for Ohlone Library holdings.
* * *

UNTIL ABOUT 1880, THE ACCEPTed epic subject of American painting was the Western frontier. By 1900 this had slid into nostalgia; it was no longer in synch with social reality. Most Americans lived in cities, and the myth of the West was just that: a myth, however durable. The real frontier was urban--a place of hitherto unimagined overcrowding, of cultural collision enforced by huge-scale immigration, of rapid change, where class ground against class like the imperfect rollers of a giant machine. Its epitome was New York City--Bagdad-on-the-Subway, as the writer O. Henry called it--a city in convulsive and continuous transition, bursting at the seams with high spirits, misery and spectacle. 
The painters who reported on it were nicknamed the Ashcan School by a critic in the 1930s, and the label has stuck. They were Robert Henri, John Sloan, George Luks, Everett Shinn, William Glackens and George Bellows, and among them they created the first art of urban America. The current show at the National Museum of American Art in Washington, "Metropolitan Lives: The Ashcan Artists and Their New York," is a fine introduction to their work. 
The group had formed around Henri in Philadelphia. Henri's original family name was Cozad--he was a very distant relation of Mary Cassatt--but his father, a riverboat gambler and property shark, had shot a man in Nebraska and had moved East and changed his name to escape the judge and jury. Young Henri (pronounced Hen-rye) became an artist through study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, which in the 1880s was still what its chief teacher, the great realist Thomas Eakins, had made it: the best place in America to learn direct, factual realist painting, based on incessant drawing of the naked body. 
Henri made a pilgrimage to Paris in 1888 and absorbed a fairly academic style of Impressionism during three years of study there. But it was his second trip to Paris in the mid-1890s that confirmed his direction as an artist. Dissatisfied with Impressionism as an art of insubstantial surfaces, he immersed himself in dark tonal painting, based on Manet and Frans Hals. He wanted the image to be not a shimmer of light but a lump in the mind, given urgency by slashing brushstrokes and depth by strong contrast. He liked Hals' vulgarity and reflected it in his portraits, one of the most spectacular of which is in this show--Salome, 1909, a portrait of a dancer known as Mademoiselle Voclezca. Her long leg, thrust out with strutting sexual arrogance and glinting through the overbrushed black veil, had more oomph than a thousand of the virginal Muses and personifications of Columbia painted by academics like Kenyon Cox. 
In Philadelphia, Henri's worldly, rebellious, effusive nature made him a magnet to younger artists, most of whom worked as illustrators for the Philadelphia press--Sloan, Glackens, Shinn and Luks. They drank together, had long poker sessions, bellowed poetry at one another and argued late into the night. Sloan recalled 50 years later that Henri was "a catalyst, an enthusiast ... with the pioneer's contempt for cant and aestheticism." Moreover, he was genuinely interested in the young, and was to inspire several generations of students--not only his younger contemporaries like Sloan and Bellows, but Edward Hopper and Stuart Davis, the Dadaist Man Ray and, strange to say, Leon Trotsky, who briefly studied art at the Ferrer School in New York when Henri was teaching there. 
By 1904, Henri and the rest had moved to New York, where an unparalleled field of subjects for painter-journalists awaited them. The artist, they all believed, must connect to the harsh facts of his society, especially in the city; then his art would draw life and staying power from its common subject matter. "His vest is slightly spotted; he is real," said Sloan approvingly of a visiting Irish painter, J.B. Yeats, father of the poet. Luks boasted that he could paint with a shoestring dipped in lard and tar. The artist, smearing oily gunk on a cloth with bristles, is immersed in mess--a manual worker of images. This makes him one with the city and its people. For poetic spirit, he should emulate Walt Whitman, learning to embrace the body of the city and contain multitudes, dirt and all. The masculine realism of Winslow Homer inspired all the Ashcan artists--they, especially Henri and Bellows, wanted to be Homers of the city. 
The most talented painters among them were Henri, Bellows and Sloan. Glackens turned into a late-blooming Impressionist, and Shinn was essentially an illustrator, while Luks' coarse, rhetorical talent produced a lot of formulaically macho painting leavened only by a few significant works, such as The Wrestlers, 1905. 
Bellows died in 1925, at only 43, and all his best paintings were finished by 1913, the year of the Armory Show. They were the works of a fast-eyed, brilliantly responsive artist whose style looked modern, and in some respects was modern, without offending American conservatives. Bellows' reputation as a radical had more to do with his lowlife subjects and journalistic speed than with any avant-gardeness in the work. His political ideas, like those of Sloan and Henri, were in some general way socialist-anarchist without being particularly militant. He leaned toward a pastoral, unthreatening vision of the disorganized poor, spiced with humor, as in his portraits of tough Irish street urchins or the famous Forty-Two Kids, 1909--not, alas, in this show--depicting a swarm of knobby pale boys horsing around and diving into the Hudson from a broken-down pier. 
He had a terrific nose for a story. One of the biggest in New York circa 1909 was illicit prizefighting, and Bellows made intensely vivid and memorable images of it. Ashcan painting, in its description of the Darwinian world of fists evoked by American realist writers like Frank Norris and Jack London, lagged behind literature by 10 years or more, but its attachment to images of clash and struggle aligned it squarely with the American cultural ideology of the day--Theodore Roosevelt's praise of the strenuous life. 
The most lyrical--but also the most politically acerbic--of the Ashcan artists was Sloan. A fervent admirer of the social vision of French lithographers, especially Gavarni and Daumier, he kept his satire for the illustrations he did for The Masses and other left-wing magazines. His painted world was more amiable, with its fleshy, rosy girls in dance halls or promenading in Washington Square Park--a Brooklyn Fragonard whispering to a Hester Street Renoir. Sloan saw his people as part of a larger totality, the carnal and cozy body of the city itself, where even the searchlight on top of Madison Square Garden, he wrote, "was scratching the belly of the sky and tickling the building." He liked the roaring dynamism of the El, and in Election Night, 1907, he combined it with a flushed, disorderly crowd in a sort of modern kermis. 
Sloan was, as Willem de Kooning would say of himself many years later, a slipping glimpser, with a strong sense of the fleeting moment in which people are caught unawares--arguments on the fire escape, a woman pegging out the wash, lovers furtively embracing on the tenement roof. And though his vision was less flamboyant than Henri's or Bellows', he clearly had a deep effect on younger painters like Reginald Marsh and Hopper. His moments of voyeuristic detachment were amplified in Hopper's glimpses of disconnected urban souls seen through windows. One wants to see more of Sloan; when will some American museum give him the retrospective he deserves? 

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Robert Henri 1865-1929 
Snow in New York 1902 
32 x 25 3/4 in

Form: oil on canvas Iconography: The mood is set with very little pure white. It gives the city a calmness about it. if you look closely you can see spots of a vibrant red, showing that there is life on this city street in winter. This scene is a scene of every day life, but unlike the majority of the artists of this time, there is a focus on the lower class. The dark colors and the image of the dark buildings against the lighter snow colored street, gives you a calm and almost foreboding experience. You can't help but want to connect with the few people walking about in the sludge covered streets. 
Context: "Robert Henri and his circle of Ashcan realists became known for their crusading efforts to reconnect art and life. Eschewing allegorical themes, depictions of upper-class leisure, society portraiture, and the aesthetic movement, they instead depicted daily life in the urban metropolis- street culture, popular entertainments, new immigrants, and the working class." ( 
"The son of a riverboat gambler, Robert Henri was born Robert Henry Cozad in 1865 and grew up in the small town of Cozad, Nebraska, which his father had founded. After his father killed a man and fled to avoid arrest for murder, the various members of the family took different names to avoid identification. Robert assumed the name of Robert Henri. The family resettled in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and shortly afterwards, in 1886, having decided to become a painter, Henri enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. From 1886 to 1900, Henri alternated his time between Paris and Philadelphia, making three trips to Paris and working in Philadelphia in the intervening periods.
It was in Paris, where he first studied at the Academie Julian and later formed a small art school of his own, that he grew to admire the dark palette and free brushwork of Edouard Manet, Frans Hals, and Diego Velazquez. Here he was exposed to Impressionism and was introduced to the daring, sometimes risqué realism of French authors. In 1899, a dark city snow scene he had painted was purchased by the Luxembourg Museum in Paris, a singular honor for an American artist. In Philadelphia, where he both studied and taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, he absorbed the sober realism of Thomas Eakins, as it had been passed on through the teachings of Thomas Anshutz. In addition, he formed a small coterie of young newspaper illustrators and would-be painters, including George Luks, John Sloan, William Glackens, and Everett Shinn, who were inspired by his emphasis on originality and truthful depiction of real life.
In 1900, Henri moved to New York, where he became an extremely popular teacher of such artists as Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, George Bellows, Stuart Davis, and Yasuo Kuniyoshi. He also became a strong advocate of adventurous styles in painting, particularly boldly slashed scenes of urban life and portraits of the urban poor. One by one, the young men who had admired him in Philadelphia also moved to New York and gathered around him. After several works by these young artists were rejected by the National Academy of Design, he organized a show of the rejected work, along with paintings of his own, in 1908, at the Macbeth Gallery. Titled simply The Eight, the exhibition created a sensation, was flooded with visitors, and was even a commercial success. The event is often considered the opening salvo of modern art in the United States." -Henry Adams (
The Ashcan School and "The Eight"
  • Everett Shin, 
  • Robert Henri, 
  • William Glackens, 
  • John Sloan, 
  • George Bellows,
  • Ernest Lawson 
  • Maurice Prendergart.

The Spielers by George Luks. 1905
36 1/16 x 26 1/4 inches
Form: Oil on canvas, he uses loose brushstrokes, there is a gestural and characature quality to the figures Iconography: The dark background gives way to a spotlight on the front of the girls dancing. You can see the joy on the girls face. Their clothes are somewhat worn, so you can tell that these are lower class citizens, but despite the poverty that the lower class lived in, there are still ways to have fun, and things to be happy about.
Context: Robert Henri was a great believer in painting what you see, Luks who studied from him, has similar ideas.  "Guts! Guts! Life! Life! That's my technique," he declared and indeed there are a lot of guts to paint realistic scenes when the majority of the artistic world ( at least in Europe and the US) is in a modernist phase. 
"George Luks (1867-1933) found the crowded New York City sidewalks, the shops, the various languages, accents, and customs an exciting theme for his picture Hester Street.  After studying t the Pennsylvania Academy, Luks traveled about Europe, briefly attending several art schools.  He returned to Philadelphia in 1893, where he soon found employment as an illustrator.  After serving as a war illustrator in Cuba during the Spanish American War in 1898, he settled in New York City as a comicstrip cartoonist.  His friends--Glackens, Shinn, and Henri--encouraged him to begin to paint seriously, which he did, in dark tones and with a loose, flowing, almost brutal brushwork that in its unrefinement suited the street life subjects he choose to depict." (

Bellows, George Cliff Dwellers 1913
Oil on canvas 40 1/4 x 42 1/8 in. (102.2 x 107 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Form: Oil on canvas, loose flowing brushstrokes, realism bordering on characature. none of the figures are recognizable, they're just  figures in the street.  Iconography: The dark colors in the background show that its not the most wanted place to live, its dark and dirty, and yet the people seem to make the best of it. They are shown with a spotlight like a stream of sun coming through the front. The kids are playing, the women are laughing, they're enjoying themselves despite their circumstance. 
"Its meaning was confused by the fact that Bellows made a similar study with the editorializing title, "Why don't they go to the country for a vacation?" In fact Bellows and most artists of his group stopped short of overt polemics in their work. The true subject of his painting is the vitality and pleasures of the urban poor, not their deprivation or oppression. The mother ascending the staircase is reminiscent of works by Honoré Daumier and Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin that depict women as the mainstays of family life. The group of young men, women, and tussling boys sets a tone of innocent joie de vivre. Behind the sunlit foreground, shadowed tenements with their populated balconies form a stagelike backdrop of vignettes suggesting the spontaneity and complexity of the dwellers' lives."
Context: "George Wesley Bellows studied with the influential painter Robert Henri at the New York School of Art starting in 1904. Although not one of the Eight, the group of American artists allied with Henri in a rebellion against academic painting, Bellows was associated with them and shared their preoccupation with vigorous execution and urban subjects. Talented and widely recognized, Bellows at age twenty-seven became the youngest artist ever designated associate of the National Academy of Design, but he continued to support the avant-garde, and in 1913 (the year he gained full academician status) Bellows exhibited in the pivotal Armory Show, which he helped organize. Because of its urban subject matter, Cliff Dwellers has been interpreted as a critical social statement."


John Sloan Six O'Clock Winter 1912
Subway Rush Hour
Langston Hughes
breath and smell
so close
black and white
so near
no room for fear
Form: Oil on canvas. The faces are hidden and almost mask like, it feels busy, there is a sense of movement, you can feel the bustling crowd and the train speeding past all this is contrasted by an almost clear, empty sky.  Iconography: The faces are dark, there's a jumbling of people, but the bright yellow light and clear darkening, blue sky, gives it a welcoming feeling. It has a feeling of belonging. The sky makes it seem peaceful even though the street is busy with people. 
Context: John Sloan along with the rest of the Ashcan group painted real life. He too painted the joy of urban life instead of the obvious pains they had to deal with.
"John Sloan, the son of a traveling salesman, was born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, on 2nd August, 1871. His family moved to Philadelphia and after he finished high school he worked for a booksellers. 
Sloan studied briefly at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts before finding work as an artist with the Philadelphia Inquirer (1892-95). This was followed by work at the Philadelphia Press (1895-1902), where he produced full-page colour pictures based on news stories. 
In 1902 Sloan moved to New York where he worked as a magazine illustrator. Sloan's paintings were also exhibited in Chicago, Pittsburgh and New York. In 1904 he met Robert Henri and became a member of what became known as the Ash Can School.
In 1910 Sloan joined the Socialist Party and the following year became art editor of the radical journal, The Masses. Although they were rarely paid, Sloan persuaded some of leading artists to provide pictures for the magazine. 
Sloan was a strong supporter of woman suffrage and contributed drawing to the feminist magazines, Woman Voter and Woman's Journal. Sloan continued to work for The Masses until 1916, when he left over a dispute with Max Eastman about the captions being used with the cartoons. 
Sloan became a teacher at the Arts Students League. After the First World War Sloan moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico where he painted local people. He also contributed illustrations to Collier's Magazine, Harper's Weekly and the Saturday Evening Post. 
Sloan autobiography, Gist of Art, was published in 1939. In his book Sloan explained that: "I have always painted for myself and made my living by illustrating and teaching. I have never made a living from my painting." In his later years Sloan became increasingly concerned with studies of the nude in the 1940s. John Sloan died on 7th September, 1951." (


Sloan, John (1871-1951)  McSorley's Bar 1912
Oil on canvas 26 x 32 in. (66 x 81.3 cm)
Detroit Institute of Arts
Form: Oil on canvas, loose brushwork, has a characature quality to it.  Iconography: Although the bar is dark, as bars usually are, there is a jovial quality to the small group sitting by the bar. The white of the bartender and waiter uniform sticks out against the dark background, which may or may not highlight that it's these people that keep things running smoothly and everyone in a good mood. 
Context: John Sloan along with many famous artists have painted the bar scene working by the sunlight coming through the windows. This again is an example of a genre scene that the Ashcan group focused on. Reality of the working class but showing it in a positive, happy mood, instead of showing how badly off they may or may not be. "Sloan's painting owes its distinction to a natural interest in human beings, whose life he portrayed with a directness often verging on satire". (
"McSorley's earned its reputation as America's most famous bar by the 1940s, when Life magazine ran a picture story about a day in the life of the alehouse. Artist John Sloan helped push McSorley's toward celebrity with a series of paintings completed between 1912 and 1930, and whenever there was a public exhibition of Sloan paintings, business boomed in the bar - and more artists came to make more paintings. Joseph Mitchell immortalized the bar in The New Yorker, and his essays were later compiled in the book McSorley's Wonderful Saloon." (


Bellows, George
Stag at Sharkey's
Oil on canvas
36 1/4 x 48 1/4 in. (92.1 x 122.6 cm)
The Cleveland Museum of Art
Thomas Eakins Between Rounds 1899
Oil on canvas 50.125 x 38.25
in Philadelphia Museum of Art
Excerpted from:
PAINTINGS of George Bellows, The (Exhibition)
 Source: Time, 8/3/92, Vol. 140 Issue 5, p68, 2p, 1c
 Author(s): Hughes, Robert
ENERGETIC, FULL OF JUICE, BRILliant m flashes but in the long haul a most uneven talent, George Bellows died of appendicitis in 1925 at the age of 42 with a reputation among-Americans that was not going to survive.  He appealed to "sound" taste in his day--and then got flattened from behind by the avant-garde as it developed after the 1913 Armory Show, which he had helped organize: road kill, as it were, on art history's Route 66. He didn't quite have the empirical genius of the older Winslow Homer, to whom his early work strongly relates; nor did he quite possess the visionary force of Marsden Hartley, with whom he shared a love of romantic, elemental images--sea, rock, the buffeting air of Maine. 
What he did have (but began to lose in his early 30s) was an abundant response to the physical world, a libidinous sense of fat-nuanced paint, sure tonal structure and a narrative passion for the density of life in New York City. 
If these attributes couldn't turn him into a major modernist, they certainly make him an artist worth revisiting. Hence the retrospective of paintings jointly organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, which runs at the Whitney Museum in New York City until the end of August. 
Bellows studied at the New York School of Art under Robert Henri, the American realist disciple of Frans Hals and Edward Manet. "My life begins at this point," he said of his apprenticeship to Henri. He soon developed a tough, pragmatic repertoire based on realist drawing and tonal composition. He was by far the most gifted younger member of the Ashcan School, a loose group that included John Sloan, George Luks and William Glackens. Not one of them ever painted an ash can, but they did believe, in a general way, that the artist should work from life as it was lived in the big dirty city and stay away from highfalutin symbolism. 
Their gods were Manet, Daumier, Goya and Hals; among Americans, Homer and Eakins. None were more direct than Bellows, who in the peak years of his youth became the entranced recorder of New York, the "real" city of tough mud larking kids, of crowded tenements and teeming icy streets, of big bridges and sudden breaks in the wall of buildings that revealed tugboats and a dragging tide. 
Bellows' most powerful image of the city as compressor of violence was the boxing ring. Prize fighting was made illegal in New York State in 1900. But that did not dispose of the semi-clandestine "club nights," with battling pugs drawn from the hard, desperate edge of Irish, Polish, Italian and Jewish street gangs--kids who would pound each other to hash for a purse under the eyes of a flushed, yelling house. The sport was barely a notch up from the bareknuckle slugging of Georgian England. 
Starting in 1907, Bellows made a small series of boxing pictures, of which the most gripping is Stag at Sharkey's (1909), an image of orgiastic energy, the boxers' faces reduced to speed blurs of bloody paint, the bodies starkly gleaming under the carbide lights, locked m a triangle, the strain of muscles so assimilated into the physical life of the paint strokes that the pigment runs over their contours. Bellows' contemporaries found such images "Hogarthian," but the closer ancestor of Stag at Sharkey's is late Goya. In particular the frieze of spectators' heads, yelling, gaping, sly, stupefied, brings to mind the faces in Goya's Witches' Sabbath or his Pilgrimage to the Miraculous Fountain of San Isidro. 
PAINTINGS of George Bellows, The (Exhibition)


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