American painter William Glackens (1870-1938) reacted against the academic restrictions of his period, combining a vivid impressionism with a firm sense of structure in his work.
William Glackens was born in Philadelphia on March 13, 1870. After he completed high school (where John Sloan and Albert C. Barnes were his classmates), he became an artist-reporter for Philadelphia newspapers. He attended night classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, studying with Thomas Anshutz. Glackens shared a studio with Robert Henri; in 1895 they worked their way to Europe on a cattle boat. In Holland and Paris they studied the Dutch masters, Diego Velázquez, and Francisco Goya. On his return to New York in 1896, Glackens worked for newspapers and commenced a long career as a magazine illustrator. McClure's Magazine sent him to Cuba in 1898 to cover the Spanish-American War, which he did brilliantly.
Glackens began exhibiting his paintings in 1901, attracting attention among critics and patrons who were turning away from the conventional standards of the academy. His subjects were café scenes, crowds on city streets, in parks, and on beaches, and people at play in outdoor settings. The influence of Pierre Auguste Renoir and other French impressionists is apparent.
In 1904 Glackens married, and 2 years later he traveled in France and Spain. His work was rejected by the National Academy of Design in 1907. He was one of the group of painters called "The Eight" who exhibited at the Macbeth Gallery in 1908. This show marked the end of the ascendancy of academic painting in the United States. Some of the painters in this group specialized in realistic social comment; Glackens remained fundamentally a romantic, his work reflecting a healthy and joyous view of life.
Glackens was influential in helping Albert C. Barnes form his great collection of modern art; the two traveled to Europe in 1912, returning with canvases by Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, and Renoir. Glackens was one of the organizers of the famous Armory Show of 1913, and he served as chairman of the committee that selected the American entries. Three of his own paintings were shown. He was one of the organizers of the Society of Independent Artists in 1916, which presented exhibitions without juries or prizes.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Glackens's work received wide recognition. The late paintings include imposing nudes, flower pieces, and portraits of members of his family. Basically impressionistic but with a strong sense of structure, these paintings combine sumptuous color, spontaneity of handling, and an increasingly architectural sense of compositional organization in a decidedly contemporary manner. His illustrations, particularly those involving animated crowds of people, exhibit brilliant and expressive draftsmanship, as do a smaller series of etchings of urban subjects. He was not a radical technically; his work was gay, pleasant, and elegant.
Glackens died suddenly on May 22, 1938.
Further Reading on William Glackens
Ira Glackens, William Glackens and the Ashcan Group (1957), is a delightful personal account by the artist's son. The best critical and biographical summary is in the catalog of the St. Louis exhibition, William Glackens in Retrospect (1966). There are picture books edited by Forbes Watson, William Glackens (1923), and Guy Pène du Bois, William J. Glackens (1931). Memorial exhibitions in Pittsburgh and New York during the 1930s produced valuable catalogs. Interesting personal sidelights appear in Bennard B. Perlman, The Immortal Eight (1962).
Additional Biography Sources
Gerdts, William H., William Glackens, Fort Lauderdale: Museum of Art; New York: Abbeville Preress, 1996.