Around the turn of the century, American art was at an ebb, with painting in particular suffering a lack of vitality and development. From this lackluster state an artistic rebellion began to blossom, first in Philadelphia and later in New York.... [more]
Around the turn of the century, American art was at an ebb, with painting in particular suffering a lack of vitality and development. From this lackluster state an artistic rebellion began to blossom, first in Philadelphia and later in New York. The rebellion was centered around a group of artist-reporters who painted a realistic record of the world around them, and thus came to be known as the Realist or Ash Can School. Poking fun at the art-for-art's-sake theorists and disdaining the sentimentality of Victorian figure painting, the artists Robert Henri, William Glackens, Everett Shinn, John Sloan, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, and Arthur Davies spearheaded this push towards Realism and became known as the great American Eight. Their art was influenced heavily by the writings of Shakespeare, Emerson, and the Bible, and especially by the realistic depictions of the underclass in the work of Balzac and Dickens.
Led by Robert Henri, an intellectual who had studied under Eakins and Anshutz, the Eight was largely made up of former newspaper illustrators who had excellent drafting skills and experience with the muck and mire of street life. Their pictures abound with burlesque houses, bars, bedrooms, and dingy urban scenes, whose gritty subject matter the public was not accustomed to viewing as fine-art painting. But the Ash Can artists were philosophically committed to their method of pictorial observation, and determined to defy tradition by presenting the world as realistically as they could. In 1908, the efforts of the Eight came to fruition when they showed their paintings at the Macbeth Gallery in New York City. [show less]