George Benjamin Luks

painter & illustrator
Born: Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

“Art my slats! I can paint with a shoestring dipped in lard!” 
– George Luks

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George Luks was an artist admired for his gutsy, true-to-life depictions of modern life. Born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Luks studied art in brief stints in 1884 at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and in 1889 in Germany at the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf. Not one to adhere to a class agenda, Luks preferred to study art on his own and traveled to Paris and London in 1889-1890 to see the art in those cities. In 1894 he began a career as a newspaper illustrator with the Philadelphia Press. In Philadelphia Luks made friends with the artists William Glackens, Robert Henri, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan.

By 1896 Luks had moved to New York draw illustrations for the New York World. He exhibited with The Eight in 1908 and in the Armory Show in 1913. In the early 1920s Luks made several trips to the coal region of Pennsylvania, where he himself once worked as a breaker boy, depicting his surroundings in oils, watercolors, and drawings. After teaching at the Art Students League from 1920 to 1924, he started the George Luks School of Painting in New York.

Luks temperament was mercurial – in turn lusty, tender, brawling, and dignified – and his wit, vitality, and talent eventually attracted Duncan Phillips. Writing in A Collection in the Making, Phillips describes Luks as “an individualist with a buoyant belief in his own genius and gusto in his copious enjoyments of his chosen subjects…We are reminded of Hals, then of Goya and again of Courbet. But these painters of the past who also wielded their brushes with exhilarating ease and racy personal expression lacked the mischievous irony which is the very autograph of Luks…When in full swing he can paint as well as Courbet, surpassing him in space composition and his rival in rich impasto…”

Adapted from Eye, DWS/CM.

Luks’ Technique
The technique that Luks evolved for himself balanced sharp observation against broad execution. Using sharp contrasts of light and dark that never degenerated into mere silhouettes, he caught the shape and weight of his subjects in a few thick strokes of paint. He made his work look easy, which it was not, and fun to do, which it apparently was. Though he vastly simplified what he saw, none of Luks’s pictures could be called art-for-art’s-sake; he was a reporter in oils with a dramatic flair like that of his contemporaries John Sloan and George Bellows, and like them he regularly suppressed irrelevant details for the sake of a few telling ones.