William J. Glackens

Born: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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Born in Philadelphia, William J. Glackens (1870-1938) is an artist whose oeuvre is so diverse, it defies labeling. Was he a realist with a penchant for grit and sordidness or an impressionist who celebrated the simple joys of family life in his radiant canvases? He was both and much more.

During a career spanning more than four decades, Glackens studied, assimilated and reinterpreted the works of many notable painters. Such masters as Manet, Hals, Goya, Renoir and Matisse influenced him. Glackens’ inquisitiveness was matched by his thirst for experimentation. To him, painting was not a craft but a passion.

Despite his marrying into wealth, Glackens continued to work for close to thirty years as a newspaper, magazine and book illustrator. His income as a graphic artist afforded him the luxury of painting to fulfill his creative needs rather than to satisfy a capricious market. Thus, he accomplished every painter’s dream of conceiving art for art’s sake.

Glackens’ formative years started at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (1892-93). There, like his contemporaries John Sloan, Everett Shinn and George Luks, fell under the spell of Robert Henri, a gifted painter and superb teacher. Henri enticed his young students to capture with swiftness the ‘reality’ around them, blemishes and all. Their seamy portrayals of down-to-earth themes gained them the nicknames of The Black Gang and Devotees of the Ugly.

By 1906, Henri’s allure began to wane and Glackens proceeded to immerse himself in French culture and art. His Francophile phase, which fully blossomed by 1912, lasted until his demise. This period spawned his most rapturous landscapes and sensuous nudes – all of them featuring feathery brushwork and a glowing palette.

During his lifetime and beyond it, William Glackens has enjoyed the admiration and praise of his peers, as well as of curators and audiences. Every major museum in the United States, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to the Chicago Art Institute, owns at least one of his canvases. Furthermore, no serious survey on either Realism or Impressionism in America is mounted, without including Glackens. His ubiquitous presence denotes his rank and significance in a fickle art world where fame is often fleeting.