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George Luks


American Ashcan School Painter

George Benjamin Luks, (August 13, 1867- October 29, 1933) was an American realist, an illustrator and genre painter.George Benjamin Luks, (August 13, 1867- October 29, 1933) was an American realist, an illustrator and genre painter.

George Benjamin Luks, (August 13, 1867- October 29, 1933) was an American realist, an illustrator and genre painter.

Early life
George Benjamin Luks, August 13, 1867- October 29, 1933 was an American realist, an illustrator and genre painter. Luks was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to Central European immigrants. His father was a physician and his mother was an amateur painter and musician. [1] The Luks family, (George, his parents and five siblings) eventually moved to Pottsville, in Southern Pennsylvania near the coal fields. In this setting, he learned at a young age the importance of compassion by watching how his parents helped the coal miners' families [2], and many believe that this is the reason why lower class New Yorkers were often Luks's subject matter. Luks studied at the Pennsylvania Academy before he traveled though Europe where he attended several art schools. Later he went to Düsseldorf where he lived with a distant relative, a retired lion-tamer. He abandoned Düsseldorf for the more stimulating spheres of London and Paris. [2] He then returned to Philadelphia in 1893 where he was an illustrator for the Philadelphia Press where he met John Sloan, William Glackens and Everett Shinn and they would meet at the studio of Robert Henri, an artist who emphasized the depiction of ordinary life, shunning genteel subjects and painting quickly. The group became known as the "Philadelphia Five". [3] In 1896, Luks moved to New York and began his art career there as the premier humorist artist for the New York World. During his time as an illustrator there, he lived with William Glackens. [4] It was Glackens, along with Everett Shinn, Robert Henri who encouraged him to paint seriously, which began his interest in painting "New York Street Life" [3] The Philadelphia Five, eventually became "The Eight."

"The Eight"
George Luks was included in the exhibition of “The Eight”, which occurred in January 1908, and was one of the most important events in the development of twentieth-century American art. The rejection of one of Luks's paintings from the 1907 exhibition of the National Academy of Design was one of the causes for the formation and exhibition of "The Eight" in 1908. Robert Henri, the ringleader of "The Eight" encouraged artists to give the viewer the sense of being there, so in a sense, Henri influenced Luks, whether Luks would admit it or not. The other six artists that completed "The Eight" were: Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, John Sloan, Ernest Lawson, Everett Shinn and Maurice Prendergast . At the exhibition, George Luks displayed his painting, Woman with Macaw's (1907 oil on canvas) which now is now displayed at the Detroit Institute of Arts. [5] Although the styles of "The Eight" differed immensely, what unified the group was through advocating for exhibition opportunities free from the jury system, as well as each of their desires to use painting techniques that were not sanctioned by the Academy. [2] "The Eight" expanded into what is know known as the Ashcan School artists.

Ashcan School
See also: American realism
Luks made many paintings of working class subjects and scenes of the urban street. "Hester Street" 1905, which now can be found at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, captures the Jewish court through Luks's vigorously painted representation of immigrant shoppers, pushcart peddles, casual strollers and curious onlookers of the ethnic variety that characterized metropolitan, turn-of-the century New York. Luks's work typifies the 'real-life' scenes painted by the Ashcan School artists[6] It was very important for the artists associated with the Ashcan school to depict real life. They wanted to capture a moment in time. Due to the chaos that was depicted, these realists works of art makes the viewer feel involved in the space, like in Hester Street. This work of art demonstrates the ability Luks had to capture expressions, gestures as well as background details in a quick, yet successful manor that portrayed everyday life in New York City [2] The Ashcan School successfully challenged academic art institutions. Like many members of The Eight, Luks was a professor of art, first at the Arts Student League and later, at a school he established himself. As noted, the Ashcan School was not an organized group. The first known use of the "ash can" terminology in describing the movement was by Art Young, in 1916,[7] but the term was applied later to a group of artists, including Robert Henri, William Glackens, Arthur B. Davies, Edward Hopper (a student of Henri), Everett Shinn, John Sloan, George Luks, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast, George Bellows (another student of Henri), Mabel Dwight and others such as photographer Jacob Riis, who portrayed urban subject matter, also primarily of New York's working class neighborhoods. (Hopper's inclusion in the group [which he forswore] is ironic: his depictions of city streets are almost entirely free of the usual minutiae, with not a single incidental ashcan in sight.)[8]

The loose brush strokes seen in Luks's work is associated with the Ashcan School as well as since the realists work was often associated with capturing a moment in time, unlike the modernists that were more concerned with form and capturing the experience in its entirety. In 1905, Luks painted what would become one of his most famous works as well as an Ashcan School Icon called "The Spielers", which is now located at the Addison Gallery of Art.[2] Two young girls make up this painting. Their happy faces contrast with their grimy hands. George Luks' successfully portrays lower-class children's ability to enjoy life despite their circumstances. He painted the truth, as he saw it. [9] In regard to color, Luks said himself when interviewed, "I'll tell you the whole secret! Color is imply light and shade. You don't need pink or grey or blue so long as you have volume. Pink and blue change with light or time. Volume endures." [10] The volume seen in many of Luks' works successfully create movement and the feeling of actually being present in the painting.

Although Luks is most well known for his depictions of New York City life, he also created landscapes the city provided, such as The New York River, New York 1910. [2]His visual perception was tremendously fine and truly emphasized character through the use of his vidid color. [11] Luks known ego was to blame for his use of a brilliant red to sign his name he used from time to time throughout his life.[2] An example of his later work, Society Girl (1920's), interpreted wealth, and the importance of society which was an important aspect it portrait painting seen as far back as in the works of John Singleton Copley. The Cafe Francis 1906, has more impressionist aspects than his usual dark scenes of lower-class urban life. [12] For Example, Sulky Boy (1908) which is apart of The Phillips collection in Washington D.C. was painted of the son of a doctor at Bellevue Hospital who treated Luks for alcoholism. It was noted that Luks was more concerned with depicting the boy's demeanor rather than the accurate representation of the surroundings. [13] Luks choice of subject matter is said to have come from his understanding and acceptance of struggling people due to the way he was raised, and the good deeds his parents did for the coal miners.

Luks was a born rebel. [10] He also prided himself in being the "bad boy" of American Art and those who knew him personally have stated he would be pleased to know that his reputation as a significant painter of the twentieth century continues to flourish today. [10] Luks was a heavy drinker, and his friend, and one-time roommate and fellow member of "The Eight", William Glackens, often had to undress him and haul him to bed after a night of drunken debauchery [4] Although many sources confirm this tendency, they also equally characterize him as one with a kind heart who befriended people on the street and often became his subjects for his works of art. An example of this is The Rag Picker (1905), in which Luks depicted exquisite details of the elderly homeless person who knew all too well of the harsh realities of the street. [2] Luks' friends adored him because of his humor and the way he inspired them. They understood and accepted his unusualness. [4]

1904- An exhibition at the National Arts Club of works by Luks, Glackens, Henri, Sloan, Davies and Prendergast opened in early January 1904. [4]

1908- George Luks was included in the exhibition of “The Eight” in January 1908. [5]

1913- Luks, had had six works included in the 1913 Armory Show.

1997- George Luks Exhibition, Owen Gallery 19 East 75th Street October 25 to December 17, 1997. [2]

2007- The Frist Center for the Visual Arts will open Life’s Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists’ Brush with Leisure, 1895–1925 Friday, August 3, 2007 in the Upper-Level Galleries. Featuring more than 70 paintings by artists including Ashcan school leader Robert Henri, George Bellows, George Luks, Everett Shinn and John Sloan, the exhibition provides a refreshing look at the work of a major American artistic movement.

Luks was found dead by a police officer in October, 1933 after he had died in the early hours of the morning after a bar room brawl. [2]Ira Glackens, daughter of William Glackens wrote of her recollection of Luks death, stating that the papers proclaimed George was found dead a the doorway when he had planned on going to paint the dawn, when in actuality, the harmless old man had been beaten to death by one of the other customers at the bar. In reference to his funeral, it was crowded by family and past and present friends. He was buried in an eighteenth century embroidered waistcoat that was one of his most important and valuable possessions. [4]

Selected List of Artworks
The Butcher Cart 1901

The Spielers 1905, Now located at the Addison Gallery of Art

The Rag Picker 1905

Hester Street 1905, Now located at the Brooklyn Museum

The Cafe Francis 1906, Now located at the Butler Institute of Art

Woman with Macaw's 1907, Now located at the Detroit Institute of Arts

Sulky Boy 1908, Now located in the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C.

The Guitar (Portrait of the Artist’s Brother with his Son) 1908, Now located at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art

The New York River, New York 1910

Nursemaids, High Bridge Park


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