American Realism

George Bellows, Stag at Sharkey's, 1909

Paint what you see.  Paint what is real to you.  Robert Henri

As we saw from the reaction to the 1913 Armory Show, most Americans were unprepared for modern art.  But that didn’t mean we weren’t pushing limits in our own way.  At the turn of the century some forward-thinking artists rebelled against the academic conventions of beauty.  Instead of bowls of fruit and dappled landscapes, they painted the city around them.

Bars, unruly crowds, women hanging out laundry – these had never been fit subjects before, and somehow these painters got dubbed the Ashcan School.  They were also known as The Eight (Robert Henri (1865-1929), George Luks (1867-1933), William Glackens (1870-1938), John Sloan (1871-1951), and Everett Shinn (1876-1953), along with Maurice Prendergast (1859-1924), Ernest Lawson (1873-1939), and Arthur Bowen Davies (1862-1928).

The irony is that one of The Eight, Arthur B. Davies, assembled the Armory Show to demonstrate how behind the times America was.  Unfortunately, he made his own work look old fashioned, as well.

Robert Henri, Snow in New York, 1902
William Glackens, Hammersteins Roof Garden, 1901
William Glackens, Chez Mouquin, 1905
George Luks, Allen Street, 1905
George Luks, The Spielers, 1905
John Sloan, Hairdresser's Window, 1907
John Sloan, Election Night, 1907
John Sloan, Six O'clock Winter, 1912
John Sloan, McSorley's Bar, 1912

George Bellows was not one of The Eight, but he is associated with them:

George Bellows, New York, 1911
George Bellows, Cliff Dwellers, 1913

At the beginning of this class we saw the work of Edward Hopper.  Though he was definitely his own man, stylistically, he belongs here:

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942

And even though he generally painted country folk, Grant Wood belongs here as well – remember we used him as a good example of form?

Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930
Grant Wood, Appraisal, 1931
Grant Wood, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1931
Grant Wood, Death on Ridge Road, 1935

There is one more artist you should know about:  Thomas Hart Benton.  He was enormously famous in his lifetime (he made the cover of Time Magazine) but now is better known for being the teacher of America’s most famous abstract painter.  This would have killed him; he hated  modern art.

Thomas Hart Benton, The Ballad of the Jealous Lover of Lone Green Valley, 1934
Thomas Hart Benton, Cut the Line, 1944
Thomas Hart Benton, After Many Springs, 1945

Surprise!  Jackson Pollock learned to paint from Thomas Hart Benton. He, and his fellow “Ab Ex” painters are the subject of our next lecture.