"Studio Talk," International Studio, November 1906, p. 86, illustrated p. 84 (as A French Music Hall)
Doreen Bolger and Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., eds., American Art Around 1900: Lectures in Memory of Daniel Fraad, Hanover, New Hampshire, 1990, pp. 50-67, fig. II, illustrated in color p. 50 (detail), illustrated fig. II
Marianne Doezema, George Bellows and Urban America, New Haven, Connecticut, 1992, p. 83, 215n78, illustrated p. 85, fig. 39 (as A French Music Hall)
As a leading figure of the Ashcan School, Everett Shinn was among the artists whose depictions of New York at the turn of the century challenged the conventions of contemporary American painting. In their unsentimental portrayals of contemporary life in New York, the Ashcan artists captured the full range of urban existence from the gritty realities of tenement living to the upper class enclaves along Fifth Avenue. Shinn was a member of The Eight, a diverse group of independent artists led by Robert Henri and John Sloan who rebelled against the academic establishment and held a revolutionary exhibition of their own work in 1908. Shinn wrote, “The grievance that gnawed at The Eight was the intolerance of their own profession. They looked beyond the outposts of society where people were real by default of riches--to saloons where purled the dreams of change and expansion, to alleyways and gutters, train yards, night courts, dives, docks, dance halls and park benches. Their predilection for such common subjects for their brush earned them the name of ‘The Ash Can School.’ The wind of enthusiasm was back of their canvas, and they voyaged out to find the things more vital to them …” (The Eight, Brooklyn, New York, The Brooklyn Museum, 1943, p. 13).
Shinn left his Woodstown, New Jersey home at the age of fifteen to study industrial design at the Spring Garden Institute in Philadelphia. His facility for drawing with speed and precision and his childhood interest in designing and building submarines made Shinn ideally suited for technical drafting. He found employment rendering light fixtures for the Thackery Gas Fixture Works, but filled the margins of his sheets with sketches of hansom cabs and bustling pedestrians. When he was fired from the job in 1893, his supervisor encouraged, “Art school, young man, art school” (The Eight, p. 20); Shinn took his advice and enrolled at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, also taking a position as an illustrator for the Philadelphia Press. At the paper Shinn met Sloan, William Glackens and George Luks, three artists with whom he would be associated for the remainder of his career. Over the next few years each of them left Philadelphia for New York (Shinn in 1897) where they continued their work as newspaper illustrators and began to paint in earnest.
Soon after his arrival in New York in 1897, Shinn turned to the theater and the bustling streets for inspiration, first working in pastel and later in oil. In these works, Shinn experimented with an endless variety of compositional and framing devices incorporating the broad range of subject matter that could be seen in a single evening at the theater. Shinn was among the first American artists to adopt the theater as a motif and his inspiration derived from a confluence of sources: the popularity of vaudeville, the influence of Degas and Shinn’s own fascination with the stage. By the early twentieth century, vaudeville was the most fashionable form of entertainment in America. The shows were designed by theater managers to appeal to a wide variety of audiences through a combination of comedic, dramatic and musical acts brought together in one performance. Vaudeville offered entertainment for spectators from different social and economic backgrounds and was also suitable for women and children. While many of the Ashcan artists chose performers and audiences as subjects, Janay Wong notes the uniqueness of “… the attention Shinn pays to the vaudeville theater as a democratic space akin to that of New York’s public squares. Acting as a microcosm of the modern city, vaudeville houses allowed people to mingle with, study, and imitate others whose social and economic backgrounds were very unlike their own. … Although other forms of performance, for example the opera and the ballet, also brought diverse groups of people together, they could not surpass vaudeville’s ability to appeal to such a broad audience, and not surprisingly, it was the vaudeville theater that Shinn represented most frequently” (Everett Shinn: The Spectacle of Life, New York, Berry-Hill Galleries, 2000, p. 76).
Painted in 1906, Stage Scene is a quintessential and fully realized example of the theater compositions Shinn had been developing since his arrival in New York. The lush and colorful treatment of the performers, audience and stage set testifies to Shinn’s fascination with all aspects of the theatrical world. Linda Ferber writes, “Shinn was of course not alone in his attraction to the spectacle of performance and dance, to behind the scenes, and to the stage personality as portrait. Henri, Luks, Sloan and Glackens also treated these subjects. Shinn, however, was acknowledged early on as the one among the Philadelphia circle who was truly stagestruck” ( “Stagestruck: The Theater Subjects of Everett Shinn,” American Art Around 1900, Hanover, New Hampshire, 1990, p. 51).
Although Shinn is only known to have been abroad once (in 1900), Degas’ fame had long since reached America and Shinn was undoubtedly exposed to his work through publications and exhibitions. His debt to Degas is particularly strong in the concept of the double spectator and exploitation of the stage’s potential for brilliant light effects. Robert Herbert writes that Degas’ work “makes us into a spectator twice over. We look at the stage, but also at another operagoer … a complication of the viewer’s role avoided by Cassatt and Renoir. In their pictures we are the traditional ‘fly on the wall,’ the viewer without a strong fictional presence, therefore we do not share with their figures the sight of the stage. The audience alone constitutes our spectacle. In Degas’s loge views, we cannot disregard our imaginary presence” (Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society, New Haven, Connecticut, 1988, p. 103). Degas' impact was noted by contemporary critics. In 1906, Albert Gallatin wrote, “Shinn has only gone to Degas for ideas, not to slavishly copy him. He has learned to see things from Degas’ point of view; he too now sees the artistic possibilities of the gaslighted music hall…he has grasped and preserved the very spirit of these scenes for edification. Very real they are: we might almost be looking in upon an actual scene” (Janay Wong, Everett Shinn: The Spectacle of Life, New York, 2000, pp. 82-3). Ms. Wong observes, “[Stage Scene] is one of the artist’s most enchanting forays into the subject of the Parisian music hall. It is also an outstanding example of Shinn’s treatment of dancers on stage presenting two gaily-dressed female entertainers who turn to greet the crowd. Through the use of color, Shinn artfully plays the two women off each other. The blond wears a white dress, the brunette a dark blue gown, a juxtaposition that echoes the sharp tonal contrasts produced by the glare of the footlights” (Everett Shinn: The Spectacle of Life, p. 82).
Shinn kept Stage Scene in his collection for forty years until he presented the painting as a gift to the Lotos Club in exchange for membership.
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