William James Glackens

Born March 13, 1870, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. Died May 22, 1938, Westport, Connecticut.
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William James Glackens Biography

American painter William Glackens was a founding member of the Ashcan School of American Art in the late 19the and early 20th centuries. His vivid colors, handling of light, and gestural brushstrokes marked his distinct style, which focused on everyday life in working class American environments. Traveling to Europe throughout much of his life, he functioned as a bridge between the United States and Western Europe, while fostering the development of American visual art. His legacy intertwines with that of his close childhood friend Albert C. Barnes, as Glackens was instrumental in Barnes’ access to and acquisition of European works of art that would become the basis of the Barnes Foundation Collection.

Born in 1870 in Philadelphia, Glackens graduated from Central High School and intermittently took evening courses at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He worked as an illustrator for the Philadelphia Press, while cultivating friendships with artists John Sloan and Robert Henri – with whom Glackens would later form the Ashcan School. Spending a year in Holland and Paris in 1895, Glackens was astutely aware of the innovations in Impressionism and Post-Impressionism and brought back with him an enthusiastic energy for images of the everyday. He contributed illustrations to The New York Herald and The New York World, and participated in exhibitions alongside Sloan, Henri, George Luks and Everett Shinn, which used a Realist approach to depict the realities of urban communities and middle-class families. The color in his paintings became richer and darker over time. Although the Ashcan School called for a distinctly American vision, Glackens’ work has consistently been compared to that of Renoir and the other Impressionists.

In the years leading up to World War I, Barnes commissioned him to travel to Europe with the purpose of buying modernist works of art for Barnes’ collection; he continued such trips between the wars, informing the particular vision of European modernism in America. Glackens served as president of the Society of Independent Artists, and was regularly awarded prizes from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in the 1930s. His works can be found in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum, the National Gallery and the Art Institute of Chicago.

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