Lot 22
  • 22

George Benjamin Luks 1867 - 1933

800,000 - 1,200,000 USD
1,874,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • George Benjamin Luks
  • Lily Williams
  • signed George Luks, l.r.
  • oil on canvas


Charles A. Whelan, New York
Mrs. Clara DuPlessis Whelan, New York (his daughter; sold: Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, November 7, 1946, lot 106)
Acquavella Galleries, New York (acquired at the above sale)
Sydney M. Rogers, New York
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York
Roy J. Carver (sold: Sotheby's, New York, December 10, 1981, lot 65, illustrated)
Private Collection, Pompano Beach, Florida, until 1983 (acquired at the above sale)
Jordan-Volpe Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above, 1990


New York, C.W. Kraushaar Art Galleries, Paintings and Watercolors by George Luks, January-February 1918, no. 2 (as Lily)
Newark, New Jersey, Newark Museum, The Work of George Benjamin Luks, 1934, no. 23, illustrated p. 45 (as Lil)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Artist of the Philadelphia Press, October-November 1945, no. 23 (as Lil)
Utica, New York, Munson-Williams Proctor Institute, George Luks, 1866-1933: An Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings Dating from 1889-1931, April-May 1973, no. 37, illustrated p. 29 (as Lil)
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, American Art from the Gallery's Collection, October 1980, no. 73, p. 88, illustrated


"Art Notes," New York Times, January 18, 1918, p. 8, col. 8
Helen Appleton Read, "Luks at Kraushaar," Brooklyn Eagle, January 20, 1918, p. 8, col. 2
"Oils and Water Colors by George Luks," American Art News, January 26, 1918, no. XVI, no. 16, p. 2
"'Lily' by George Luks," New York Times, January 27, 1918, Rotogravure Picture Section, sect. 9
"George Luks Exhibition," American Art News, February 9, 1918, v. XVI, no. 18, p. 8
"Notes of the Studios and Galleries," Arts and Decoration, vol. 8, February 1918, p. 167
"George Luks," The Index of Twentieth Century Artists, vol. I, New York, 1934 (1970 reprint), no. 7, p. 102
50 Recent Acquisitions, Jordan-Volpe Gallery, New York, 1990, p. 66, illustrated p. 67

Catalogue Note

George Luks' moved to New York in 1896 and began to illustrate the popular comic strip "Hogan's Alley" for the New York World shortly thereafter. The cartoon featured the adventures of a scrawny wisecracking hero of the Irish slums, Mickey Duggan (known as The Yellow Kid because of the smock he wore), and his Jewish, Italian, African American, and Chinese buddies. Alongside friends and fellow illustrators Everett Shinn, William Glackens, and John Sloan, Luks frequented the tenements and slums of the city armed with a sketch pad, gaining first-hand experience of the urban environment's inner workings. At the turn of the century, Luks started to paint the immigrant children that flooded the streets of lower Manhattan, including Lily Williams, the subject of this 1909 portrait, believing that a "child of the slums [made] a better painting than a drawing-room lady gone over by a beauty shop... Down there, people are what they are." Luks' portraits New York's children of streets were received by contemporaries as welcome alternatives to the increasing presence of abstraction.

Lily Williams was not a sentimental portrait by contemporary standards but one which imbued its model with dignity mingled with tenderness. Her bright blue eyes stare back at the viewer with an intelligent and open expression, her lack of self-consciousness belying her frumpy oversized coat and tattered hat. As Joseph Trovato has noted, "To Luks, expression was everything.... All of his pictures show how much he relied on impulse in his confrontation with his subject – always aiming to capture and to paint the unguarded moment with a vibrating sense of life" (George Luks, 1973, p. 18). Luks was particularly attracted to children's personal and varying expressions, stating in 1921, "Children seem to have in their eyes a definite glimpse of something, a wonder, a half-awakened expectancy. This is at once one of the most engaging and most elusive things an artist may try to catch... Some show the vitality and individuality that are almost certain to take them somewhere. This one may become a pugilist and that one an idealist. It doesn't matter. Each will be worthwhile, a leader, a voice."

Luks painted Lily Williams one year after he participated in the inaugural exhibition of The Eight, organized by Robert Henri and hosted by William Macbeth's gallery. Henri had been outraged at the National Academy of Design jury's rejection of a Luks' portrait, withdrawing his own submissions to protest the narrow-mindedness of the jury and setting the stage for the landmark exhibition. The purpose of the 1908 exhibition, which had a dramatic impact on the course of American art, was not to assemble the work of like-minded artists but to advocate exhibition opportunities free from the jury system and represent new styles of painting not necessarily sanctioned by the Academy. The eight artists who exhibited their paintings at Macbeth, including Ernest Lawson, Arthur B. Davies and Maurice Prendergast had little in common stylistically, though Luks' work most closely reflected the style of their mentor, Henri. Luks refused to acknowledge his artistic debt to Henri, but both men admired the work of Frans Hals and emulated his use of  dark, non-descript backgrounds which incorporated isolated areas of bright color. They both also preferred an expressive style of painting produced through vigorous brushwork and the bold loose handling of paint. In Lily Williams, Luks' equally energetic use of line and color in the figure contrasts vividly with the dark, empty background. Patches of red and rose animate the upper register of the painting as the artist's diagonal slashes of green and muted gold move briskly across the girl's coat to create volume and texture. The result is a large, brilliantly colored, self illuminated figure positioned so close to the picture plane as to practically step into the viewer's world.