George Luks 1867-1933
- George Luks
- The Breaker Boys
- signed George Luks, l.l.
- oil on canvas
Estate of the artist (sold: Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, April 5, 1950, lot 79)
Private Collection, New York (acquired at the above sale)
By descent in the family to the present owner
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition, 1926
Chicago, Illinois, Art Institute of Chicago, Fourteenth Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture, 1927
Buffalo, New York, Albright Art Gallery, Twenty-First Annual Exhibition of Selected Paintings by American Artists, 1927
New York, Berry-Hill Galleries, Ashcan Kids: Children in the Art of Henri, Luks, Glackens, Bellows & Sloan, December 1998-January 1999, no. 23, illustrated in color
"The World of Art: Varied Expectations," The New York Times, November 15, 1925, Magazine Sec., p. 12
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. 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 to record, through first-hand observation, the underbelly of the urban experience. At the turn of the century, Luks started to paint children, 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" (Marjorie Searl, Seeing America: Painting and Sculpture from the Collection of the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, New York, 2006, p. 201).
By the 1920's Luks had long been recognized as an important figure in the New York art scene with his depictions of street urchins, wrestlers, peddlers, and shopkeepers in the city's Lower East Side. In 1921, Luks, who was born in the lumber town of Williamsport, in north-central Pennsylvania, traveled to the Schuylkill Coal Region of Pennsylvania, returning there in 1923, 1925, and 1927. Painted circa 1925, The Breaker Boys depicts four young boys, known as "breaker boys", sitting atop wooden crates and using their hands to remove impurities from coal, amidst the dark confines of a Pennsylvania mine. When the painting was shown at the Rehn Gallery, in New York, an art critic commented: "The light is a green mystery, enveloping the youngsters perched on [crate] and leaning anxiously over the coal passing down the chutes. The process of separating the coal from slate, now assigned to the breaker boys, will soon be performed by machinery, and that function in the coal industry will be over for them. Even an artist likes moments of history and Mr. Luks liked very much having the chance to record this particular moment" (The World of Art: Varied Expectations," The New York Times, November 15, 1925, Magazine Sec., p. 12). In 1938, Federal regulation of child labor was achieved in the Fair Labor Standards Act, which imposed minimum ages of employment and hours of work for children.