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Artists William Glackens
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William Glackens

American Painter

Movements and Styles: Ashcan School, Realism, American Impressionism, Early American Modernism

Born: March 13, 1870 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Died: May 22, 1938 - Westport, Connecticut

William Glackens Timeline


"Art, like humanity, every time has an ancestry."
William Glackens
"The early Americans were illustrative. It was France that showed them the error of their project."
William Glackens
"I have found out that the pursuit of color is hard on drawing just as the pursuit of drawing is hard on color."
William Glackens
"The old masters were the only ones who really knew how to draw - and ...they drew flat...high lights are vulgar, and...when one goes boldly and directly to express an idea he is at once assailed as clumsy."
William Glackens
"Flowers have absolute purity, and their extraordinary variety of color makes them irresistible."
William Glackens

"The man with something to say is an important man in art - in fact, the only man who may claim the title of artist. The manner of his expression matters very little. That will take care of itself. The man with something to say generally says it pretty well."

William Glackens Signature


William Glackens invigorated American painting from its Eurocentric, tradition-bound academicism, bringing the observational skills learned as a newspaper illustrator to new urban subjects. One of the first American artists to find success without training in Europe, Glackens's attention to color and expressive brushwork, along with his willingness to experiment, marked a turn towards modernism. A founding member of the group of artists known as "The Eight," also referred to by critics (and later, scholars) as the Ashcan School, Glackens differed from his colleagues by focusing more on scenes of leisure and entertainment rather than the slums of the Lower East Side. He was also unapologetic of his admiration for European painting and popularized the quick brushwork and bright palettes of the Impressionists among American audiences.

Key Ideas

Although he did not self-identify as part of the Ashcan School, Glackens's attention to ordinary, modern, urban subjects and their unidealized presentation connects him to the core tenets of that movement. In documenting his world, he also incorporated the style of the Impressionists, as well as their interest in contemporary, urban leisure.
An admirer of French Impressionism, Glackens adopted the free brushstroke and brilliant color of his role models. Known as the "American Renoir," he reinterpreted the Impressionist focus on modern Paris by depicting similar scenes from 20th-century New York. Rather than cafe culture and the boulevard, he painted nightclubs, department stores, and crowded slums. His version of these scenes, captured with a sense of immediacy and freshness, helped to popularize an American Impressionist movement.
An active planner and participant in several groundbreaking art exhibitions, including the Macbeth show of 1908, the Armory Show of 1913, and the Society of Independent Artists, Glackens created an important precedent for the display of art in the US and abroad.
A childhood friend of the businessman Albert C. Barnes, Glackens was instrumental in the formation of the Barnes Collection, one of the leading collections of modern art assembled by a single owner in the 20th century. In gathering works for Barnes, Glackens brought together works by European and American painters, allowing their mutual influences to be better understood.

Most Important Art

William Glackens Famous Art

Hammerstein's Roof Garden (1901)

Hammerstein's Roof Garden captures a fashionable entertainment venue, immediately placing the viewer in a specific and contemporary urban space. Such roof gardens were popular spots during the summer, when theaters were often closed due to the stifling heat. Recently opened by theater legend Oscar Hammerstein in 1899, this locale, the Paradise Roof Garden, was a popular destination for the sort of spectacular which we see here.

Positioning the viewer as a member of the audience, we see a row of fashionably dressed women who watch a pair of tightrope walkers. The costumes of the acrobats provide a jolt of color in an otherwise muted tonal palette. With this limited scene, Glackens gives us a sense of the immense space of the theater, its popularity, its clientele and its performances. Providing respectable entertainment, the presence of unchaperoned young women points to the modernity of this scene (previously, such unescorted adventures would have been unthinkable), further emphasized by the recognizable architecture and real-life locale.

This particular painting was one of his earliest to earn public acclaim. The work speaks to Glackens's preference for using familiar locations and scenes of contemporary life, the sort of modern genre painting that helped to establish his reputation. The subject matter and gestural brushstrokes would become hallmarks of his style, linking him to American Impressionism. Glackens would resist such categorizations, yet although he had focused on a cheerful scene of middle-class leisure, the observational and almost mundane quality of his subjects and representations also connect him to the Ashcan School.
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William Glackens Artworks in Focus:


Childhood and Education

Williams Glackens was born the youngest of three children to Elizabeth and Samuel Glackens, a clerk and cashier for the Pennsylvania Railroad. While a family of modest means, Glackens was well educated, attending Central High School with future artists John Sloan and James Preston, and the future pharmaceutical inventor and collector Albert C. Barnes. Glackens, whose nickname in school was "Butts," showed a proclivity for art at an early age and often produced funny drawings and scenes of school life for the amusement of his fellow students.

In November 1891, he enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. It was here that he, Sloan, and a few other students formed the "Charcoal Club" in 1893. This informal group aimed to explore themes not offered as part of the academics of the Academy, most notably nude figure drawing. The group was also highly social, generating many stories of its members working through the night and waking up among their drawings and emptied bottles of alcohol.

Early Training

Aside from his formal education, Glackens was greatly influenced by his experiences as an artist reporter for several newspapers, beginning at the Philadelphia Record in 1891. His job required him to learn to draw quickly and produce work on tight deadlines. He was also thrust into an atmosphere quite unlike the quiet studio; once he fell into a pool of blood when sketching a murder scene. Leaving his studies in October 1894, he began working as a staff artist reporter for the Philadelphia Press with fellow artists Sloan, Edward Davis, George Luks, and Everett Shinn. During this time, Sloan introduced Glackens to the artist and charismatic teacher, Robert Henri. Henri would become the center of their artistic group and the most visible member of the soon-to-be-coined Ashcan School.

Returning from a 1896 trip to Europe with Henri, Glackens moved to New York City where he would often frequent the open houses Henri held at his studio. He took a job at the New York Herald and also began taking on work as a magazine illustrator. This provided steady income for the next decade and a half, as he produced more than 1,000 illustrations. Many were lighthearted scenes, but McClure's Magazine sent him to Cuba to cover the Spanish-American War. On his way home from this assignment, he contracted malaria, an ailment that would resurface throughout his life.

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William Glackens Biography Continues

Mature Period

Glacken's painting - The Artist's Wife and Child
Glacken's painting - The Artist's Wife and Child

His 1904 marriage to artist Edith Dimock, daughter of a wealthy family, provided enough financial security for Glackens to focus on painting. Edith appeared in works such as Portrait of the Artist's Wife (1904), as did his children, Ira and Lenna. Although generally a reserved man, Glackens did become involved in politics, protesting Prohibition and supporting the suffragist movement by marching in parades with his wife.

In 1907, unhappy with their lack of representation in key exhibitions, Glackens and his friends made the decision to split with the National Academy of Design. Led by Henri, Glackens, and six other artists hosted an independent exhibition at the Macbeth Galleries in New York City. The show opened to the public on February 3, 1908 and proved a success. The press referred to them as "The Eight" and this group formed the key artists known as the Ashcan School (so named for their urban themes painted in somber dark colors with pronounced gestural brushstrokes).

Almost immediately however, Glackens's approach to artmaking set him apart from the Ashcan School. He did not like capturing the grittier aspects of life and preferred a brighter palette. He also chose to depict lighter themes such as shoppers, family outings, and city parks.

Glackens helped to organize the American section of the groundbreaking Armory Show of 1913. Yet, despite exhibiting his own works, he was more impressed with the European art on view, stating "Everything worthwhile in our art is due to the influence of French art. We have not yet arrived at a national art [...] I am afraid that the American section of this exhibition will seem very tame beside the foreign section. But there is a promise of renaissance in American art." Despite his admiration for modern, more abstract European painting, however, Glackens would remain a realist artist.

Glackens's knowledge of European art had a profound impact on one of the greatest American collectors, Albert C. Barnes. When Barnes, asked Glackens to travel to Europe in 1912 to purchase paintings for him, these works became the foundation for the esteemed Barnes Collection in Philadelphia.

Later Period

Glackens's later paintings included figurative work, landscapes, and floral still lifes, rendered in increasingly gestural brushstrokes. His style became much more Impressionist in these years. Even before his 1925 departure for Europe, however, his health had begun to decline. Returning to the United States six years later and still ailing, he was mostly limited to still lifes. Yet these paintings were enthusiastically received; Guy Pene du Bois said that the artist was responsible for "some of the most vibrant flower pieces known to our painting."

Glackens died of a cerebral hemorrhage in May of 1938 while spending a weekend visiting fellow artist Charles Prendergast in Westport, Connecticut. Before the end of that year, the Whitney Museum in New York City hosted a month-long memorial exhibition that included 132 paintings and works on paper.


William Glackens's ability to capture the moments of contemporary daily life is at the heart of his contribution to modern art. He translated French Impressionism into a distinct American style by modernizing its palette and depicting analogous scenes of 20th-century life in New York. Glackens's interest in cultivating an American style would also be important to contemporary American modernists, including Marsden Hartley and John Sloan. As part of "The Eight," he was instrumental in the break from official academies and the popularization of independent exhibitions. The Society of Independent Artists, which hosted an annual public exhibition from 1917 until 1944, was closely modeled on this example.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

William Glackens
Interactive chart with William Glackens's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart


Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Edgar DegasEdgar Degas
Robert HenriRobert Henri
George LuksGeorge Luks
Édouard ManetÉdouard Manet


Albert C. BarnesAlbert C. Barnes
Charles FitzGerald
Juliana Force


Modernism and Modern ArtModernism and Modern Art
William Glackens
William Glackens
Years Worked: 1891 - 1937


Marsden HartleyMarsden Hartley
Robert HenriRobert Henri
George LuksGeorge Luks
Alfred MaurerAlfred Maurer
Maurice PrendergastMaurice Prendergast


Albert C. BarnesAlbert C. Barnes
Charles FitzGerald
Juliana Force
James B. Moore


Ashcan SchoolAshcan School
Modernism and Modern ArtModernism and Modern Art

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Edited and revised by Sarah Archino

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Useful Resources on William Glackens





The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


William Glackens and the Eight: The Artists Who Freed American Art Recomended resource

By Ira Glackens

art works

The World of William Glackens: The C. Richard Hilker Art Lectures

By Colin Bailey, Avis Berman, Carol Troyen, Richard Wattenmaker, H. Barbara Weinberg

William Glackens Recomended resource

Edited by Avis Berman

More Interesting Books about William Glackens
William James Glackens

Set to music, this video clip provides a look at some of the key works by artist William Glackens

William J. Glackens Documentary Recomended resource

This video created by NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale features a look at the life and art of artist William Glackens followed by a presentation of key works by the artist in the museum's collection

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