Key Dates: 1891-1918
A group of urban realist painters in America creating work around the early part of 20th century. The group, founded by the artist and teacher Robert Henri, began its activities in Philadelphia around 1891. Henri attracted a gathering of newspaper illustrators–George Luks, John Sloan, William Glackens, and Everett Shinn–and led them in a new artistic movement.
The Ash Can School was more revolutionary in its subject matter rather than its style. The Ash Can school artists sought to paint “real life” and urban reality. These artists believed what was real and true in life was what was beautiful and what constituted “art.” They painted gritty urban scenes and the poor and disenfranchised in America.
Ash Can School paintings have a loose and spontaneous style, very different from the polished techniques taught in the American art academies of the period. A slap-dash, rapid handling of the paint left individual brushstrokes and the paint was applied thickly. Ash Can painters used a dark, subdued palette–a result of Robert Henri’s trip to Europe, where he became captivated with Goya, Velazquez, Hals and Manet.
The “Eight” included the core Ash Can group + three more artists under Henri’s thrall: Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson and Maurice Prendergast. In 1908, as a protest against prevailing restrictive academic exhibition procedures the “Eight” organized a history-making exhibition that became a symbol of rebellion in American and modern art. The show was revolutionary in that it was the first exhibit that was self-organized and self-selected by a group of related artists, without a jury and prizes. This type of non-juried exhibition became the model for one of the most famous exhibits in the history of Modern Art: The Armory Show of 1914.
William J. Glackens