They Dwelt on West 9th Street: William J. Glackens is the 6th in a series.
“Art, like humanity, every time has an ancestry.” — William Glackens
William Glackens (1870-1938) was an American Painter whose work is associated with the Ashcan School. He began his career as a newspaper and magazine illustrator and his roots in that field lead him to an aesthetic as a painter that was keenly observational in nature and often focused on his immediate surroundings — the Greenwich Village/Washington Square neighborhood.
Glackens owned the 1841 townhouse at 10 West 9th Street where he lived and worked from 1910 until his death in 1938. The location offered him easy access to Washington Square, where he often painted. Glackens added a mansard roof to the townhouse, which gave its top floor 17-foot ceilings and incredible natural light for use as his studio.
An admirer of French Impressionism, Glackens adopted the free brushstroke and brilliant color of his European 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 urban scenes helped to popularize an American Impressionist movement.
Described as a handsome, congenial, and ambitious man who was exceedingly well traveled, Glackens led an unusually pleasant life for an artist. He was happily married to Edith Dimock, an artist from Hartford, who was independently wealthy. Until his death in 1938, and especially once Edith came into her full inheritance in 1917, Glackens was afforded the ability to spend much of his time drawing and painting.
He was instrumental in organizing some groundbreaking shows in the early part of the 20th century. One particularly well-known exhibition was held in February of 1908 at the Macbeth Gallery. Called Exhibition of paintings by Arthur B. Davies, William J. Glackens, Robert Henri, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn, John Sloan, these artists later became known as “The Eight.”
The Macbeth Gallery was the first New York gallery to specialize in American art and is historically important for exhibiting work by many American artists well-known to us today, including Glackens, Henri, Sloan, Winslow Homer, and Andrew Wyeth. The show at the Macbeth Gallery in the early 20th century would have a profound impact on the development and appreciation of American art.
Glackens was integrally involved in planning the famed Armory Show of 1913. Family Group, shown at this exhibition, gives an example of the decisive influence Pierre-August Renoir had on his work. From left to right, the domestic scene includes his sister-in-law Irene, his wife Edith (who also exhibited at the Armory Show), his son Ira, and a close family friend, Grace Dwight.
Collector Albert C. Barnes bought many of Glackens’ best paintings, some of which are exhibited by the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Juliana Force were admirers and purchased works for the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.