George Benjamin Luks USA
8-13-1867 Williamsport, USA - 10-29-1933 New York, USABack to Artist IndexView Artists Paintings
George Benjamin Luks learned at a young age about poverty and compassion as he observed his parents helping the coal miners' families.
George Benjamin Luks began his working life in vaudeville. He left performing when he decided to pursue a career as an artist. George Benjamin Luks knew from a young age that he wanted to be an artist and studied briefly at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts before he traveled to Europe, where he attended several art schools and studied the Old Masters.
In 1893, he returned to Philadelphia, where he eventually found work as an illustrator for the Philadelphia Press. Working at that newspaper, George Benjamin Luks met John Sloan, William Glackens, and Everett Shinn. These men would gather for weekly meetings, ribaldly social as well as intellectual, at the studio of Robert Henri, a talented painter several years their senior. Henri encouraged his younger friends to consider the need for a new style of painting that would speak more to their own time and experience.
In 1896, Luks moved to New York City and began work as an artist for Joseph Pulitzer's New York World. During his time as an illustrator there, he lived with William Glackens. Along with Everett Shinn and Robert Henri, Glackens encouraged Luks to spend more time on his serious painting. What ensued were several productive years in which Luks painted some of the most vigorous examples of what would be called "Ashcan art."
The rejection of many of their paintings, including works by Luks, from the exhibitions of the powerful, conservative National Academy of Design motivated Henri's followers to form their own short-lived independent exhibiting group. Consisting of Robert Henri, George Benjamin Luks, William Glackens, John Sloan, Everett Shinn, Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson, and Maurice Prendergast, the group exhibited as "The Eight" in January 1908.
The first known use of the "ash can" terminology in describing the movement was by Art Young, in 1916, but the term was applied later not only to the Henri circle, but also to such painters as George Bellows (another student of Henri), Jerome Myers, Gifford Beal, Glenn Coleman, Carl Sprinchorn, and Mabel Dwight and even to photographers Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine, who portrayed New York's working-class neighborhoods in a sometimes brutally realistic fashion.
In 1905, George Benjamin Luks painted two of his most famous works, icons of the Ashcan school: The Spielers and The Wrestlers.
Luks was also a teacher, first at the Arts Students League on West 57th Street in Manhattan and, later, across the street at a school he established himself, which remained open until the time of his death.
Luks was a born rebel and one of the most distinctive personalities in American art. Like many of the later Abstract Expressionist men, he made a great display of his masculinity and could seldom retreat from a dare. He took pride in being known as the "bad boy" of American art, liked to characterize himself as entirely self-created, and downplayed the influence of Robert Henri, or any contemporary, on his artistic development. Luks was always a heavy drinker, and his friend and one-time roommate William Glackens often had to undress him and haul him to bed after a night of drunken debauchery. Although many sources confirm this tendency, they also characterize him as a man with a kind heart who befriended people living on the edge who became subjects for his works of art.
George Benjamin Luks was found dead in a doorway by a policeman in the early morning hours of October 29, 1933, following a bar-room brawl. Contrary to the newspaper account stating that the painter had succumbed on his way to paint the dawn sky, he had been beaten to death in an altercation with one of the other customers at a nearby bar.
Art Movement: Ashcan School
Influences: Diego Velazquez, Frans Hals, Edouard Manet, William Glackens
Traveled: France, Germany, England