Ashcan Art Movement

USA, 1891 - 1920

Ashcan Art Movement, History, Ash Can Paintings and Artists.

The Ashcan School art movement, sometimes called the Ash Can School movement, was an artistic movement started in America during the early twentieth century that is best known for works depicting scenes of everyday life in New York City, in the city's poorer neighborhoods, with working-class and middle-class urban settings. This subject matter, although without a name, is still a subject in art today.

How did Ashcan Art get its name?

Why the name Ashcan? An ashcan is a large metal barrel, can, or comparable receptacle for ashes, refuse, or trash. What's more, what the artists wanted to represent and speak about was the dirty refuse of a society that was overlooked, imperceptible to the rich, and only very rarely utilized as subjects in American art. No respectable individual could ever dare to or need to take a look at these dark, gritty, grimy streets and neighborhoods and the people living in them. This changed with the Ashcan artists, who brought these imperceptible people to the forefront.

The artists who worked in these art styles did not issue declarations or even consider themselves bound together as a unified group with identical intentions or career goals. Their solidarity was driven by the desire to tell certain truths about the city and fast-changing modern life. These truths had been disregarded by the Genteel Tradition in the visual arts. The Genteel Tradition was authored by George Santayana in 1911 about an endeavor by a gathering of refined New England intellectuals, poets, academics, editors, critics, and publishers. The gathering sought to control scholarly and moral measures and keep up social pecking orders. Robert Henri, the spiritual forefather of this school, encouraged his more youthful associates and understudies to paint in a vigorous, liberated, ungenteel manner without fear of offending contemporary taste.

The Philadelphia Five.

Many of the most well-known Ashcan works were painted in the first decade of the century, at the same time that realist fiction was discovering its audience and muckraking journalists were pointing out ghetto conditions. The first known instance of the expression "ash can art" is credited to the artist Art Young in 1916. At the time, the term was associated with a large number of painters, including the first "Philadelphia Five" of Robert Henri, George Luks, William Glackens, John Sloan, and Everett Shinn, some of whom had met while studying together at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under the prestigious realist Thomas Anshutz at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Other famous artists include George Bellows, Glenn O. Coleman, Jerome Myers, Gifford Beal, Eugene Higgins, Carl Springchorn, and Edward Hopper.

Ashcan Art, Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses.

The artists of the Ashcan School opposed both American Impressionism and Academic Realism. These were the two most respected and successful styles in the United States at the turn of the last century. In contrast to the polished work of artists like John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase, Kenyon Cox, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, and Abbott Thayer. Ashcan works were, for the most part, darker in tone and more roughly painted. Many captured the harsher moments of modern life, portraying street kids (Henri's Willie Gee and Bellows' Paddy Flannagan), prostitutes (Sloan's The Haymarket and Three A.M.), alcoholics (Luks' Hobo Musician), crowded tenements (Bellows' Cliff Dwellers), washing hung out to dry (Sloan's A Woman's Work), bloodied boxers (Bellows' Both Members of this Club), and wrestlers on the mat (Luks' The Wrestlers). It was their frequent, although not exclusive, focus on poverty and the gritty realities of urban life that prompted some critics and curators to think of them as too unsettling for mainstream audiences and collections.

The advent of modernism in the United States spelled the end of the Ashcan school's provocative notoriety. February 17, 1913, is a memorable date in the history of American painting: a vast public exhibition of contemporary art, comprising 1100 European and American works, was hung in the armory of the 69th infantry regiment in New York City. The armory show marks the affirmation of independence on the part of the American art movement. New York quickly became the social focal point of the United States and the hub of international art. The opening of more galleries in the 1910s promoted the work of Cubists, Fauves, and Expressionists, Henri, and his circle began to appear tame to a younger generation. Their rebellion was over not long after it had begun. It was the destiny of the Ashcan realists to be seen by many art lovers as radical in 1910 and, by a great deal more, as outdated by 1920. This is a very short timeline in art history.

The Philly Five + Three = The Eight.

The Ashcan school is sometimes associated with the group known as "The Eight," but in reality, only five members of that group, Henri, Sloan, Glackens, Luks, and Shinn, were Ashcan artists. The other three, Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson, and Maurice Prendergastpainted in an altogether different style, and the exhibition that brought "The Eight" to national attention took place in 1908, quite a while after the start of the Ashcan style. However, the consideration given to the group's well-publicized exhibition at the Macbeth Galleries in New York in 1908 was such that Ashcan art gained wider exposure, more sales, and a lot more critical attention than it had ever known before.

The Macbeth Galleries exhibition was held to protest the prohibitive exhibition policies of the powerful, conservative National Academy of Design. It was also held to communicate the need for more opportunities to show works of art of a more different, courageous quality than the Academy by and large allowed. When the exhibition closed in New York, where it attracted impressive attention, the oil paintings were put on a traveling show organized by John Sloan. They toured Chicago, Toledo, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Bridgeport, and Newark. Reviews were mixed, but interest was high. Sales and exhibition opportunities for these painters increased in the ensuing years.

Adapted in part from Wikipedia

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