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William James Glackens
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Philadelphia, Pa.
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
Westport, Conn.
A leading American modernist painter and illustrator, the art of William James Glackens evolved from the gritty, dark realism of the Ashcan School to a colorful Impressionist style influenced by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). Glackens was born in Philadelphia in 1870 to middle-class parents. His schoolmates at Philadelphia’s Central High School included Albert C. Barnes (1872-1851) and John Sloan (1871-1951). After graduation Glackens worked as an artist-reporter for Philadelphia newspapers and attended night classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), where his instructors included Thomas Anshutz (1851-1912). His friend Sloan, also a student at PAFA, introduced Glackens to Robert Henri (1864-1929), with whom Glackens shared a studio in 1894. Glackens exhibited in PAFA’s Annual Exhibition that year. The following year Glackens traveled to Europe, touring Belgium and Holland by bicycle with Henri and others and taking a studio in Paris. In 1896 Glackens returned to the U.S. and settled in New York City, where he worked as an artist-reporter for the New York World and the New York Herald and as an illustrator for several magazines, including McClure’s Magazine, which in 1898 sent him to Cuba to create illustrate scenes of the Spanish-American War. While making a living as an illustrator, Glackens continued to paint and participated in a 1901 exhibition at New York’s Allen Gallery along with Henri, Sloan and others and another in 1904 at the National Arts Club. His illustrations won a gold medal at Buffalo’s 1901 Pan-American Exposition. In 1904 Glackens married Edith Dimock, an art student and the daughter of a wealthy Hartford family. Her family’s wealth secured their financial position, allowing the couple to live comfortably, spend summers at the seashore and travel extensively, particularly after Edith received a substantial inheritance after the death of her parents in 1917. Glackens exhibited at the St. Louis Exposition that year, winning a silver medal for painting and a bronze medal for illustration, and won honorable mention at the 1905 Carnegie Institute annual exhibition in Pittsburgh for his painting Chez Mouquin (1905, Art Institute of Chicago). After being elected to membership of the Society of American Artists in 1905, he became an associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1906 when the two organizations merged. Later that year Glackens and his wife took a belated honeymoon trip to Europe, traveling to England, France and Spain. Finding all of his submissions rejected for the National Academy’s 1906 exhibition and all but one rejected in 1907, Henri, Sloan and Glackens made plans to mount an independent exhibition of their works and those of five other young artists, which was held at the Macbeth Galleries in February 1908. Dubbed by the press as a show of “The Eight,” the exhibition traveled to PAFA and the Art Institute of Chicago later that year, and went on to seven other cities. Glackens was one of the organizers (with Henri, Sloan and others) of the Exhibition of Independent Artists in 1910. In early 1912 his friend Albert Barnes sent Glackens to Paris with $20,000 for the purchase of modern art, which he did, returning with paintings by Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), Claude Monet (1840-1926), Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Renoir, among others. Barnes would go on to buy seventy-one of Glackens’s own works. Glackens’s first one-man show was held at the Madison Art Gallery, New York City, later that year. He was the chairman of the committee choosing American art for the 1913 Armory show, where he exhibited three oil paintings. Glackens exhibited five paintings in San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, receiving a bronze medal. His career as an illustrator ended around 1919, as his wife’s inheritance allowed him to focus on painting. In 1924 he won the Temple Gold Medal at PAFA’s annual exhibition for an oil painting of a nude woman (Temple Gold Medal Nude, 1924, private collection). Glackens and his family traveled to France and Italy in 1925, remaining in Europe until 1932 with brief trips back to America. He was elected a full member of the National Academy in 1933. He won the Beck Gold Medal at the PAFA’s 1933 annual exhibition, the Sesnan Medal at its 1936 exhibition and the Grand Prize at the 1937 Paris Exposition. Glackens died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1938 while visiting friends in Westport, Connecticut. (TNB 2/2015) Selected bibliography: Leeds, Valerie Ann. William Glackens: American Impressionist. Exhibition catalog. New York: Gerald Peters Gallery, 2003.