Fig.1. Cape Cod Pier byWilliam J. Glackens (1870-1938), 1908. Signed "W. Glackens" at lower right. Oil on canvas, 26 by 32 inches. The works illustrated are inthe Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Gift of an anonymous donor.
Behind the facade of a modern white monolith shimmering in the light of the Florida sun lies a corner of turn-of-the century New York, where the Gilded Age gives way to Greenwich Village bohemia, and the bumptious pleasures of Washington Square coalesce with idylls of bon-vivant France. The building is the home of the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, and the surprise it conceals is the largest repository in existence of the works of the American artist William Glackens.
Against all expectations, Fort Lauderdale, which had no historical links to Glackens, received the cream of his artistic estate through a generous bequest. The museum's good fortune was in no small part owed to a trustee with a close connection to the Glackens family, but it also benefited from larger vicissitudes in critical perceptions of the artist. Although an influential figure in American art during his lifetime, in the decades after his death Glackens's reputation contracted. He was slotted as an early follower of Robert Henri or a late disciple of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and yet the whole arc of Glackens's oeuvre reveals an artist of more ambition and breadth. But because of reigning attitudes, no museum avidly pursued a major Glackens gift, whereas Fort Lauderdale, which was willing to make extensive examples of his work a centerpiece of its permanent holdings, profited from the general apathy.
Glackens was an artist who combined an enchanting zest for life with an arsenal of sophisticated techniques. A gifted painter and draftsman, he was one of the liveliest artists on the American scene during the opening decades of the twentieth century. He was fascinated by the urban spectacle of New York City, and such paintings as At Mouquin's of 1905 (Art Institute of Chicago) and The Shoppers of 1907 (Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia) have become touchstones of American art. In his scenes of Central Park and Washington Square, he captured people and their surroundings with matchless spontaneity and spirit.