Glackens's artistic career spanned five decades, from the 1890s through the 1930s. He was born in Philadelphia, studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and became friends with Robert Henri, John Sloan, Everett Shinn, and George Luks. Henri urged his friends, who were all working on local newspapers, to think beyond punching the clock as illustrators. With his encouragement, they started painting and moved to NewYork. Glackens was consistently modern in attitude, participating in and championing landmark exhibitions of the American and European avant-garde. He was a member of the Eight, whose 1908 exhibition was the opening wedge in the struggle to democratize the process by which nonacademic artists could show and sell their work. After being on the selection committee of the 1910 Independent Artists exhibition, the first large-scale invitational show of progressive artists, Glackens was appointed chairman of American selections for the epochal Armory Show, which introduced vanguard art to this country in 1913.
As an artist-reporter in his twenties, Glackens went to Cuba to cover Theodore Roosevelt at San Juan Hill, and in later life his love of travel led him to sunny landscapes and shorelines in search of motifs. He painted the cafes and streets of Paris, the beaches and coves of Long Island, Cape Cod, and Connecticut, and the hills and towns of rural France. His beach scenes, teeming with incident, have been celebrated for their vivid interplay of men, women, and children at leisure against the natural movements of clouds, sky, light, and water; the paintings are equally seductive for their clear, scintillating color and vibrant architectural forms. He was just as successful as a painter of nudes, portraits, and still lifes.
Glackens investigated multiple currents of American and European modernism beyond the bounds of impressionism. He was inspired by the work of his friends Alfred Maurer and Maurice Prendergast, and was familiar as well with the development of such artists as Marsden Hartley and Arthur Dove. Glackens's reverence for Renoir is well documented, but his painting is also steeped in a knowledge of Manet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Matisse, and Bonnard, at the very least. (John Russell compared Glackens to Albert Marquet, and Robert Hughes likened him to André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck.1) That such intrepid aspects of Glackens's oeuvre are to be seen in the FortLauderdale holdings is no accident. But given that the artist was associated with Philadelphia, New York, New England, and France, how did his work end up in Florida?
William Glackens and his wife, the artist Edith Dimock, had a son and a daughter, Ira (1907-1990) and Lenna (1913-1943). Lenna had no children, and Ira and his wife, Anne "Nancy" Henshaw Middlebrook Glackens, were childless too. Edith Dimock Glackens was careful about parceling out paintings for sale: not long after she was widowed, she announced her determination to retain as many works as possible for an eventual Glackens museum.2 After her death, Ira Glackens inherited the estate, which consisted of art and substantial financial assets-his mother had come from a wealthy mercantile family. Although Ira Glackens did not disavow his mother's original wish for a Glackens museum, in the 1950s and 1960s, his father's art, like so much other American painting and sculpture produced before 1945, was out of fashion. The idea of creating and sustaining an entire institution devoted to his father must have struck the pragmatic Ira, who was busy with his own life as an author, traveler, and apple farmer, as a hopeless and draining fantasy.3 During these years he and his wife presented paintings as gifts to the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Saint Louis Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the White House, and other institutions. They also established the Sansom Foundation (named after the Philadelphia street where William Glackens was born), a charitable entity through which they supported educational activities and animal welfare.
By the 1980s a revival of early twentieth-century American art was in full force, William Glackens's work began its ascent in the marketplace, and Ira Glackens had to ponder the fate of the hundreds of works still in his hands. He lived in Washington, D. C., and spoke with several local museums about the matter. "The National Gallery and the Hirshhorn were both interested in the gift," recalls Jorge H. Santis, the curator at Fort Lauderdale responsible for the Glackens collection, "but neither was willing to dedicate a gallery to it."4 Ira Glackens also consulted C. Richard Hilker, his business manager and close friend, who lived in FortLauderdale and was a trustee of the museum there. During that time, the institution itself was maturing. In 1986, in response to the cultural explosion in south Florida, the museum moved from a less centrally located storefront space into a 65,000-square-foot building in downtown Fort Lauderdale designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes. The year before, Hilker had persuaded Ira Glackens to donate Cape Cod Pier (Fig. 1), an important painting documenting his father's transition from the darker palette of his earlier years to the brilliant, Fauve-inflected color he would adopt and explore in ensuing decades. Cape Cod Pier, which has a push-and-pull dynamic of color and space that Hans Hofmann would admire, promptly became a celebrated addition to Fort Lauderdale's permanent collection.
Nancy Glackens died in June 1990 and, after her death, Hilker advised Ira Glackens to leave the greater part of his collection to a public institution in order to avoid bankrupting his estate. By then he could see that the collection would be better served by a smaller institution that would use it rather than a larger one that would consign it to storage. Ira Glackens died in November 1990, leaving his personal collection to the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, provided that it not be dispersed or sold. "Neither Ira nor Nancy ever visited our museum," Santis says. "Ira's final decision rested solely on Richard's advice."5