Master of delight: William J. Glackens at the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale
from The Magazine ANTIQUES, November/December 2011 |
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.
Fig. 2. Sledding, Central Park byGlackens, 1912. Signed "W. Glackens" at lower right. Oil on canvas, 23 by 31 ½ inches. Estate of Ira D. Glackens.
Fig.3. The Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes.
Fig. 4. Studies for Cape Cod Pier by Glackens, 1908, in his Cape Cod sketchbook. Graphite on paper, 5 ½ by 8 ¼ inches each (page size). Gift of the Sansom Foundation.
Fig. 5. The Glackens Wing includes a reconstruction of the parlor in the Greenwich Village town house of William and Edith Dimock Glackens (1876-1955). The paintings by Glackens seen in this view include (from left to right) Dancer in Pink Dress, 1902; Girl with Green Apple, c. 1911; and Maisie with an Apple, c. 1917.
Fig. 6. The Artist's Daughter in Chinese Costume by Glackens, 1918. Signed "W. Glackens" at lower left. Oil on canvas, 48 by 30 inches. Sansom Foundation gift.
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
Fig. 7. Far From the Fresh Air Farm: The Crowded City Street, with its Dangers and Temptations, Is a Pitiful Makeshift Playground for Children by Glackens, 1911. Signed "W. Glackens" at lower right. Crayon heightened with watercolor on paper, 24 ½ by 16 ½ inches. Ira D. Glackens estate
Fig. 8. Back of Nude by Glackens, c. 1930s. Signed "W. Glackens" at lower left. Oil on canvas, 30 by 25 inches. Ira D. Glackens estate.
Fig. 9. Flowers on a Garden Chair by Glackens, 1925. Signed "W. Glackens" at lower right. Oil on canvas, 20 by 15 inches. Ira D. Glackens estate.
Fig. 10. In the Luxembourg by Glackens, c. 1896. Signed "W. Glackens" at lower right. Oil on canvas, 16 by 19 inches. Ira D. Glackens estate.
The bequest arrived in Fort Lauderdale in January 1991. It consisted of 204 photographs, mementos, paintings, drawings, and pieces of family furniture. Some of the more important works received were the oils Tugboat and Lighter (Fig. 11) and Sledding, Central Park (Fig. 2), and two tour-de-force drawings of New York street scenes that were assignments for magazine illustrations: Far from the Fresh Air Farm (Fig. 7) and Christmas Shoppers, Madison Square (Fig. 12). Included too were watercolors by Edith Glackens and paintings, drawings, watercolors, and prints by the couple's friends and contemporaries, including Sloan, Shinn, Luks, Ernest Lawson, Guy Pène du Bois, and Maurice and Charles Prendergast.
Despite Ira Glackens's generosity, hundreds of other works of art by his father remained the property of the Sansom Foundation, where they had been previously deposited. But Richard Hilker, who succeeded Ira Glackens as the foundation's president, thought that the gift to Fort Lauderdale should be enlarged and made even more significant. In 1992 Santis was charged with making the representation of Glackens as comprehensive as possible by selecting works from the foundation that would fill gaps in periods, mediums, and genres in Ira Glackens's bequest. Some of Santis's choices for early work were In the Luxembourg (Fig. 10), painted during the artist's first stay in Paris, and the subtle Portrait of Charles FitzGerald (Fig. 13), which bears the impress of Velázquez and Whistler. (FitzGerald, an art critic, would later become Glackens's brother-in-law.) In contrast, The Artist's Daughter in Chinese Costume (Fig. 6) shows Glackens's later preference for orchestrating vivid colors and exotic patterns to create lush, tactile backgrounds for his figures. Another addition to the collection, Back of Nude (Fig. 8), with its green-toned flesh and compression of space, demonstrates his continuing penchant for formal experiment. There are also a profusion of still-life images, such as Flowers on a Garden Chair (Fig. 9), because they were a recurrent theme in Glackens's later years. Other invaluable treasures in the Glackens trove are seventy-six sketchbooks that detail both the artist's acuteness in observing the human form and his habitual reconsideration of an idea (see Fig. 4) before reaching the solution that appeared on the finished canvas. Ultimately the Sansom Foundation more than doubled Ira Glackens's original gift, and the collection now numbers nearly five hundred pieces..Fig. 11. Tugboat and Lighter by Glackens, 1904-1905. Oil on canvas, 25 by 30 inches. Ira D. Glackens estate.
Fig. 12. Christmas Shoppers, MadisonSquare by Glackens, 1912. Signed "W. Glackens" at lower right. Crayon and watercolor on paper, 17 ½ by 31 inches. Ira D. Glackens estate.
Fig. 13. Portrait of Charles FitzGerald (1873-1958) by Glackens, 1903. Oil on canvas, 75 by 40 inches. Sansom Foundation gift.
The sketchbooks are also reminders of Glackens's key role in the history of American tastemaking. He was the first adviser to Albert C. Barnes, the Philadelphia chemist who became a millionaire early in the twentieth century and yearned to collect great art. Glackens and Barnes had gone to high school together, and when they renewed their friendship in 1911, Glackens sharpened Barnes's appreciation of modern French painting. The artist traveled to Paris on a buying trip for Barnes in 1912, and he returned with works by Renoir, Picasso, Pissarro, Maurice Denis, van Gogh, Cézanne, and Maurer. These purchases became the nucleus of Barnes's fabled collection of modern art, and Fort Lauderdale possesses a sketchbook and a small notebook listing the works of art Glackens saw and their prices. Barnes found Glackens indispensable to his aesthetic growth, writing, "The most valuable single educational factor to me has been my frequent association with a life-long friend who combines greatness as an artist with a big man's mind."6
To house the expanded collection and keep selections from it on permanent display, the Sansom Foundation funded a 10,000-square-foot addition to the FortLauderdale museum. Along with regular exhibition space, the Glackens Wing, which opened in 2001, contains a reconstruction of William and Edith Glackens's parlor in their Greenwich Village town house. The re-creation is based on photographs, various paintings that feature the interiors of their residences, and furnishings that Ira Glackens preserved. The room conveys a sense of peace, comfort, and cultivation. It seems in harmony with the disposition of the painter himself, who took such easy pleasure in the things around him.
I would like to thank Jorge Santis at the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, for his readiness and patience in answering my many questions. I am also happy to acknowledge the contributions of Rachel Talent Ivers, the museum's registrar, and Emily Wood, curatorial associate, in locating images and research materials for me.
1See John Russell, "Art: When Glackens Illustrated for a Living," New York Times, August 13, 1982; and Robert Hughes, "Art: Charm, Yes; Inspiration, No," Time, August 18, 1980. 2 "Annual Tribute Paid to William Glackens," Art Digest, vol. 17, no. 4 (November 15, 1942), p. 11. 3 The author was a personal friend of Ira and Nancy Glackens from 1978 until 1990, and although Ira Glackens spent many hours supplying information and opinions about his father and his work to scholars, dealers, and museum personnel, he had numerous interests of his own to which he preferred to devote his time and attention. He did not want to be a "professional son" beyond what he had to be. 4 Jorge Santis to Avis Berman, e-mail, June 10, 2011. 5 Ibid. 6 Quoted in Richard J. Wattenmaker, American Paintings and Works on Paper in the Barnes Foundation (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2010), p. 66.
AVIS BERMAN has written extensively on the Eight and their peers. She is organizing a traveling exhibition of William Glackens's work that will open in 2014 at the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale.