Snite Museum of Art
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN
William J. Glackens, Painter: A Tribute to C. Richard Hilker, Patron
by Dean Porter
The Snite Museum of Art has mounted the exhibition William J. Glackens, Painter: A Tribute to C. Richard Hilker, Patron. During the summer months of 2001, the University of Notre Dame celebrates the lives of two remarkable individuals: William J. Glackens (1870-1938), an artist needing little introduction, and C. Richard Hilker (1925-2001), a major patron of the artist's work and life.
William J. Glackens is considered one the most influential artists in the history of American art. He was, in fact, a leading member of "The Eight," an active participant in the Society of Independent Artists, and in 1913, a key individual in organizing the Armory Show. Glackens's son, Ira, appropriately titled his book on his father's life and work, William Glackens and The Eight, The Artists Who Freed American Art. Despite assertions that "The Eight" were "the apostles of ugliness" and the "devotees of the ugly," the 1908 show at the Macbeth Gallery was a popular success. "Their battles to free art from officialdom," their concern to paint "reality," "life," to paint "whatever came along that seemed paintable," is strong evidence that Glackens enjoyed his friends and family -- in his home, at the beach, and in the park. His world included Europe as well as America. As did his colleagues, Glackens "believed that the artist must be free to paint as he pleases." Most important, the art he created is a reflection of his life, his tastes, his artistic conceits. He lived his art, becoming a critical part of it.
Until his death in 1990, Ira Glackens, biographer and writer, directed the Sansom Foundation (named for the Philadelphia street on which William Glackens was born). Hilker, a friend of Ira's since the 1960s, accepted the responsibility of running the Foundation in 1990. Until his death in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on the 20th of January, 2001, the University of Notre Dame graduate carried out the wishes of the Glackens family. This article discusses some of the Sansom Foundation's accomplishments under Hilker's leadership. Representing one of the principal recipients of both his generosity and that of the Sansom Foundation, it is a privilege to draft these words.
Over the last decade significant attention in the form of publications, exhibitions, and museum expansion, has been given to William Glackens. In 1996, Dr. William H. Gerdts, professor of art at the Graduate School, City University of New York, in concert with Jorge H. Santis, curator of collections, Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, co-authored William Glackens (Abbeville Press). In April of 2000, the Queens Museum mounted an impressive show William Glackens: A Journey From Realism to Impressionism, cocurated by William Valerio of the Queens Museum and Santis. In addition to these events there have been several important exhibitions curated by Santis at the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale (Glackens: The Portrait Painter, 1993; Henri's Disciples: William Glackens & John Sloan, 1995; and Intimate Glackens, 1998), as well as other similar smaller exhibitions around the country, including William Glackens: Works and Process at the Suzanne Arnold Gallery, Lebanon Valley College, Annville, Pennsylvania. And finally, a few weeks after Hilker's death, the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, opened a new wing dedicated to the work of Glackens and his contemporaries. Glackens joined an elite group of American artists when an extensive museum space was created for his work.
The prime mover behind all of these activities was C. Richard Hilker. Ira could not have found an individual more qualified or sensitized to his father's art and life. Hilker patiently directed paintings, drawings, photographs and other important materials to the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, assuring that the American public would be able to see, study and enjoy the artist's life and work in depth, and on a permanent basis. The Florida Museum became a point of destination to study Glackens's work as well as that of his colleagues.
During the last five years of his life, Hilker also accepted the task of raising the level of quality in American art at his alma mater. John Surovek, director of Surovek Fine Arts, Palm Beach, Florida, and a 1978 graduate of Notre Dame's Department of Art, introduced me to Richard. From that time, the Sansom Foundation donated three paintings (as well as placed four additional canvases on long-term loan), 16 sketchbooks, and 88 drawings (and two by Edith Dimock Glackens), to the University of Notre Dame's Snite Museum of Art, a generous and important gift for any museum.
The Foundation's gifts to The Snite Museum form the nucleus of a serious collection of American art. The canvases trace the evolution of the artist's style, ranging from an 1895 Parisian street scene characterized by Glackens's somber, almost monochromatic palette; to the 1911 The Artist's Wife and Son, announcing his fascination with Renoir; to the 1914 Bellport beach scene. representing the impressionist style for which he is best known.
In 1895, he and his close friend, Robert Henri (1865-1929) worked and played together in France. According to Ira Glackens, they "sketched, ate, and drank the wine of the country." Glackens, throughout his career, rejoiced in life. Glackens found his subject on the street, in the park, by a body of water and, in this instance, as a voyeur enjoying dancers performing in a dimly lit theater or cafe during evening hours. Like Henri, Glackens treated his subjects with a bravura style, painting in the Munich manner; wet on wet, broad, bold strokes of paint applied liberally, creating a juicy and buttery surface. In his early work, Hals and Manet are usually cited as major influences on the artist's palette and choice of subject matter.
As with so many American artists, Glackens began his career as a newspaper and magazine illustrator. He continued illustrating articles, usually about the urban working class, into the teens. His sensitivity to this type of theme brought him into close sympathy with the Ashcan artists Henri, Everett Shinn (1873-1953), John Sloan (1871-1951) and George Luks (1867-1933). .
In 1907, he created The Glove Counter (With a Brewery Driver's Huge Hand Between Her Two Slender Ones), a charcoal derived from "a story entitled 'The Wiles of the Wooer,' by Myra Kelly, published in Mc Clure's Magazine in September." Responding to charcoal drawings of this nature, the much-celebrated art collector, Albert C. Barnes, one of Glackens's former classmates and most important patrons, called the artist's "best black-and-white work as individual, as strong, and as expressive as that of Goya, Daumier, and Degas."
In 1912, Barnes sent Glackens with Alfred (Alfy) Maurer on a three week buying trip to Paris. With $20,000 to spend on art, they made contacts with Parisian dealers who represented some of Europe's most important artists -- Cezanne, Manet, Degas, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and the highly respected French Impressionist, Auguste Renoir. Barnes eventually acquired over sixty works by Glackens and a large number of watercolors from Edith Dimock, Glackens's wife, as well as a large collection of works by Renoir.
In 1913, Glackens created the pen and ink drawing, Lady B. was Extending Her Hand in an Almost Pathetic Farewell, to illustrate the American writer and editor Theodore Dreiser's (1871-1945) article "An Uncommercial Traveler in London." This drawing appeared in Century Magazine in September 1913, the final of his book illustrations. In this drawing, Glackens demonstrated that he was equally comfortable in dealing with the upper class as he was with the common everyday person (The Glove Counter), perhaps more so than the other members of "The Eight."
Glackens was a family man. He did a large number of paintings of his family -- in addition to Edith and Ira, his daughter Lenna was a favored subject. In 1911, he painted one of his finest and most important portraits, The Artist's Wife and Son, picturing Edith, and their seven year old son Ira, painted when the family lived at 23 Fifth Avenue, New York. Ira would later write, "these [this and another family portrait] are all that remain of 23 Fifth Avenue." The family moved into "23" in 1908, "a fine old house" "on the northeast corner of Ninth Street," a house owned and occupied by General Daniel Sickles, a survivor of the Battle of Gettysburg who had shot his wife's lover.
The focus of the canvas is a young boy adored by his mother. Their intimate relationship is emphasized by an attentive mother, her arms encircling a rather stoic Ira. Their action is confined to a compressed space in the foreground. The room itself becomes a claustrophobic environment, as the artist leaves no space uncluttered, occupying it with a fireplace, windows with lace curtains, furniture supporting a still-life, and an upholstered settle covered with a blanket. While there is an obvious bonding of the mother and her son, her "zebra" dress contrasts dramatically with Ira's precious costume. Glackens pictures his wife as caring and soft-spoken. Edith was anything but that. Like her 'zebra" dress, she was an aggressive individual, who participated in the Armory Show of 1913 and challenged her conservative teacher William Merrit Chase. According to Ira, Chase could "not make her out, but he thought she was a genius." However, there is much more to the painting than a study of relationship. Gerdts suggests that this painting comes from Glackens's "transitional" period, "between his dark, Manet-inspired early work and his more complete dependence on Renoir from about 1912 on." Most importantly, in this pivotal canvas, Glackens's palette explodes with color.
Sansom Foundation gifts complement other works in the Snite Museum collection. Prior to Hilker's return to Notre Dame, the museum had one important drawing by Glackens. Called Pushcarts, it was probably created between 1910 and 1912. It is one of the artist's more spirited New York street scenes. Gerdts described this type of drawing as one where the artist "concentrated on close-up views of groups of individuals, often contrasted in terms of age, social status, and economic position." Elements for this type of drawing are often found in Glackens's sketchbooks and study sheets.
Glackens believed in and practiced "process." He left behind a large collection of sketchbooks, seventy-five in the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, sixteen at The Snite Museum, and smaller groups in a few other museums. Some have beige, green or brown canvas covers, others gray, while a majority of those in the Notre Dame collection have blue covers. He employed graphite, conte crayon, pen and ink and, occasionally, pastels. The sketchbooks in the Notre Dame collection range in size from 6 3/4 by 5, to 9 by 6 inches. The sketchbooks are fabulous and, for the study of Glackens's work, absolutely critical.
The sketchbooks traveled and documented everywhere Glackens and his family went-fortunately, he often titled and dated the books on their covers. One of the Notre Dame sketchbooks has an inscription on the cover W Glackens Bellport 1916 OOOOO Good Harbor Beach 1919 Gloucester. While Glackens usually started fresh sketchbook to introduce a new painting season, this sketchbook was used both in Bellport in 1916 and in Good Harbor Beach in 1919. The series of circles with dots are found as part of Glackens's inscriptions on several sketchbooks, their function unknown. They may have been, in fact, playful doodles. In 1919, [he] devoted another to Gloucester. One page shows a mother wheeling a baby carriage through a park while other youngsters are swinging. Glackens treated the same scene on a separate sheet in pastel, a common practice for the artist.
These sketchbooks enable the scholar to date, identify locations, and title some of Glackens canvases. Santis also observes that the sketchbooks are important for determining authenticity. The sketchbook contains the germ of so many of his ideas. Santis writes: "Glackens considered his sketchbooks his most precious possessions." In fact, Ira wrote," He mourned them when one was lost. They were more valued by him than his paintings." While some sheets simply record quick, but sure, sketches of interesting people that passed by him on the streets of Washington Square or stood on the docks at Bellport Beach or conversed on Fifth Avenue, other pages contain complete compositions he later developed into finished paintings. Interestingly, the pages in the Notre Dame sketchbooks are perforated, making it easy for Glackens to remove them. However, there is little evidence that this was his practice. It appears he maintained the integrity of his sketchbooks by keeping them intact. In the Notre Dame sketchbooks, graphite and charcoal were the media most commonly used. His style ranged from the very delicate and poetic, to the harsh and severe. His drawing instrument could lightly touch the surface, creating a delicately sensitive image, or force itself into the paper, the softness of the charcoal leaving jet black trails on the page.
Many of his colleagues summered at exotic locations across America. Glackens and his family preferred summering on bodies of water, usually on the East Coast. While Henri, Sloan, and Bellows made trips to New Mexico, Glackens's painting would have been severely handicapped without Bellport Beach and the recreational activities associated with the water. Sketchbooks beautifully document the family's summers in Bellport between 1911 and 1916. At Bellport Beach he was particularly prolific, filling several sketchbooks and completing a substantial number of paintings that are in museum collections (Brooklyn Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts, and The Snite Museum of Art). The Bellport sketchbook in the Notre Dame collection features several harbor scenes, people standing on the docks, boats, a church spire, bathers, and ferry station.
Notre Dame's Bellport Beach, is typical of Glackens's impressionistic canvases created in the teens. Despite the countless number of sketches that could have served as preliminary sketches for this canvas, x-ray photography reveals only a half dozen sketchy lines under the oil. Through his numerous drawings, Glackens became so familiar with his subject that he could attack the canvas without hesitation, avoiding doing extensive preliminary studies. Resulting canvases are characterized by their freshness and spontaneity.
Besides the sketchbooks, Glackens created a large number of single sheets where he would record as many as two dozen figure studies. The main difference between images on these sheets and the sketchbook is size-the figures are larger. The purpose, however, is the same -- Glackens was developing a visual encyclopaedia of body postures, movements and facial expressions. Occasionally, he also made compositional studies. While these study sheets are about individuals, unrelated to one another (other than their proximity to one another on the study sheet), Glackens would later refer to those individuals that would people his compositions and rethink them in terms of relationships, as well as spatial considerations. Glackens had a voracious appetite to capture the moment, no matter how fleeting. He had but a few seconds to record the action before it passed him by. With a few, quick strokes of his pencil or charcoal, he was able to isolate and synthesize the image. What is most impressive with his figure studies are the individuals whom we can identify with-from all walks of life, of both sexes, and of any age. Titles that could be given to these individual elements are Lady Adjusts Her Glove, The Laundress, Elephant Trainer, Mother and Son Shopping, Strolling in Washington Square. The most unusual drawings in the Notre Dame collection are a series of studies for a canvas in the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, Nymphet Chasing Girl, No. 3. Santis wrote in 1996, the theme of Nymphet Chasing Girl has "little in common with Glackens's trademarks, showing no hint of romance, gentility, or domestic bliss. Instead, they are infused with an air of mystery, exoticism, and even danger." Santis suggests that they reveal "an unexpectedly dark and threatening side of Glackens." Whatever the meaning and implications of the series, Glackens was obviously fascinated with its artistic possibilities. In one study, the artist seems more interested in expressing motion than form and mass. He treats the central figure like Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending the Stair, legs in rapid motion, movement captured by repeated gestures the artist fashioned with charcoal on paper. In a second pastel, color is Glackens's chief concern, as he pictures the nymphet chasing a young woman, their action frozen in space. A third drawing appears to have been the final study in the series
The Glackens collection at Notre Dame also includes several studies for paintings, instructive when seen as a series documenting Glackens's exploration of compositional possibilities, color considerations, etc. Two studies, both titled Bathers at Play, illustrate Glackens's fascination with the dynamics of public recreation, whether it be Long Beach, Bellport, Cape Cod, St. Jean de Luz, or La Ciotat.
Shearer suggests that these drawings were inspired by activities that Glackens witnessed at Long Beach, New York. "The artist frequently depicted crowds; here he frames the group, synthesizing the action-filled vignettes and transforming them into complex pictorial studies."
The drawings demonstrate Glackens's practice of working and reworking his compositions, rearranging pictorial components until he is satisfied. Despite this practice, Glackens never looses the feeling that the drawings are fresh and spontaneous, and seldom, if ever, labored.
Through the generosity of C. Richard Hilker and the Sansom Foundation, interest in William Glackens continues to grow. Most importantly, Hilker brought two institutions together, the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, and The Snite Museum of Art, in a common purpose. They are and will continue to be destinations for those interested in the life and works of William Glackens, a remarkable artist whose full importance to American art is still being evaluated.
About the author
Dean A. Porter is the director emeritus of The Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame. He specializes in twentieth-century American art and culture, with a special emphasis on the Southwest. He is the author of Victor Higgins, An American Master (1990) and co-author of Taos Artists and Their Patrons, 1898-1950 (1999; discussed in the June and July 1999 issues of American Art Review). Porter has organized several exhibitions and is frequent lecturer on the Southwest. He is also a practicing artist with nearly forty solo exhibitions to his credit. Porter is currently working on a catalogue raisonne on Victor Higgins and is preparing, with Stephen L. Good, a monograph on Walter Ufer. Porter is also curating an exhibition on Ufer, scheduled for 2003. .
Also relating to the exhibition:
All objects are gifts of the Sansom Foundation to The Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, unless otherwise indicated.
a- William J. Glackens at Work in His Studio, c. 1935, photo by Peter A. Juley and Son, New York, courtesy of the William Glackens Archives, Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale.
b-Ira Glackens at Home, Georgetown, Washington, D. C., c. 1970, courtesy of the William Glackens Archives, Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale.
c- C. Richard Hilker, President and C. E. O., Sansom Foundation, c. 1990, courtesy of the William Glackens Archives, Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale.
1- William Glackens, Theater in Paris, 1895 oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 32 inches
2- William Glackens The Glove Counter (With a Brewery Driver's Huge Hand Between Her Two Slender Ones), 1907 Graphite on paper; 7 1/2 x 10 inches
3- William Glackens Lady B. was Extending Her Hand in an Almost Pathetic Farewell, 1913 Pen and ink with graphite with blue pencil on paper; 11 3/8 x 12 1/2 inches
4- William Glackens Portrait of the Artist's Wife and Son. 1911 oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches
5- William Glackens, American, 1870-1938 Pushcarts, c. 1910-1912 graphite on paper; 23 1/8 x 15 3/4 inches On extended loan as a promised gift from Mr. John D. Reilly, class of 1968
6- William Glackens W Glackens OOOOO 1919 Gloucester Front Cover sketchbook with blue cover graphite; 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 inches
7- William Glackens Woman Wheeling Her Baby Carriage in the Park, Gloucester, 1919 (from the sketchbook) graphite, 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 inches
8- William Glackens Woman Wheeling Her Baby Carriage in the Park, Gloucester, 1919 pastel. 12 x 18 inches
9- William Glackens Bellport Beach, 1914 oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches
10- William Glackens Bellport Beach, 1914 (from the sketchbook) graphite; 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 inches
11- William Glackens Studies of Figures, 1920s graphite on paper
12- William Glackens Three Studies of a Hands, c. 1922 black, white, and pink chalk on paper; 11 x 16 inches
13- William Glackens Study for Nymphet Chasing Girl, (no. 1), c. 1917 pastel on paper; 11 5/16 x 17 3/16 inches
14- William Glackens Study for Nymphet Chasing Girl, (no. 2), c. 1917 pastel on paper; 8 3/4 x 15 inches
15- William Glackens Study for "Bathers at Play," c. 1932 graphite on paper, 9 1/4 x 13 1/2 inches
16- William Glackens Study for "Bathers at Play," c. 1932 colored chalk and conte crayon on paper, 8 3/4 x 12 inches
The above article and accompanying material are reprinted with the permission of the author and The Snite Museum of Art. The dates of the exhibition were June 10 - August 5, 2001.
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