The Barnes Foundation continues its run of compelling exhibitions with a collection from realist painter and Philadelphia native William Glackens.
Central Park, Winter (1905) depicts the realist themes of urban life and accessible subject matter that William Glackens pursued during much of his career.
Bursting with French Impressionists like Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne, the Barnes Foundation actually owes its existence to an American, William Glackens (1870–1938). In 1912, Albert C. Barnes sent Glackens—an old Central High School pal and by then an established artist—to Paris on a buying spree. The 30 or so paintings he brought home formed the nucleus of the museum.
It’s no wonder, then, that organizers chose the Barnes as the final of three stops for the first comprehensive retrospective of the artist’s work in nearly 50 years. “Glackens is a Philadelphia native, so he had to be seen here,” says Avis Berman, the art historian who curated the show, titled “William Glackens.” “The Barnes, though, is particularly apt. If Glackens hadn’t done anything else, he would be known for helping to establish it.”
But he did do other things: After studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Glackens achieved success as a newspaper illustrator and reporter. His rapidly sketched charcoal and pen-and-ink drawings documented bustling street scenes and were a natural precursor to the style he adopted when he moved on to painting. He and a like-minded coterie of artists, such as Robert Henri and John Sloan, favored a “realism that captured the vitality and boisterousness of the urban experience,” says Berman. “They depicted tenement dwellers, drunks, and prostitutes—not idealized women in white.”
In 1908, Glackens was instrumental in staging a traveling art show, subsequently known as “The Eight,” which featured these artists. Six of the paintings he himself submitted are on view at the Barnes, including The Shoppers (1907– ’08), which encompasses many of his recurring themes, such as contemporary women and city pastimes. But viewers will also find later works—and the difference is night and day. Gone are the grays and browns and in come the brilliant golds and vivid blues of works like March Day, Washington Square (1912) and Breakfast Porch (1925). “Glackens began to leave narrative behind and to concentrate on color and brushstroke,” says Berman. “This is an artist who deserves a second look for being so open to exploring aspects of modern art, in terms of subject matter and in technique.” On view November 8-February 2 at the Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., 215-278-7200