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Painters of a New Century: The Eight & American Art

DATES June 16, 1992 through October 21, 1992
  • April 1, 1992 Painters of a New Century: The Eight & American Art, the first full-scale reappraisal of the progressive painters whose controversial New York exhibition of 1908 was a landmark event in the history of early 20th-century American art, will be on view at The Brooklyn Museum June 26 through September 21, 1992, in the Robert E. Blum Gallery located on the first floor. An accompanying exhibition entitled The Eight: Works on Paper, will be on view June 26 through September 21, 1992, in the Lobby Gallery.

    Early in 1908 New Yorkers streamed to the Macbeth Gallery on Fifth Avenue to see the 63 “red hot” paintings by Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, Robert Henri, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan. Newspaper headlines dubbed these artists The Eight and proclaimed the declaration of “New York’s Art War.” A selection of these controversial works and some 80 other paintings, pastels, and watercolors by The Eight are included in this exhibition, documenting the critical years between 1898 and 1915.

    Among the major works on loan from over 50 national and international private and public collections are some of the best-known views of New York City painted during the early years of this century, including Ernest Lawson’s Excavation - Pennsylvania Station (ca. 1907), George Luks’s Hester Street (1905), William Glackens’s Central Park, Winter (ca. 1906), Maurice Prendergast’s Central Park (ca. 1900 - 1903), and John Sloan’s McSorley’s Bar (1912). The Eight’s fascination with the urban scene included the frequent portrayal of New York’s music halls and theaters like Shinn’s Keith’s, Union Square (ca. 1906), Glackens’s Hammerstein’s Roof Garden (ca. 1901), and Sloan’s Isadora Duncan (1911).

    While New York City was a primary source of inspiration for this short-lived association of artists, their interests were considerably wider than the urban subjects that have been exclusively associated with The Eight by later critics and writers - stimulating the misnomer “Ashcan School.” In the exhibition, their broad range as painters is demonstrated by a series of powerful figure paintings and portraits including Henri’s The Art Student; Portrait of Miss Josephine Nivison (1906) (who married Edward Hopper), Glackens’s Nude with Apple (1910) and The Shoppers (1907), and Luks’s The Spielers (1905). Landscape at the City’s margins inspired Ernest Lawson’s Harlem River in Winter (ca. 1907); the harbor, John Sloan’s Tugs (ca. 1900); while Glackens portrayed the Long Island coast in Jetties at Bellport (1912). Prendergast’s brilliant watercolors captured not only the colorful crowds of Central Park but also those of Siena, Venice, and Saint Malo, while Arthur B. Davies’s fantastic subjects drew inspiration from European Symbolism and the work of fellow American Albert Pinkham Ryder.

    Although the artists in this loosely knit and short-lived association had developed very individual painting styles by 1908, they nevertheless shared certain attitudes and beliefs. All but John Sloan had traveled and studied in Europe, where they had been exposed to modern European art. The once revolutionary subject matter of the French Impressionists and Post-Impressionist[s] with its urban themes struck an especially resonant chord. Their interest in the modern-life subject was also reinforced by the experience of Glackens, Luks, Shinn, and Sloan as newspaper and magazine illustrators.

    Inspired by these models and organized by the charismatic Robert Henri, the artists arranged to show their work at a commercial gallery to protest what they saw as the prevailing conservatism of the academic art establishment in America. With this highly publicized exhibition, The Eight assumed the role of the avant-garde and took a leading position in the politics of contemporary American art exhibitions. Working with other artists, members of The Eight went on to organize a series of independent exhibitions—including the famous Armory Show of 1913—that changed forever the way the American public saw and understood contemporary art.

    A complementary exhibition entitled The Eight: Works on Paper will underline the freshness of the artists’ approach to their subjects, as well as their outstanding draftsmanship and technical ability. Works will include include portraits, studies for illustration, urban street scenes, and landscapes executed in pencil, ink, watercolor, pastel, lithograph, and etching.

    Painters of a New Century: The Eight & American Art was organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum. It has traveled to The Denver Art Museum, and the National Gallery of Canada. It was organized at The Brooklyn Museum, its final venue, by Dr. Linda S. Ferber, Curator of American Painting and Sculpture, The Brooklyn Museum.

    The exhibition is sponsored by the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund. A planning grant was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency. The presentation and related programs at The Brooklyn Museum are made possible, in part, by the New York Council for the Humanit[i]es, The Overbrook Foundation, and Charles Simon.

    A fully illustrated catalogue published by the Milwaukee Art Museum accompanies the exhibition ($24.95 softcover; 200 pages).

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1989 - 1994. 07-12/1992, 232-235.
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  • April 1, 1992 The Eight and Their Circle: Works on Paper, an exhibition drawn from The Brooklyn Museum’s rich holdings of prints, drawings, watercolors, and pastels, will accompany the major paintings exhibition Painters of a New Century: The Eight, both on view at The Brooklyn Museum from June 26 to September 21, 1992. The exhibition includes 52 works by seven members of The Eight and such associates as George Bellows and Jerome Myers.

    The Eight were a progressive group of painters, which included Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, Robert Henri, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan, whose controversial New York exhibition at the Macbeth Galleries in 1908 changed the course of modern American art. Many of the group worked as newspaper and magazine illustrators, responsible for recording contemporary life in quick sketches executed on the scene. Works on paper not only make up a large portion of the artists’ work but also often reveal the artists’ greatest technical experimentation. As in his paintings, each artist combined in his drawings and prints an individual view of urban American life and the European modernist aesthetic.

    Works on view will include Everett Shinn’s Winter on 21st Street (1922), John Sloan’s Bandits’ Cave (1920), Arthur B. Davies’s Moonlight on the Grassy Bank (1920), and George Bellows’s Stag at Sharkey’s (1917), among others.

    The exhibition was organized by Karyn Zieve, Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1989 - 1994. 01-06/1992, 086-87.
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