After studying at the Pennsylvania Academy at night and making his living with John Sloan, George Luks, and Everett Shinn as an illustrator at The Philadelphia Press, William James Glackens continued his artistic education abroad. Cycling through Northern Europe with Robert Henri in 1895,...
After studying at the Pennsylvania Academy at night and making his living with John Sloan, George Luks, and Everett Shinn as an illustrator at The Philadelphia Press, William James Glackens continued his artistic education abroad. Cycling through Northern Europe with Robert Henri in 1895, Glackens returned to Paris, where he had ample opportunity to study French painters, particularly the works of Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, and Auguste Renoir, whom he greatly admired. Although he shared Henri's passion for the dark palette of Manet, by the time he painted this work Glackens had adopted the lighter tones and loose brushwork of Renoir. Glackens established himself in New York City by 1896, and in 1910 he began a series of paintings depicting the Washington Square area. By then the park represented the demarcation between the old and new communities of New York. Some of the most prominent New York families who traced their ancestry to the seventeenth-century Dutch settlers still resided in the brick townhouses along the north side of the square, which are visible through the trees on the right. However, the less fashionable neighborhoods around Washington Square attracted newly arrived immigrants who worked in the factories and sweatshops nearby and also artists (including Glackens) who were drawn to the bohemian lifestyle of the district. When Glackens painted this scene of the parade celebrating Christopher Columbus's discovery of America, Italian-Americans formed the largest immigrant population in Manhattan. Columbus became a role model for many ethnic and religious groups, and Glackens suggests the international flavor of the celebration by painting a variety of flags visible through Washington Square Arch. The juxtaposition of the Old World and the New is further enhanced by the prominence of the Italian and American flags standing side by side in the lower foreground. The American dream of rapid transformation from immigrant to respected community leader is suggested by the modestly dressed onlookers who observe both the decorated men in top hats seated under the arch and those successful citizens spirited away above the throng in a carriage. Rendered with lively brushwork to enhance the festive and breezy atmosphere, the composition presents a distinctly American spectacle of Italian-American revelers and their pride of place in the urban scene. This text was adapted from Davis, et al., MFA Highlights: American Painting (Boston, 2003) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.
Lower left: W. Glackens
The artist; to Ira Glackens, New York, his son, upon the artist's death, 1938; with Kraushaar Galleries, New York, by 1949; to Joseph Katz, Baltimore, 1957; with Hirschl and Adler, New York, by 1959; to MFA, 1959, purchase.
Emily L. Ainsley Fund
Reproduced with permission.