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George Luks

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George Luks

George Luks
Gertrude Käsebier, George Luks, c.1910
Born (1867-08-13)August 13, 1867
Williamsport, Pennsylvania, US
Died October 29, 1933(1933-10-29) (aged 66)
New York, New York, US
Nationality American
Education Pennsylvania Academy
Known for Painting
Notable work The Wrestlers
Movement Ashcan School

George Benjamin Luks (August 13, 1867–October 29, 1933) was an American realist artist and illustrator. His vigorously painted genre paintings of urban subjects are examples of the Ashcan School of American art.


  • Early life and career 1
  • "The Eight" 2
  • Ashcan School 3
  • Personality 4
  • Death 5
  • Selected exhibitions 6
  • Selected list of artworks 7
  • Students 8
  • References 9
  • Sources 10
  • External links 11

Early life and career

Armistice Night, 1918, oil on canvas

Luks was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to Central European immigrants. His father was a physician/apothecary and his mother was an amateur painter and musician. The Luks family eventually moved to Pottsville, in southern Pennsylvania near the coal fields. In this setting, he learned at a young age about poverty and compassion as he observed his parents helping the coal miners' families.[1]

Luks began his working life in vaudeville. He and his younger brother played the Pennsylvania and New Jersey vaudeville circuit in the early 1880s while still in their teens.[2] He left performing when he decided to pursue a career as an artist. Luks knew from a young age that he wanted to be an artist and studied briefly at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts before he traveled to Europe, where he attended several art schools and studied the Old Masters. (He became a particular admirer of Spanish and Dutch painting, especially the work of Velazquez and Frans Hals.) Manet's energy and technique also appealed to Luks.[3] Later he went to Düsseldorf, where he lived with a distant relative, allegedly a retired lion-tamer, and took classes at the Düsseldorf School of Art. He eventually abandoned Düsseldorf for the more stimulating spheres of London and Paris. In 1893, he returned to Philadelphia, where he eventually found work as an illustrator for the Philadelphia Press.[4]

"Luks's experience as a Press artist-reporter proved seminal to his career, not so much for the work he accomplished as for the lifelong friends he acquired."[5] Working at that newspaper, he met

  • Examples of Luks’ work 1
  • Examples of Luks' work 2
  • Examples of Luks' work 3
  • Examples of Luks' 4
  • George Luks exhibition catalogs (full pdf) from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries
  • George Luks page on Find A Grave, Retrieved 1 September 2013

External links

  • Brown, Milton. American Painting from the Armory Show to the Depression. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955.
  • Gambone, Robert L. Life on the Press: The Popular Art and Illustrations of George Benjamin Luks. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2009.
  • Glackens, Ira. William Glackens and the Ash Can School: The Emergence of Realism in American Art. New York: Crown, 1957.
  • Hughes, Robert. American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America. New York: Knopf, 1997.
  • Huneker, James Gibbons. Bedouins. New York: Scribners, 1920.
  • Hunter, Sam. Modern American Painting and Sculpture. New York: Dell, 1959.
  • Kennedy, Elizabeth (ed.) The Eight and American Modernisms. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.
  • Loughery, John. "The Mysterious George Luks." Arts Magazine (December 1987), pp. 34–35.
  • O'Toole, Judith Hansen. "George Luks: An Artistic Legacy." New York City: Owen Gallery (unpaginated catalogue), 1997.
  • O'Toole, Judith Hansen. "George Luks: Rogue, Raconteur, and Realist" (pp. 91–108) in Elizabeth Kennedy (ed.). The Eight and American Modernisms. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.
  • O'Toole, Judith Hansen. "George Luks: The Watercolors Rediscovered." Canton, OH: Canton Museum of Art (exhibition catalogue), 1994.
  • Perlman, Bennard B. Painters of the Ashcan School: The Immortal Eight. New York: Dover, 1979.


  1. ^ Biographical information for this entry is taken from Judith O'Toole, "George Luks: An Artistic Legacy" (1997), Judith O'Toole, "George Luks: Rogue, Raconteur, and Realist" (2009), and Robert L. Gambone, Life on the Press (2009).
  2. ^ Gambone, pp. 6-7.
  3. ^ Hunter, pp. 33-35.
  4. ^ Gambone's study of Luks's work as an illustrator indicates that his body of work in the field of magazine illustration was much more extensive than previously regarded, encompassing a 40-year period; he was drawing for Vanity Fair and The New Yorker in the 1920s.
  5. ^ Gambone, p. 29.
  6. ^ Wayne Craven, American Art: History and Culture (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003), p. 424.
  7. ^ , Hogan's Alley #13George Luks: The "Other" Yellow Kid Artist
  8. ^ Glackens, p. 16.
  9. ^ Craven, p. 428.
  10. ^ a b c O'Toole, "George Luks: An Artistic Legacy" (1997).
  11. ^ John Loughery, John Sloan, Painter and Rebel (New York: Henry Holt, 1995), pp. 218–219.
  12. ^ Everett Shinn, "Everett Shinn on George Luks: An Unpublished Memoir." New York: Archives of American Art, 6.2 (April 1966).
  13. ^ Helen McCloy, "Color and George Luks." Parnassus 6.3 (March 1934).
  14. ^ Sadakichi Hartmann and Jane Calhoun (ed.). Sadakichi Hartman: Critical Modernist: Collected Art Writings. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).
  15. ^ Mark Thistlethwaite, "The Cafe Francis" in The Butler Institute of American Art.
  16. ^ "Sulky Boy" in American Art at the Phillips Collection.
  17. ^ John Loughery, "Blending the Classical and the Modern: The Art of Elsie Driggs, Women's Art Journal (Winter 1987), p. 22.
  18. ^ James Gibbons Huneker, p. 108.
  19. ^ Hunter, p. 35.
  20. ^ Glackens, pp. 96, 100.
  21. ^ "George B. Luks Dies Suddenly in Street.".  
  22. ^ Glackens, p. 101.
  23. ^ Find A Grave. Retrieved September 1, 2013.


His students included Norman Raeben, Elsie Driggs, and John Alan Maxwell.


Boy with Baseball (1925), Metropolitan Museum of Art

Nursemaids, High Bridge Park, private collection

The New York River, New York (1910), private collection

The Guitar (Portrait of the Artist’s Brother with his Son) (1908), Westmoreland Museum of American Art

Sulky Boy (1908), Phillips Collection

Woman with Macaws (1907), Detroit Institute of Arts

The Cafe Francis (1906), Butler Institute of American Art

Hester Street (1905), Brooklyn Museum of Art

The Old Duchess (1905), Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Rag Picker (1905), private collection

The Wrestlers (1905), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Spielers (1905), Addison Gallery of American Art

The Butcher Cart (1901), Chicago Art Institute

Selected list of artworks

2009: The Eight and American Modernisms, Milwaukee Art Museum

2007: Life's Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists' Brush with Leisure, 1895-1925, The New York Historical Society

2000: City Life Around the Eight, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

1997: Owen Gallery, New York, 1997

1995: Metropolitan Lives: The Ashcan Artists and Their New York, National Museum of American Art

1994: George Luks: The Watercolors Rediscovered, Canton Museum of Art

1992: Painters of a New Century: The Eight and American Art, Brooklyn Museum

1943: The Eight, Brooklyn Museum of Art

1937: New York Realists, the Whitney Museum of American Art

1913: The Armory Show (six Luks paintings were included)

1908: The Macbeth Galleries exhibition of The Eight

1904: National Arts Club (Luks, Glackens, Henri, Sloan, Davies, Prendergast)

Selected exhibitions

Luks was found dead in a doorway by a policeman in the early morning hours of October 29, 1933, following a bar-room brawl.[21] Ira Glackens, the son of William Glackens, wrote about Luks's death that, contrary to the newspaper account stating that the painter had succumbed on his way to paint the dawn sky, he had been beaten to death in an altercation with one of the other customers at a nearby bar. His packed funeral was attended by family, former students, and past and present friends. He was buried in an 18th-century embroidered waistcoat, one of his most valued possessions.[22] Luks was married twice but had no children. He is buried at Fernwood Cemetery in Royersford, Pennsylvania.[23]


Luks was a born rebel and one of the most distinctive personalities in American art. "He is Puck. He is Caliban. He is Falstaff," his contemporary, the art critic James Gibbons Huneker, wrote.[18] Like many of the later Abstract Expressionist men, he made a great display of his masculinity and could seldom retreat from a dare. He took pride in being known as the "bad boy" of American art, liked to characterize himself as entirely self-created, and downplayed the influence of Robert Henri, or any contemporary, on his artistic development.[19] He was given to hyperbolic statements and was often intentionally vague about autobiographical details, preferring to maintain an aura of self-mythologizing mystery. He was equally at home at a prize fight or in a tavern as in a museum or a gallery. Luks was always a heavy drinker, and his friend and one-time roommate William Glackens often had to undress him and haul him to bed after a night of drunken debauchery.[20] Although many sources confirm this tendency, they also characterize him as a man with a kind heart who befriended people living on the edge who became subjects for his works of art. Examples of this are numerous: e.g., Widow McGee (1902) or The Old Duchess and The Rag Picker (both of 1905), in which Luks depicted with sensitivity elderly, down-and-out women who knew the harsh realities of the street.[10] Luks was a paradox: a man of enormous egotism and a great generosity of spirit.

Madison Square, c. 1920


Like Henri and Sloan, Luks was also a teacher, first at the Arts Students League on West 57th Street in Manhattan and, later, across the street at a school he established himself, which remained open until the time of his death. One student, the painter Elsie Driggs, remembered him as a charismatic force in the classroom.[17] He enjoyed the adulation of his pupils and was a great raconteur. He was not interested in preaching the tenets of modernism; his commitment was to realism and direct observation.

Although Luks is most well known for his depictions of New York City life, he also painted landscapes and portraits and was an accomplished watercolorist. His visual perception was acute, no matter the genre, the art critic Sadakichi Hartmann noted.[14] In later years, he painted society portraits (e.g., Society Girl). His style was not uniform throughout his career, though. The Cafe Francis (1906) contains more impressionist touches than his usual dark scenes of lower-class urban life,[15] and his interest in documentary accuracy varied. Sulky Boy (1908), for example, depicts the son of a doctor at Bellevue Hospital who treated Luks for alcoholism, but it has been noted that Luks was more concerned with depicting the boy's demeanor than conveying an authentic representation of the surroundings.[16]

Luks was respected as a master of strong color effects. When interviewed on the topic, he said, "I'll tell you the whole secret! Color is simply light and shade. You don't need pink or grey or blue so long as you have volume. Pink and blue change with light or time. Volume endures."[13]

Luks portrays the ability of working-class children to experience pleasure despite their circumstances. Sentimental or otherwise, he painted the truth, as he saw it, as his friend Everett Shinn wrote.[12] The Wrestlers, on the other hand, is a testament to masculine bravado, a massive, sumptuously painted canvas in which one beefy man has been pinned to the mat by another; the face of the defeated wrestler, turned upside down, stares straight at us. The pose is contorted, every muscle bulges, and the paint reflects the sweat and strain of the match.

Otis Skinner as Col. Philippe Bridau, 1919

These two paintings also illustrate radically different aspects of Luks' temperament. In The Spielers, two young girls dance frenetically, their joyous faces forming an appealing contrast to their grimy hands.

In 1905, Luks painted two of his most famous works, icons of the Ashcan school: The Spielers, now in the collection of the Addison Gallery of American Art, and The Wrestlers, now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

The first known use of the "ash can" terminology in describing the movement was by Jerome Myers, Gifford Beal, Glenn Coleman, Carl Sprinchorn, and Mabel Dwight and even to photographers Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine, who portrayed New York's working-class neighborhoods in a sometimes brutally realistic fashion.

The Ashcan School successfully challenged academic art institutions, and the authority of the National Academy of Design as a cultural arbiter declined throughout the 1910s. At a time when the realist fiction of Theodore Dreiser and Frank Norris was gaining a wider audience and when muckraking journalists were calling attention to slum conditions in American cities, the Ashcan painters played a role in enlarging the nation's sense of what a suitable topic for artistic expression might be. The difference, though, between the realist writers and socially-minded journalists, on the one hand, and the painters, on the other hand, was that the Ashcan artists did not see their work primarily as social or political criticism.

Street Scene (Hester Street), 1905, oil on canvas, Brooklyn Museum

Luks painted working-class subjects and scenes of urban life, the hallmarks of Ashcan realism, with great gusto. "Hester Street" (1905), in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum, captures Jewish immigrant life through Luks's vigorously painted representation of shoppers, pushcart peddlers, casual strollers, and curious onlookers of the ethnic variety that characterized turn-of-the century New York. Luks's work typifies the real-life scenes painted by the Ashcan School artists. Hester Street also demonstrates Luks' ability to effectively manipulate crowded compositions and to capture expressions and gestures as well as gritty background details.[10] Allen Street (1905) and Houston Street (1917) are equally successful in this sense. The Lower East Side was a rich source of visual material for George Luks.

Houston Street, 1917, oil on canvas, Saint Louis Art Museum
Ashcan School The rejection of many of their paintings, including works by Luks, from the exhibitions of the powerful, conservative

Allen Street, c. 1905, Hunter Museum of American Art

"The Eight"

In 1896, Luks moved to New York City and began work as an artist for Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, where one of his assignments was to draw the popular Hogan's Alley comic-strip series. Luks began drawing the Yellow Kid after its creator, R.F. Outcault, departed the World for W.R. Hearst's New York Journal. [7] During his time as an illustrator there, he lived with William Glackens.[8] Along with Everett Shinn and Robert Henri, Glackens encouraged Luks to spend more time on his serious painting.[9] What ensued were several productive years in which Luks painted some of the most vigorous examples of what would be called "Ashcan art."

In Luks, he had a ready listener but also a man who was never going to be comfortable in the role of acolyte. [6]

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