Life’s Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists’ Brush with Leisure, 1895-1925 (N-Y Historical Society/Exhibit)

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New York City’s first museum, the New-York Historical Society, will showcase the dynamic works of America’s first modern painters—“The Eight” and the Ashcan School—in Life’s Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists’ Brush with Leisure,
1895–1925. The exhibition commemorates the centennial of their groundbreaking 1908 show at New York’s Macbeth Galleries with more than seventy renowned canvasses. Featured among these are William Glackens’ celebrated 1905 painting At Mouquin’s (Chez Mouquin), George Bellows’ famous boxers, Everett Shinn’s lively theater and music hall scenes, and John Sloan’s 1912 tribute to McSorley’s Bar, a landmark
New York establishment still operating on East 7th Street.

“This vibrant turn-of-the-century community of New York artists, popularly known today as the Ashcan School, represents a pivotal moment in the history of American art, and in the history of New York City as a hotbed of cultural energy,” said Dr. Linda S. Ferber, Vice President and Museum Director. While best known today for depictions of the grittier side of working class life, Life’s Pleasures explores other aspects of urban modernity that also captivated this group of progressive painters. They were drawn to the urban sites of commercial and public leisure, where New York’s diverse population converged at the turn of the last century to be entertained, to play, and to see and be seen. Their vivid paintings capture the local color and social rituals associated with dining out; performances at the theater, circus, and music hall; promenading in the city’s parks; playing at its beaches and waterfronts; and enjoying sporting events.

The group was formed in New York around the charismatic teacher and painter Robert Henri. The circle (and the exhibition) includes George Bellows, William Glackens, George Luks, Everett Shinn, John Sloan, Maurice Prendergast, Guy Pène du Bois and others. Since many of them had begun their careers as newspaper illustrators, they naturally found their subjects in the everyday life of the city. In 1908, Henri invited a group of these artists to show as “The Eight” in a controversial exhibition at New York’s Macbeth Galleries. Several of the works in that acclaimed show are now on view at the N-YHS. The larger circle around “The Eight” was later dubbed the “Ashcan School” when an art critic caustically described their subject matter as “ash cans and girls hitching up their skirts.”

While the Ashcan artists are perhaps best remembered for painting urban working-class life, Life’s Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists’ Brush with Leisure demonstrates that they also drew some of their richest and best-known subjects from observing a broader spectrum of New Yorkers at leisure and at play. The exhibition includes John Sloan’s South Beach Bathers, ca. 1907–8; Robert Henri’s Salome, 1909; Everett Shinn’s Theatre Scene, 1906–7; George Bellows’ Forty-two Kids, 1907; George Luks’ The Café Francis,
c. 1906; George Bellows’ Dempsey and Firpo, 1924; and William Glackens’ Hammerstein’s Roof Garden, c. 1901.
Life’s Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists’ Brush with Leisure, 1895–1925 was organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts under the curatorial direction of James W. Tottis, Associate Curator of American Art.

The N-YHS has enriched the exhibition at this venue with prints, photographs and ephemera from its renowned archives and collections to offer visitors a rich perspective on the modern world that captivated the Ashcan painters and their fellow New Yorkers. In addition, the installation Advertising in the Age of the Ashcan Artists features forty rarely displayed posters and advertising broadsides drawn from N-YHS collections.
The N-YHS museum curatorial team was led by Dr. Kimberly Orcutt, Associate Curator of American Art, and Dr. Marilyn S. Kushner, Curator and Head, Department of Prints, Photographs and Architectural Collections. “The exhibition offers a fresh view of the Ashcan artists’ work as they depicted the leisure sites and activities that were, and are still, an integral part of the urban experience,” notes Dr. Orcutt.

A fully illustrated catalogue titled Life’s Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists’ Brush with Leisure, 1895-1925 co-published by the Detroit Institute of Arts and Merrell, accompanies the exhibition. Authors of the thoughtful and informative essays include James W. Tottis, Valerie Ann Leeds, Vincent DiGirolamo, Marianne Doezema, and Suzanne Smeaton, with contributions from Michael E. Crane and Kirsten Olds. The catalogue is available in the N-YHS Museum Store.

Public Programs
Public programs accompanying Life’s Pleasures: The Ashcan Artist’s Brush with Leisure include:

· Curator-led Gallery Tours on December 13, January 9 and January 17.
· Looking into the Ashcan: Ways of Seeing, a symposium featuring Katherine Manthorne, David Nasaw, Suzanne Smeaton, James W. Tottis, Sylvia Yount and Rebecca Zurier on Saturday, December 1, 2007 1:00 pm.
· LeRoy Neiman’s Leisure Painting featuring the artist discussing the ways he
was influenced by the Ashcan School with David Halle, former director of the
LeRoy Neiman Center for the study of American Society and Culture, UCLA, and
N-YHS Vice President Linda S. Ferber on Thursday, January 24, 2008 6:30 pm.
· Henri, Sloan and their New York with , Vincent DiGirolamo, Valerie Ann Leeds, Kimberly Orcutt, and Joyce K. Schiller on Wednesday, January 30, 2008 6:30 pm.
· New York Magic and Harry Houdini, featuring magician Bob Friedhoffer, George Schindler and Kenneth Silverman on Thursday, February 7, 2008
6:30 pm.

For a complete list of upcoming public programs, please see our programs calendar at www.nyhistory.org. Reservations are suggested; please order tickets online at www.smarttix.com or call 212-868-4444.

Exhibition support
Major funding for this exhibition has been provided by Richard Gilder and Lois Chiles. Additional generous support comes from Richard and Roberta Huber; the Barrie and Deedee Wigmore Foundation; the Cordover Family Foundation; Sue Ann Weinberg;
and the Henry Luce Foundation. We are also grateful to Nancy Newcomb and John Hargraves; Pam and R. Scott Schafler; Hope and Grant Winthrop; and the LeRoy Neiman Foundation for helping to bring the exhibition and related public programs to the
New-York Historical Society.

The New-York Historical Society is dedicated to exploring the connections between the events of the past and our lives today. Founded in 1804, its exhibitions and programs examine the richly layered history of New York City and State and the nation, fulfilling its dual role as a public educational center and scholarly institution. It holds one of the country’s greatest collections of American art and historical artifacts, and one of the most comprehensive independent research libraries in the country.

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