'Cape Cod Pier' (1908) Collection of Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale
William Glackens, a Bridge Between Old and New
WSJ By Willard Spiegelman
'The pursuit of color is hard on drawing just as the pursuit of drawing is hard on color." So wrote the American painter and illustrator William Glackens (1870-1938) to his longtime friend Albert C. Barnes, for whose great collection he served as adviser.
Glackens was turning his attention from the magazine illustrations and pen-and-ink drawings with which he began his career to the brightly colored oils on which he lavished attention and love for five decades. His comment echoes the famous Renaissance contest between design, the specialty of Roman and Florentine artists, and color, the supposed forte of Venetians. Glackens managed to do it all.
This exhibit, the first comprehensive Glackens show in almost 50 years, offers 85 works in oil, charcoal, watercolor and other media, plus notebooks and photographs. The Nova Southeastern University's Museum of Art has more than 500 Glackens works, the first installment of which came as a bequest from the artist's son, Ira, in 1991.
Glackens is interesting both as a painter and a historical figure. A graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, trained in both drawing and painting, he allied himself early with John Sloan, and then with Robert Henri, with whom he made his first European trip in 1895. It changed his life.
When you enter the exhibition, the first things you see represent both aspects of Glackens's talent. On the right wall, sketches for McClure's magazine during the Spanish-American War prove his gifts as an illustrator adept at handling groups of people and bringing out individual details within a mass. On the other wall, his first oils look like muddied, darkened imitations of the Northern painters and the Impressionists he saw on that European trip.
Not without relevance, Glackens helped organize the American part of the 1913 Armory Show, which first brought the works of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists to this country. Five years earlier, he had exhibited pictures in New York. His star was rising.
Great national press for the exhibition. The Nova Southeastern University's Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale has a whole wing dedicated to Glackens. Nice to see the museum found a way to use that collection to its advantage. GL