Suitable for any time of year, the current William Glackens (1870–1938) exhibition at the Parrish Art Museum seemed especially fitting for August. His lushly vivid beach scenes, many of which were painted in Bellport, Long Island, capture the lighthearted essence of late summer afternoons spent by the sea, with an air of historical nostalgia palpable to those viewing them today, almost exactly a century later.
Ladies in hats and long summer dresses line the shore while bathers and children scampering about make their way out into the water where we become lost in Glackens’ impressionistic skies. In “Beach Side,” 1912-13, a foreground lined with figures facing the water makes its way from a small beach out to a pier. The wind, indicated by waves and a lady holding onto her hat, gives movement to the painting in opposition to the forward-directed composition.
Influenced by both the Impressionists and the Fauves, Glackens’ paintings have, at times, the softness of Monet combined with a more intense palette, perhaps like Derian. His female figures, notably the woman on the porch in “Summer Day, Bellport, Long Island,” 1913, bear likeness to Renoir’s, both in fashion and in painterly style. In “Cape Cod Pier,” 1908, a uniquely composed canvas, two ladies in white dresses holding parasols make their way across a pier. Most striking are the rich oranges and yellows of the dunes—exuding warmth and Fauvist stark contrast to the violets in the pier. There is a sense in these paintings that Glackens enjoyed the world around him.
Glackens’ scenes are busy—even his landscapes are never without figures greeting you at the foreground. “Captains Pier,” 1912-14, especially, depicts a crowd similar to today’s Port Jefferson ferry-goers.. In the middle of the picture, Glackens offers a breath of light blue water and sky bathed in early-morning summer sunlight.
More frenetic than his summer scenes are his paintings of New York City life, where he moved in 1986 from Philadelphia. In 1904, he married Edith Dimock, the daughter of a wealthy family, and they lived together with their two children in a townhouse in Greenwich Village, with a second residence in New Hampshire. Works like “Washington Square,” 1913 and “Christmas Shoppers, Madison Square,” 1912 reveal his talent as a draftsman, which he was until around 1914. In his early career, Glackens worked as a magazine illustrator and was even sent by McClure’s to Cuba to cover the Spanish-American War in 1898. Several of these dramatic illustrations are included in the exhibition.
The show spans the artist’s career, with works from the mid-1890s to the late 1930s. An exquisite portrait of his friend and patron, “Albert C. Barnes,” c.a. 1912, whom he went to high school with in Philadelphia and later whose artwork collection he advised, greets viewers early in the exhibition.
Glackens took encouragement in his career as a painter from his friend Robert Henri, with whom he traveled to Paris, the Netherlands and Belgium during 1895-1896. A member of “The Eight,” so called because of their exhibition in 1908 at MacBeth Galleries in New York, Glackens gained recognition as a painter, along with fellow artists Robert Henri, George Luks, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan, whom he studied with at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He was the chairman of the American selection of the first Armory Show of 1913. Clearly, Glackens was an important figure of his time and the timing seems right for a new generation to be introduced to his life and work.
William Glackens is the first comprehensive survey of the artist in more than 45 years. It will be on view at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill through October 13. For more information, visitparrishart.org.
This article was published in Dan’s Papers, print and online, July 31, 2014.