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 George Benjamin Luks  (1867 - 1933)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: urban genre and portrait painting, illustration

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George Benjamin Luks
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
George Luks was born on August 13, 1867 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Luks received his first art instruction from his parents who pursued painting as a hobby. At seventeen he entered the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Later he went to Düsseldorf where he lived with a distant relative, a retired lion-tamer. He abandoned Düsseldorf for the more stimulating spheres of London and Paris. When he returned to America he worked as an artist for Philadelphia newspapers. In 1896 he was sent to Cuba as a war artist; rumor had it he was captured by the Spaniards and condemned to death as a spy, but he was deported instead and landed in New York, cold, hungry and broke.

In 1894 he joined the staff of the "Philadelphia Press" as an illustrator. He moved into a one-room flat with fellow illustrator, Everett Shinn. Through his illustration work, Luks became acquainted with William Glackens, John Sloan and eventually Robert Henri and these artists including Shinn later became known as the Philadelphia Five.

In April of 1896, after serving as a war correspondent in Cuba, Luks moved to New York City where he joined the staff of the "New York World" and began to draw a comic strip. He spent some time doing comic strips and then gave up newspaper work to devote his full energies to painting. His early experience as a newspaper artist had stimulated his interest in the American scene. Choosing the sidewalks of New York City as his province he proceeded to paint the subjects he saw there with a frankness that dismayed the academicians. He turned to landscape painting with enthusiasm.

Luks taught at the Art Students League from 1920 through 1924 and he later conducted his own classes in his own studio. Luk's personality was as famous as his paintings. A loud, boastful but purportedly good-humored man, he was also a heavy drinker. On October 29, 1933, he was found dead on the streets of New York City, a casualty of a barroom brawl.


Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition:  Miniatures: The Eight
From the internet, AskART.com




This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Known as a 'real character', full of life both in reality and in his painting, George Luks was a leading figure in the New York art world in the early part of the 20th century.  He did lively portraits and genre paintings of everyday people engaged in activity rather than self consciously posed.

He was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and his parents encouraged his obvious art talent.  They also supported a group called the Molly Maguires, a secret-organization of Irish-Americans that tried to improve conditions for area miners.  This exposure had an obvious influence on his later subject matter, which quite often showed "down and out" people.

He studied in Europe for several years and was much influenced by the paintings of Rembrandt and Frans Hals.  He then worked for the Philadelphia Press, doing quick, accurate reportorial sketches, a method that became his forte.  He tried to study at the Pennsylvania Academy, but his rebellious nature resisted the discipline of formal study and he withdrew after one month.

In Philadelphia, Luks became an illustrator with the Philadelphia Press and covered the Cuban war as an artist-correspondent.  He also did comic strips and caricature.  Among his close friends were John Sloan, Robert Henri, William Glackens and Everett Shinn. By 1896, with that group, Luks became a resident of New York City.

There he began painting the people he saw on the street and joined with the Henri circle in depicting social realism, which became known as the Ash Can School.  Also with Henri and Sloan and others, he was part of a highly controversial exhibition called The Eight at the Macbeth Gallery, which was a rebellion against the strictures of the National Academy.

Source:
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art


Biography from Owen Gallery:
On August 13th, 1867, George Luks was born to Emil Charles Luks and Bertha Amalia von Kraemer Luks in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.  After short stints at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Dusseldorf Academy, Luks traveled to Paris and London around 1890, where he admired the work of Rembrandt, van Steen, Hals, and Renoir. Again in 1892, Luks traveled to Europe.

In 1894, he joined the staff of the Philadelphia Press as an illustrator.  He moved into a one-room flat with fellow illustrator, Everett Shinn.  Through his illustration work, Luks became acquainted with William Glackens and John Sloan and eventually Robert Henri, and these artists including Shinn later became known as the Philadelphia Five.

In April of 1896, after serving as a war correspondent in Cuba, Luks moved to New York, where he joined the staff of the The New York World and began to draw the comic strip, The Yellow Kid.  By 1902, Luks abandoned newspaper work in order to devote his energy to painting.

In 1908, The Eight formed from the pre-existing Philadelphia Five with the addition of Maurice Prendergast, Arthur Bowen Davies, and Ernest Lawson.  They exhibited at the Macbeth Gallery in New York from February 3rd through February 15th.

Luks employment as a newspaper illustrator may have led to his interest in the everyday people and scenes which dominate many of his early canvases.  Street urchins, beggar women, rag pickers, and the working class are painted with an immediacy, honesty, and richness reflective of Dutch Master, Frans Hals.

Luk's personality is as famous as his painting.  A loud, boastful but purportedly good-humored man, Luks was also a heavy drinker. On October 29, 1933, he was found dead on the streets of New York, a casualty of a bar-room brawl.

Owen Gallery credits The Eight: Bridging the Art of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries by Brian Paul Clamp.

Biography from Spanierman Gallery:
A member of The Eight, George Luks created works in vivid bravura manner that captured the spirited energy of the tenement districts of New York and their occupants.  As Milton Brown wrote: "In his art and in his character he symbolized the spirit of American dynamism; as aggressive as a tycoon, as brash and boastful as a ‘drummer’. . . he was a swashbuckler in paint. This was not, of course, the cultured tradition of American life; it was rather the expression of a cruder side of America, an echo of the frontier." 1

Born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1867, Luks was the son of a doctor. In 1884 he began to study art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he was a student of Thomas Anshutz. Luks continued his training in Dusseldorf, Paris, and London. Returning to America in 1894, he began a career as a newspaper artist, working for the Philadelphia Press and the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. In addition to illustrations, he created comic strips and caricatures.

In the early twentieth century, Luks joined with Glackens, Robert Henri, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan to form the Eight. Reacting against the genteel subject matter painted by academic and Impressionist gilded age artists, this group sought an art more directly related to everyday experience, and they turned to depicting the vitality and rougher aspects of modern life. Most members of the Eight worked in a realist manner and adopted rich, dark tonalities inspired by the art and techniques of Franz Hals, Rembrandt, and Manet. Because of their dark palettes and preference for the coarser subjects, the Eight became popularly known as the Ashcan School.

During the early years of the Eight, Luks continued to work as a newspaper artist, but he gradually developed his painting skills. He specialized in portraits of street urchins, wrestlers, peddlers, and shopkeepers, although he also painted occasional urban scenes of docks and streets. These subjects expressed to him the romance, freedom, and joyfulness that he felt epitomized America. Luks’ particular talent was the capturing of the character of his subjects and the essence of a moment using a succinct artistic vocabulary and a spontaneous technique.

Luks exhibited with other members of the Eight for the first time at New York's Macbeth Gallery in 1908. This show challenged the artistic status quo and created a sensation among conservative and official art circles in America. Luks also exhibited at the Armory Show in 1913, where the works of the early twentieth-century realists, which had so recently seemed radical, were overshadowed by the modernism of abstract movements.

Luks taught at the Art Students League in the 1910s, and later founded his own school. A solo show of his work was held at the Newark Museum following his death in 1933.

Luks's works are found in numerous important private and public collections including the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; the Barnes Museum, Merion, Pennsylvania; the Brooklyn Museum; the Chattanooga Art Association, Tennessee; the Cleveland Art Museum; the Delgado Museum, New Orleans; the Detroit Art Institute, Michigan; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Milwaukee Art Institute; the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; the New York Public Library; the Phillips Gallery, Washington, D.C.; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

LNP

© The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery, LLC and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery, LLC, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from Spanierman Gallery, LLC, nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery, LLC.

1 Milton Brown, American Painting from the Armory Show to the Depression (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1955), p. 14.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


George Luks is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
New York Armory Show of 1913
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
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