Family Group
by William J.Glackens
19.6-Glackens_FamilyGroup-NGA-F-001728-20120522_SBD
William J. Glackens (American, 1870–1938), Family Group, 1910/11. Oil on canvas, 71 15/16 × 84 in. (182.8 × 213.3 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ira Glackens

The subject

Painted in Glackens’s Fifth Avenue studio, Family Group represents the transitional period in the artist’s career when he abandoned the urban realism of his earlier works for vibrantly colored scenes of social leisure.

The group

From left to right, the painting depicts the artist’s sister-in-law Irene, his wife Edith, his son Ira, and longtime family friend Grace Dwight. Edith wears a modest at-home dress and is distinguished from her two female visitors, who are more elaborately outfitted with hats and gloves. [1]

French influence

The work’s focus on interior décor and women’s fashion reflects the influence of French Impressionist painters such as Pierre-August Renoir, Mary Cassatt, and Berthe Morisot—astute observers of bourgeois style and social ritual.

Renoir

The monumental scale and compositional arrangement of Family Group was likely inspired by Renoir’s portrait Madame George Charpentier and Her Children (1878), which the Metropolitan Museum of Art had acquired in 1907. [2] At the time, Renoir’s painting was the most recent work in the museum’s collection and generated extensive publicity. Glackens drew upon Renoir throughout his career, although he was more often inspired by his bright palette and impressionistic brushstroke than any one painting or motif.

At the Armory Show

Family Group was not listed for sale at the Armory Show, but it was reproduced and sold in postcard form. The painting received mixed reviews in the press, praised by some for its modernism and disliked by others for its unconventional lack of finish. A critic for The Craftsman described the work as “one of the most radiant, courageous, color paintings America has produced.” [3] In contrast, a critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer found the painting to be “horribly incomplete and disastrous.” [4]

[1] William Gerdts, William Glackens (New York: Abbeville Press, 1996), 92-93.

[2] Roger E. Fry, “The Charpentier Family by Renoir,” in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 2, no. 6 (June 1907): 102-104.

[3] “Notes on General Interest: Art in New York This Season,” The Craftsman 24 (April 1913): 136.

[4] “Painters’ Exhibit Approaches Salon,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 23, 1913, 6.

William Glackens (American, 1870-1938)

The American painter William Glackens (1870-1938) was a founding member of the American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS) and served as chairman of the Armory Show’s Committee on Domestic Exhibits, responsible for selecting American artworks for the exhibition. [1] Although he was an associate member of the more conservative National Academy of Design, Glackens was dedicated to promoting modern art in America. He showed with The Eight at Macbeth Gallery in New York in 1908, and in the Exhibition of Independent Artists in 1910, both of which highlighted contemporary American art and provided important precedents for the Armory Show. [2]

Despite his role as chairman of the Domestic Committee, Glackens criticized the American section of the Armory Show in the issue of Arts & Decoration published to coincide with its opening. He stated that “skill in America is limited, limited by a lack of bravery…we have had no innovators here” and compared American art unfavorably to the contribution from Europe: “Everything worth while in our art is due to the influence of French art…I am afraid that the American section of this exhibition will seem very tame beside the foreign section.” [3] Glackens had three of his own works in the show: Family Group (1910-1911, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), The Bathing Hour (1910, Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia), and Sailboats and Sunlight (n.d., unknown location).

Following the Armory Show, Glackens’s work began to show the influence of Henri Matisse in its intensified color palette. He continued to support the development of modern American art by serving as the president of the Society of Independent Artists in 1917, and by joining the American Painters, Sculptors, and Gravers (later renamed the New Society of Artists) in 1919.

[1] Milton Brown, The Story of the Armory Show, 2nd ed. (New York: Abbeville Press, 1988), 48-49, 83.

[2] Elizabeth Milroy, Painters of a New Century: The Eight & American Art (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Museum of Art, 1991), 87-91.

[3] William J. Glackens, “The American Section – The National Art – an Interview,” Arts & Decoration (March 1913): 159, 162.

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