In February 1908, a group of artists--including William Glackens, George Luks, John Sloan, Everett Shinn, Robert Henri, Maurice Prendergast, Ernest Lawson and Arthur B. Davies--banded together to present a groundbreaking show at the Macbeth Galleries in New York City that protested the restrictive exhibition policies of National Academy of Design. Dubbed "The Eight" (and later given the "Ashcan School" moniker in 1934), these rebellious painters introduced a healthy and entirely modern vitality into American art through their uncompromising commitment to unvarnished realism and artistic independence. Celebrating The Eight, which will be on view in gallery 119 in the Philadelphia Museum of Art's first-floor American Wing from March 25 through July 2, 2000, showcases a spectacular group of works, one by each of The Eight, given to the Museum in 1964 by the noted collectors, Dr. Meyer P. (Pat) and Mrs. Vivian O. Potamkin (until this year, the Potamkins held life-interest in these works, which have never been exhibited as a group at the Museum). The Potamkins' eight gifts, which include seven paintings and one watercolor, will be complemented by additional paintings, sculptures and works on paper by The Eight and their contemporaries from the Museum's collections.
Also on view in the gallery is another gift to the Museum from Dr. and Mrs. Potamkin: Peacocks (c. 1918) a gilt-bronze sculpture by Gaston Lachaise (1882-1935), a contemporary of The Eight who worked in New York. Modeled shortly after the Paris-born and trained sculptor became an American citizen, the decorative composition of Peacocks reflects Lachaise's years of working in France for Art Nouveau designer René Lalique and, in the United States, for sculptor Paul Manship (who attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, as did four members of The Eight).
"A wonderful spirit of creative revolution imbues the paintings of The Eight," noted Anne d'Harnoncourt, Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "It therefore seems particularly fitting that the group had such profound ties to the 'revolutionary' city of Philadelphia, and that this remarkable selection of their paintings should come to the city's great art museum thanks to the inspired patronage of two of the most distinguished collectors in the United States who are also devoted Philadelphians--Vivian and Pat Potamkin."
In the early years of the 20th century, four talented young artists, half of the group that would become The Eight--Glackens, Luks, Sloan, and Shinn--were working as illustrators for Philadelphia newspapers while attending classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Threatened by the media's growing use of photographic images, they were also inspired by the "Charcoal Club," a series of evening classes taught by Henri, a charismatic teacher (and former student) at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts who encouraged his students to "go out into the streets and look at life." With increasing commitment to realist painting as well as notoriety and acclaim for their challenging points of view, these Philadelphia-based artists were joined in the Macbeth Gallery show by three others--Lawson and Davies, who were active in New York, and Prendergast from Boston--who shared their artistic sensibilities and social outlook.
Featured in Celebrating The Eight are paintings from Dr. and Mrs. Potamkins' gift to the Museum that reflect the distinctive talent and approach of each individual artist in The Eight. Skating Rink, New York City, 1906, by William Glackens (1870-1938) depicts fun- lovers engaged in a new, and bruising, popular diversion. A Boulevard--Wet Weather, Paris, 1899, by Robert Henri (1865-1929) is a moody rendering of the city on a rainy night. Landscape Near Harlem River, c. 1913, by Ernest Lawson (1873-1939) is a rugged winter scene in keeping with the painter's poetic vision of the American countryside. Old Beggar Woman, 1907, by George Benjamin Luks (1867-1933) portrays with empathy a downtrodden but defiant individual. Sunday Promenade, 1922, by Maurice P. Prendergast (1859-1924) is a frieze-like depiction of a leisurely afternoon in a park-like setting by the sea. The Ambulance Call, 1908, by Everett Shinn (1876-1953) is a watercolor that began as a sketch made by the artist when he witnessed an accident. Sixth Avenue and Thirtieth Street (1907), by John Sloan (1871-1951) is a candid and compassionate look at the squalor of New York's Tenderloin district. Finally, in his pastoral, symbolic landscape Autumn--Enchanted Salutations, 1907, Arthur B. Davies (1862-1928) diverges from the gritty urban realism typically associated with The Eight.
Both the Potamkins have devoted much time to civic leadership and are recognized as outstanding patrons of the arts. Vivian Potamkin was a member of the Women's Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and one of the founder's of the Art Sales & Rental Gallery, established to present affordable art, often by new and emerging artists, to a wide audience. She was the Gallery's volunteer administrator for eight years. Vivian is currently a member of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the board of the Archives of American Art, and is a vice-president of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Pat Potamkin, who became a Trustee of the Museum in 1963 and an Honorary Trustee in 1994, also currently serves on the advisory board of Dickinson College, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Mann Music Center, and the board of the Crime Prevention Association. Their generous gifts of works of art grace a cornucopia of institutions in addition to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, including The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Dickinson College, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Dallas Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the National Gallery of Art, and the White House.
Celebrating The Eight is organized by Michael Taylor, Assistant Curator in the Museum's Department of Modern and Contemporary Art.