George Benjamin Luks (1867-1933)
George Benjamin Luks (1867-1933) was a leading figure in the New York art world during the early 20th century. The son of Central European immigrants, Luks was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. From 1885-95, Luks studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, at Dusseldorf, in Paris and in London. As a student, he was influenced by the paintings of Rembrandt and Frans Hals. Later Luks prided himself in his reputation as one of the “bad boys” of American art, being numbered among “The Eight,” which included John Sloan, Robert Henri, William Glackens, Everett Shinn, Maurice Prendergast, Ernest Lawson, and Arthur Davies. The Eight became famous after their 1908 Macbeth Gallery, New York exhibition confronted the American public with paintings of real people and real places such as the industrial Harlem River landscape as well as scenes of working-class life. These artists later became known as the Ashcan School for their dark palettes and realist subject matter. Luks painted his humble subjects with compassion and pathos, imbuing them with dignity. He encountered them in his tireless walks around the city’s working-class neighborhoods. Luks was known for his brash confident brushwork and down-to-earth subject matter as much as for his ribald language, hard drinking, and love of barroom brawls. Sadly, however, true to his tumultuous life, Luks died in the doorway of a New York bar, having picked his last fight; the newspapers reported that he had died of heart failure while waiting to paint the light effects of dawn on the city. His work is held in collections in many museums and galleries, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, the Addison Gallery of American Art, Milwaukee Art Institute, the Detroit Art Institute, and the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute in Ithaca, N.Y.