In the first decades of the 20th century, painters of the Ashcan School, a loosely connected group of gritty, urban realists, created images of New York City from street level. Following older artist Robert Henri's insistence that artists should make 'pictures from life', the Ashcanners renounced the polished academic style taught in art schools of the time. Instead they practised a more urgent manner, seeking to catch the ebb and flow of life in urban America. Some of them also produced vivid landscapes with a highly saturated colour palette and portraits.
An American Experiment: George Bellows and the Ashcan Painters introduces the painters of the Ashcan School and the key characteristics and themes of their work. Detailed commentaries are provided for twelve significant paintings by George Bellows, William Glackens, Robert Henri, George Luks, and John Sloan. In their visual contemplation of early-20th-century New York, these artists offer deep insights into the nature of urban life not only in their time but also in our own.
David Peters Corbett is Dean, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of East Anglia. He was founding director of the interdisciplinary Centre for Modern Studies, University of York. Katherine Bourguignon is associate curator, Terra Foundation for American Art Europe, Paris. Christopher Riopelle is Curator of Post-1800 Paintings at the National Gallery, London.
An American Experiment: George Bellows and the Ashcan Painters was published alongside the exhibition An American Experiment: George Bellows and the Ashcan Painters 1900 –1918, at the National Gallery, London, 3 March-30 May 2011.