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The Aschcan School of Art

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: June 7, 2004
Latest Update: June 19, 2004

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Index of Topics on Site Visual Sociology and the Ashcan School of Art

Ashcan School Good concise definition of this school of art at the start of the 20th Century. Focused on everyday urban life, then deemed ugly by fine art historians and critics. On the Houghton Mifflin Site: The Reader's Companion to American History.

ArtLex on the Ashcan School Many good thumbprint photos to illustrate what the art of this group was like.

Biddington's Ashcan School: What Is It? Another pretty good explanation that may answer some of your questions.

American Art, The Ashcan School Has some examples of painters not on other sites, including Henri.

Note especially A Day in June by Bellows I find it reminiscent of Seurat's "la Grande Jatte" at the Art Instittue in Chicago. Seurat: 1859-1891. French. Bellows: 1882-1925.American.

A Day in June by George Bellows . . . La Grande Jatte by Seurat at the Art Institute of Chicago
A Day in June, George Bellows. . . . La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat

And I find that Ernest Lawson's Winter ( Lawson:1873-1939) reminds me of John Henry Twactman's and Sisley's work. John Henry Twactman (1853 -1902) Both American. Alfred Sisley: French. 1839-1899.

Winter by Ernest Lawson . . . Winter Harmony by John Henry Twachtman at the National Gallery of Art . . . Sisley, Snow at Louveciennes. Phillips Collection
Winter by Ernest Lawson . . . Winter Harmony by John Henry Twachtman . . . Snow at Louveciennes by Alfred Sisley

Winter is online at The Ashcan School. Winter Harmony is at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Snow at Louveciennes is in the Phillips Collection.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why were the Ashcan painters confused with muckrakers, even when that was not their intention?

    Consider that their primary focus was reporting on daily life, and that fine art came from an aristocratic tradition.

  2. Look at John Sloan's etching of Night Windows

    and his Women Drying their Hair .

    Compare these to Degas' Woman Drying herself: .

    The everyday life subjects are similar. Why would critics have considered Degas' work fine art and that of the Ashcan school lesser art?

    Consider the framing of the subject. In the Ashcan samples, Sloan includes the tenement background. Does Degas? Interesting perspective, hmmm? Think it has anything to do with denial of complicity in poverty? Were the French painters' models upper class women?

  3. What do the Ashcan School of paintings offer you that is different from or in addition to Jacob Riis's photography of some of the same urban scene?

    Consider that the subjects were similar - "gritty urban life," but that the muckraking intent was somewhat different. The Ashcan school of painting was conservative as far as painting goes. They just wanted to turn their gaze to everyday life before them. Recall that New York was taking in immigrants far more quickly, and with a very different context, than might have been the case in Paris. Could that explain why Degas' imagery of the same subject was different from the imagery of the Ashcan School?

  4. Check out the George Bellows' painting at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Scroll to within an inch of the bottom of the file to find the painting. Can you recognize it as belonging in the Ashcan School? How?
    Bellows' at LACMA.
    Cliff Dwellers, 1913.

    Consider the locale of the setting? Is it urban? Does it look like a scene of poverty or of the upper class?

  5. Consider the work of a more recent American Painter, Raphael Soyer. Scroll down to the second image, Farewell To Lincoln Square (Pedestrians), which he painted in 1959. What similarities could you find to the Ashcan School?

    Consider that this is a sociological perspective. Most of the people are not looking at the artist, scene of daily life, in the city, ordinary clothes and activities on the street, the gritty scenes of everyday life in New York.

    Online View of Work of Raphael Soyer at the Hirshhorn Museum

    University of North Carolina Press Web Site Search for Raphael Soyer. Link to Raphael Soyer and the Search for Modern Jewish Art by Samantha Baskind. Backup. Consider the first paragraph of the description of the book on University of North Carolina Press Web Site:

    "Artist Raphael Soyer (1899-1987), whose Russian Jewish family settled in Manhattan in 1912, was devoted to painting people in their everyday urban lives. He came to be known especially for his representations of city workers and the down-and-out, and for his portraits of himself and his friends. Although Soyer never identified himself as a "Jewish artist," Samantha Baskind, in the first full-length critical study of the artist, argues that his work was greatly influenced by his ethnicity and by the Jewish American immigrant experience."

    Resources: Raphael Soyer: My Friends Prints available on this site.

    Esther Bubley: American Photo-Journalist "Esther Bubley (1921- 1998), a preeminent documentary photographer of the post-World War II era."

    UBS Art Gallery Many essays, including one on the Gordon Parks exhibit in the California African American Art Museum in Los Angeles. Browse the site.

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, June 2004.
"Fair use" encouraged.