The Museum of Art is the repository of the estate of American painter William Glackens, a member of The Eight and a transformative artist at the turn of the twentieth century. What is less known about Glackens is that he was part of an extended artistic family. He married painter Edith Dimock and their daughter Lenna was a talented young artist. In addition, William's older brother Louis was a well-known illustrator and cartoonist. Installed in the Museum's Glackens Galleries, this exhibition includes works by each of the artists in the Glackens family, with a large concentration of the art of William Glackens, the family's most celebrated painter.
The idiom “the apple never falls far from the tree” epitomizes the allure that members of William Glackens’ household felt for the visual arts. To them, individually as well as collectively, art making was neither a distraction nor simply a source of income, but rather a passion that fulfilled both spiritual and intellectual pursuits.
William J. (1870-1938) and his older brother, Louis M. (1866–1933), were born in Philadelphia into a lower middle class family headed by parents Samuel and Elizabeth Glackens. Both siblings attended Central High School, followed by brief enrollment in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. According to family records, the Glackens boys began drawing at an early age and, while still in high school, collaborated on carefully illustrating a homemade dictionary. As they grew older, the personal lives and careers of William and Lou (as he was affectionately called) diverged. Professionally, the former followed a dual career path by becoming a highly successful illustrator for newspapers and magazines as well as a renowned painter whose artistic sojourn took him from stark urban Realism to Renoir-esque Impressionism. By comparison, the latter’s achievements were more modest. First and foremost, Lou became a proficient cartoonist for Puck, a popular New York-based weekly satirical publication, followed by a brief stint in Hollywood drawing comics during the early years of the motion picture industry. The brothers also pursued contrasting lifestyles at home. William happily married an heiress with whom he had two children, lived mostly in well-appointed homes and apartments, and regularly vacationed in Europe. Louis, on the other hand, remained single, childless, and continued to reside in his parent’s Philadelphia home, living a life centered on his brother’s progeny.
Edith Dimock Glackens (1876-1955) and Lenna Glackens Borden (1913-1943) were William Glackens’ wife and daughter, respectively. They were William’s favorite models as well as artists in their own right. Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Edith was heir to the prosperous silk manufacturing business of her father Ira. Her desire to become a painter dated to her childhood. Defying her parent’s objections, Edith moved to New York City in her early twenties and enrolled at the Art Students League, where she studied under the guidance of noted American Impressionist William Merritt Chase (1849-1916). Lenna also received formal artistic training. Following in her mother’s footsteps, she attended the Art Students League, where her instructors were Jerome Myers (1867-1940) and Guy Pène du Bois (1884-1958). Due in part to their affluent background, Edith and Lenna were never forced to make a living with their art and their public exhibitions were few and far between. Nevertheless, Edith became an admired watercolorist whose genre scenes, though charming, often displayed a caustic sense of humor. Askewing her mother’s whimsy, Lenna’s style combines a mixture of Surrealism and Symbolism that is far more difficult to decipher.
Ira Glackens (1907-1990), a major benefactor to the Museum of Art and the only son of William and Edith, also dabbled in the arts, though he viewed painting as a recreational activity and preferred to be known as a biographer, novelist, and horticulturist. Taking his wishes into account, we have chosen not to include any of his artworks in this installation.