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The Group of Eight
During the latter part of the nineteenth century, art in America, and particularly painting, had a rather effete image...one might even say effeminate. Men might pay for paintings but women often chose them, and their highly refined tastes were reflected not only in what sold, but even what was painted. Part of this was the French influence, both in terms of impressionism and the academic style, but it went deeper than that. There was a "prettiness" to painting that lent a "sissified" aura to any young man professing an interest in this gentle artform. Around the turn of the century however, Robert Henri returned to Philadelphia from his studies in Paris where he'd been exposed not only to academic painting, but also to Impressionism, Manet, Whistler, and most importantly the seventeenth century work of Velázquez and Hals. There he gathered around him a group of newspaper illustrators such as John Sloan, Everett Shinn, William Glackens, and George Luks. These men were accustomed to the rough and tumble life of the big city rather than delicate romantic fantasies. Moving on to New York City he acquired the following of Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson and Maurice Prendergast. Together, they have come to be known as the Group of Eight. Though their work varied somewhat in subject matter, in terms of style the word "macho" comes to mind. Brush strokes were bold, colours were vivid, compositions bustled with the vim and vigour of upper, middle, and lower class city life. There was a robust power in all their work that revitalised painting in New York, influencing later artists such as Columbus, Ohio, artist George Bellows, Edward Hopper, Reginald Marsh, and African-American artist Archibald Motley Jr. Not always appreciated by the high-minded New York art establishment, these hard living, hard drinking, hard working men could hold their own as well in a studio loft or a bar room brawl. Sometimes referred to as the "Ashcan School", they erased forever the "prissy" stereotype of the American Artist.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
4 March 1998

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