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Frist Center for the Visual Arts Inaugural Venue For
Life’s Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists’ Brush with Leisure, 1895–1925

Paintings By Ashcan Artists George Bellows, Robert Henri, George Luks
And John Sloan Depict Early 20th Century Pastimes

NASHVILLE, TENN.—(July 13, 2007)—The Frist Center for the Visual Arts will open Life’s Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists’ Brush with Leisure, 1895–1925 Friday, August 3, 2007 in the Upper-Level Galleries. Featuring more than 70 paintings by artists including Ashcan school leader Robert Henri, George Bellows, George Luks, Everett Shinn and John Sloan, the exhibition provides a refreshing look at the work of a major American artistic movement. The Frist Center is the inaugural venue for Life’s Pleasures, which continues through Oct. 28, 2007. This exhibition was organized by the Detroit Institute
of Arts.

While the Ashcan school is most commonly associated with gritty depictions of working class life in turn-of-the-century New York, Life’s Pleasures focuses on a lesser-known aspect of their production: the celebration of leisure activities observed and enjoyed by the artists and their friends. Robert Henri encouraged his followers to “Paint what you see. Paint what is real.” Among the topics chosen therefore were the multitude of pleasurable pastimes available to citizens of all social levels. Noted for quick brushstrokes, saturated color palettes and thickly layered paint (impasto), these paintings celebrated the joie de vivre that the artists encountered in the world around them.

“From a theatrical production, a day at the beach or a boxing match, Ashcan painters were dedicated to exploring everyday American life at the turn of the century,” says Katie Delmez, curator at the Frist Center. “Artists depicting a beach scene, for example, were not attempting to capture the effect of light as were painters of an earlier generation; but rather hoping to depict an array of people escaping the crowded city and simply enjoying a leisurely day off.”

The Ashcan School

When Robert Henri returned to Philadelphia in 1891 after traveling through Europe, he befriended a group of newspaper illustrators working at the Philadelphia Press—William Glackens, George Luks, Everett Shinn and John Sloan. Henri convinced these young men to leave the paper and take up painting as a serious profession. Their work in the news industry, which entailed documenting city events as they personally witnessed them, made the artists receptive to Henri’s call to create an “art for life.” In 1900, Henri moved to New York City and encouraged the other artists to do the same. Eight years later, these five artists joined with Maurice Prendergast, Ernest Lawson and Arthur B. Davies to mount an important but controversial independent exhibition at the Macbeth Gallery. The Eight, as they were called, were reacting against the more conservative National Academy of Design. Henri and his broadening circle of students—eventually referred to as the Ashcan school—cared little for the polished techniques and polite subject matter of the academicians; instead, they documented everyday urban life with an energetic freedom of spirit.

Life’s Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists’ Brush with Leisure, 1895–1925 is presented in four major sections: The Fine and Performing Arts; Sports and Recreation; Bars and Cafés: At Home and Abroad; and The Outdoors: Park, Beaches, and the Country.

The Fine and Performing Arts: With New York City’s thriving cultural life, the artists immersed themselves in the city’s offerings, attending art openings, theatrical plays, musical concerts and dance performances. Popular and less expensive events, such as circuses and carnivals, captured the imagination of the Ashcan school as well with their bright lights and sense of excitement.

The artists were interested in all aspects of these forms of entertainment: the skill of the performers, dramatic stage effects, watching others enjoying a spectacle, and the thrill of being part of the audience themselves. Everett Shinn, George Luks and William Glackens at times even participated in amateur theater productions. Several members of Henri’s circle also socialized with the city’s cultural elite and included them in their paintings.

Exhibition highlights in this section include the iconic painting Hammerstein’s Roof Garden (ca. 1901) by William Glackens, Theatre Scene (ca. 1906) by Everett Shinn, and Salome (1909) by Robert Henri.

Sports and Recreation: Sports were an increasingly popular part of American leisure life. The first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896, and spectator events began to draw larger audiences. Attaining good health through exercise was part of the progressive thinking of the time. While athletics were still dominated by men, there were increasing opportunities for women to participate, especially for those who considered themselves to be “modern.”

Part of the Ashcan group’s ethos was to be active and “manly,” and most of the artists were both sports participants and spectators. They were interested in a broad variety of athletic endeavors—from the highly charged masculine sports of boxing and wrestling matches, to the popular activities of swimming and roller skating, to the more genteel diversions of horseback riding, tennis and croquet.

Exhibition highlights include Skating Rink, New York City (1906) by William Glackens and Club Night (1907) by George Bellows.

Bars and Cafés: At Home and Abroad: Socializing outside the home was becoming an important part of a New Yorker’s social life, and dining out in the city was a popular activity for those who could afford it. In keeping with the practice of capturing their own life experiences, the Ashcan school created many images of the cafés and restaurants that they frequented, often including their friends and themselves in the scenes.

After New York City, Paris was the most important and inspiring city for the Ashcan artists. At the turn of the 20th century, Europeans and Americans alike saw the French capital as the center of art and culture. Robert Henri studied in Paris and encouraged his students to do the same. While there, the young artists eagerly embraced the city and the lively social interaction found in its many cafés.

The exhibition features the paintings of The Café Francis (ca. 1906) by George Luks and New York City’s famed McSorley’s Bar (1912) by John Sloan.

The Outdoors: Park, Beaches, and the Country: In the densely populated New York City, outdoor areas became important focal points for leisure activities. Parks provided an oasis of nature and open space within the congested urban environment. Central Park in particular was a place where Ashcan artists went to both observe and participate in such activities as picnicking, ice-skating, lawn games and simply relaxing. The development of public transportation, especially the subway, facilitated access to these parks as well as travel to outlying areas. Public beaches, pleasure parks such as Coney Island, and the countryside also offered temporary escape from the city. Members of the lower classes, primarily located in the southern part of Manhattan, often found relief from crowded conditions along the river piers, where they fished and swam.

Highlights from this section are South Beach Bathers (1907–08) by John Sloan and
A Day in June (1913) by George Bellows.

Related Programs

Friday, August 3 Curator’s Perspective: “Bars, Cafes and Parks:
6:30 p.m. The Ashcan Artist’s Joie de Vivre”

James W. Tottis, organizing curator of Life’s Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists’ Brush with Leisure, 1895–1925 at the Detroit Institute of Art, will offer an overview of the themes in the exhibition.

Thursday, September 20 Gallery Talk
7:00 p.m.
Included with gallery admission

Join Frist Center Curator Katie Delmez as she discusses the exhibition Life’s Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists’ Brush with Leisure, 1895–1925.

Friday, October 19 ARTini
7:00 p.m.
Meet in Frist Center Grand Lobby
Included with gallery admission

Anne Taylor, Frist Center curator of interpretation, will lead a fun, informal conversation about the Life’s Pleasures exhibition. Complete the evening with music in the Grand Lobby, martinis at the cash bar, and visiting with friends.

Itinerary for Life’s Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists’ Brush with Leisure, 1895–1925
 New York Historical Society, New York
November 18, 2007–February 10, 2008

 Detroit Institute of Arts
March 2–May 27, 2008

Also on view at the Frist Center

Lyrical Traditions: Four Centuries of Chinese Painting from the Papp Collection
Continues through October 7, 2007

 This exhibition has been organized by Phoenix Art Museum.

 2007 Platinum Sponsor: The HCA Foundation on behalf of HCA and the TriStar Family of Hospitals; 2007 Gold Sponsor: First Tennessee

Whispering Wind: Recent Chinese Photography
Continues through October 7, 2007

 This exhibition was organized by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.

 2007 Platinum Sponsor: The HCA Foundation on behalf of HCA and the TriStar Family of Hospitals; 2007 Gold Sponsor: First Tennessee

Sylvia Hyman: Fictional Clay
Continues through October 7, 2007

 This exhibition was organized by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.

 2007 Gordon Contemporary Artists Project Gallery Exhibition Sponsor:
Welling LaGrone and Morgan Keegan

About the Frist Center
The Frist Center for the Visual Arts, located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn., is an art exhibition center dedicated to presenting the finest visual art from local, regional, U.S. and international sources in a program of changing exhibitions. The Frist Center’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery features over 30 interactive stations relating to Frist Center exhibitions. Gallery admission to the Frist Center is free for visitors 18 and under and to Frist Center members. Frist Center admission is $8.50 for adults, $7.50 for seniors and military, and $6.50 for college students with ID. Thursday evenings, 5:00 – 9:00 p.m., admission is free for college students with a valid college ID. Discounts are offered for groups of 10 or more with advance reservation by calling (615) 744-3246. The Frist Center is open seven days a week: Mondays through Wednesdays and Saturdays, 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; and Sundays, 1:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., with the Café opening at noon. Additional information is available by calling (615) 244-3340 or by visiting our Web site at

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