Themes

I. Bodies

Sabrina Lin, Elisha Osemobor, Sydney Reaper 

Bodies_compressed

Theme:Bodies

Female Body/Nudes  – Elisha 

The Ashcan and Camden Town schools were art movements which occurred simultaneously in the unique time period between the end of French Impressionism/Post Impressionism, and the beginning of the North American boom in modernist abstraction, beginning with the 1913 Armory show where DuChamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 was first exhibited. The art of the Ashcan and Camden Town schools works in the mode of realism with clear influences from their art historical predecessors, an important genre of which was of course, the nude female form. Although the Ashcan and Camden Town schools treat their nude subjects differently, nudes allow us to understand their shared origins.  

 

In these six paintings, we see the artists playing with the line between nude and naked. Sickert’s Woman Washing her Hair depicts the female body artfully bent out of frame engaged in a mundane act, a different visual experience than the traditional, posed, nude. The model’s supposed unawareness makes us wonder if she is not nude, but naked. This is in direct opposition to Sloan’s Blonde Nude or Gore’s Nude on a Bed which, although stylistically different, are idealized studies of the female form. The two images Nude Miss Bentham, and Clarissa, also play with the line between nude and naked, even though these images are clearly posed, the artists emphasize the non-beautiful contortions of their bodies. Similarly, Bellows, Gore, and Gillman eschew the traditional horizontal nude and insist upon John Fagg’s definition of the “fleshy”,  “corse”, and  “permeable”, naked body.

 

Within the genre of female nude there are also images of bodies performing labor. Seen particularly in the insidious connection between female bodies and prostitution. We see this in Sickert’s A Maregno (1903), where his two sitters, Carolina dell’Acqua and a woman called ‘La Giuseppina’, are identified as prostitutes. These works make the viewer reconsider the history of prostitution as a common practice among working-class women in relation to the derogatory post-facto label of prostitute given to many of the models and actresses who sat for painters. This form of labor connects the art historical to the modern such that we consider these works a necessary transition between our discussion of Degas, and labor in the city. 

 

Sloan, The Cot

Sickert, La Hollandaise

Bellows, Nude Miss Bentham 

Sickert, Woman Washing Her Hair

Sloan, Election Night (print) 

Sloan, Blonde Nude 

Gore, Nude on a Bed 

Gilman, Clarissa 

Sickert, A Marengo

 

Working Bodies – Sabrina

 

“In the measure of its expansion, the city offers more and more the decisive conditions of the division of labor. It offers a circle which through its size can absorb a highly diverse variety of services …  The individual has become a mere cog in an enormous organization of things and powers which tear from his hands all progress, spirituality, and value in order to transform them from their subjective form into the form of a purely objective life.” — Georg Simmel, The Metropolis and Mental Life, 1903

 

Realism and the body is further prevalent as Ashcan and Camden Town artists explored working-class subjects. As cities and their populations rapidly expanded, metropolitan living became defined by the circuit of labor, service, and industry workers who made up the machineries of mundane, modern life. Increasing demand for basic services and amenities stood in sharp contrast to popular images of modernization and industrialization. Working women, in particular, provided a popular genre of urban spectacle, as evidenced by Sickert’s laundry girl or Gore’s portrait of his cleaning woman. At the same time, depictions of working bodies reveal darker realities associated with modern labor practice, such as the nameless boy shining the shoes of fashion-forward city girls for pennies, or the overladen postman collapsing to fulfill his mission. Images of laboring bodies additionally bring forth a conversation on affect in Ashcan and Camden Town works—Bellows’s painting of immigrant workers seeking work at the Brooklyn docks, for example, offers a glimpse into the interiority and mental life of their daily existence. Realism is not a neutral condition in these scenes, but rather a deliberate visual language with which these artists engage and challenge through their use of observation and abstraction. Therefore, images of labor provide more than objective documentations of bodies at work, but rather exist at the larger confluence of gender, class, and race. Depictions of working class bodies highlight complicated issues of bodily subjectivity and larger socio-political histories embodied by these individuals. 

 

Bellows, Men of the Docks 

Bellows, Paddy Flanagan

Gore, North London Girl

Gilman, Black Gardener

Sickert, Laundry Shop

Sloan, Their Appointed Rounds

Sloan, Shine, Washington Square

 

Interior/Exterior (Public) Bodies – Sydney

 

How are bodies presented within the framework of the city? For the Camden Town Group and Ashcan School, we notice the removal of the figure from its stable position within an idealized academic formula and into more vulnerable positions. Bodies rendered by artists such as Walter Sickert and John Sloan are not idealized figures, imbued with inherent meaning derived from their art historical predecessors. Bodies depicted by both groups are clear individuals, adapting to a time and space continually hurtling towards modernity. We see these bodies as framed through some sort of vision–that of the artist, citizen, or city–that predominates the narrative of these individuals. These artists may use either the stage of the city or the blank slate of their studio to construct a narrative of these individuals, often inserting elusive elements that resist a neat interpretation. How may artists of the time be coming to terms with figures exercising more independence–in movement, dress, sexual relations, and other manners–and with the increased surveillance as a body existing in a crowded city? Does the artist try to rein them in as an art object or highlight their freedom, observing their movements from a distance, or through a window? 

 

Gilman, Nude at a Window

Sloan, Sunday Afternoon Rooftop

Sloan, Sunday, Women Drying their Hair 

Sloan, Night Windows  

Sloan, New Years Eve (print) 

Sloan, A Window on the Street

Sloan, Subway Stairs

Sickert, A Poet and His Muse

Sickert, Fancy Dress, Miss Beerbohm 

Sickert, The Studio: The Painting of a Nude

Sickert, The Honorable Lady Fry 

 

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II. The Environment

 Emily Jacobs, Holly Lyne, Ramiro Storni, Harrison West 

Environment Presentation_compressed

Theme:Environment

Coastal Landscapes Meet Modernity – written by Holly Lyne

The coastal scenes we viewed in this class embody paradoxes of modernity. On the one hand, the shoreline provides “nature as spectacle,” where city-dwellers flock to the water in their leisure time and create new crowds. Coastal landscapes such as the one in Captain’s Pier are peppered with buildings, boardwalks, and boats. These shorelines are profoundly disrupted and reshaped by modernity. We see naval ships and ships carrying goods coming and going in works such as Signals, reminding us that coastlines are necessary hubs of commerce. Yet in landscapes such as Purple Rocks and Green Sea and Rock Reef, we see an entirely different shoreline: one that is rugged and uncorrupted, providing respite from the city streets. These landscapes are studies in painting and observation. Wet oil paint applied in impasto captures churning waves and sea spray, and artists take new, closer viewpoints right at the water’s edge. So while some coastal landscapes are irrevocably shaped by the modern, some are still lauded as untouched and pure, impossible to rein in.

Glackens, Captain’s Pier, c. 1912-1914. BCMA.

Sloan, Signals, 1916. BCMA.

Ginner, Plymouth Pier from the Hoe, The Box, o/c, 1923

Bellows, The Harbor, Monhegan Coast, Maine, 1913

George Bellows, The Dock. 1913 

John Sloan, Purple Rocks and Green Sea. 1916

George Bellows, Rock Reef, Maine.

 

Disrupted Landscapes – written by Ramiro Storni

 

Before cities such as London and New York were the metropolises that they are now they were at one point untouched pieces of land. Through industrialization and urbanization we slowly terraformed the natural environment to support our needs and desires thus creating the city. In this theme we will study how Ashcan and Camden town artists both looked at and possibly even critiqued the processes of industrialization that fuel the growth of cities. In scenes such as Robert Henri’s Coal Breaker we see how a man made structure looms over the natural landscape suggesting industries dominance over nature. Similarly we see this same theme of man imposing themselves onto nature in paintings by Bellows such as Pennsylvania Station Excavation where he depicts the destruction of the land during the construction of Pennsylvania station. By looking at these sorts of works we aim to shed light on the less glamorous aspects of progress and growth in the modern era. 

 

Bellows, Pennsylvania Excavation, 1907, Smith College Museum Of Art

Bellows, Pennsylvania Station Excavation, 1907-1908, Brooklyn Museum

Henri, Coal Breaker, 1902, BCMA

Luks, Mining Village No. 3, 1923, The Phillips Collection

Gore, Letchworth Station, 1912, National Railway Museum

Glackens, Landscape–Factories, 1914, Barnes Foundation

Bellows, Shore House, 1911

Drummond, Near Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, Museums Sheffield, ?

Gore, The Garden City, Letchworth, 1912, Garden City Collection Study Centre

James Hope, Waterfall in the mountains,1867, BCMA

 

Art Historical Precedents: Landscape Tradition.

 

On the Camden town side, the pre-raphaelites and the english pastoral tradition are interesting precedents, especially in the works of Ginner and Gore. The particularity of english landscape is the subject of much of this pre-raphaelite work: much of the landscape had been under cultivation for many years, was built around centuries old ruins… Ginner and Gore modify this tradition in depicting contemporary changes to the landscape. On the America side, the work of Winslow Homer and esp. his coastal Maine landscapes are important, as well as the sublime landscapes of the Hudson river school. We see Bellows working from these precedents, and esp. Homer, in his landscapes. Sloan’s landscapes on the other hand are almost anti-sublime, but he does still seem to be drawing from these precedents.

 

British works:

Charles Ginner, Penally Hill.  Date unknown.

William Holman Hunt. Our English Coasts. 1852

Harold Gilman. In Gloucestershire 1916

John Inchbold, The Chapel, Bolton, 1853

Charles Ginner, The Lock Gates, Chester.

 

American works:

John Sloan, Purple Rocks and Green Sea. 1916

Winslow Homer. Northeaster. 1895

George Bellows, “Green Breaker,” 1913

 

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III. The City

Group 

Theme_ Cities_compressed

Theme:The City
 

The built environment of the city serves as the backdrop to the Ashcan and Camden Town schools’ study. In the works, figures engage with the cramped interiors of restaurants, apartments, and shops as well as trains and train stations. The artists use these spaces to show interactions between different classes and ethnic groups, as well as these groups and the environment. We have used the city as a framework for understanding these two schools in relation to each other as it is their shared artistic and conceptual foundation. 

 

Transportation – 

George Bellows, Blue Morning, 1909. Oil on canvas, 34 x 44 in. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Chester Dale Collection.

 

Walter Sickert, Queen’s Road Station, Bayswater, 1916. Oil on canvas, 63.2 x 73 cm

 Courtauld, UK 

 

These paintings represent not just the building of the city, but the development of mass transit as a hallmark of the metropolitain environment. As discussed in the theme of the city as a system, the city is not just a city in isolation but the surrounding areas which feed it as well, these paintings show the early stages of such an experience. These three images create a narrative about the development of the city via the railway.