The Eight and American Modernisms explores through more than fifty paintings and approximately thirty works on paper the under-appreciated stylistic complexities of eight artists—Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, Robert Henri, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice B. Prendergast, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan. The artists, recognized as painters of urban realism, are now emerging as the first generation of early American modernists.
The Eight, as they came to be called, caught the attention of the American art world with one astoundingly successful exhibition in New York’s Macbeth Galleries in 1908. In their prime and on the verge of success, the artists were seen as challenging the academic preference for the genteel tradition of “art for art’s sake,” which had dominated the American art establishment for many decades. The exhibition traveled to major art institutions on the East Coast and in the Midwest and was the first and only by The Eight. Ever since, the conventional assessment of The Eight’s artistic partnership has focused primarily on the themes of urban “realism” in their work rather than on their stylistic individuality, which Henri praised as an imaginative freedom that follows “no unity in any cult of painting.” This exhibition expands the scholarship on subject matter to highlight the distinct formal qualities of each artist’s work. The Eight and American Modernisms is built from three outstanding collections of art by these American originals, joined together on the centennial of The Eight’s premiere tour.
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