The euphoric reward of practicing an art may at times present an opportunity to claim a rather dignified self-image; an illusory sense of superiority. Such a condition had baffled many minds that perceived it as an affront to the unspoken, artistic adjuration. A reaction was the natural impulse of those whose souls were drawn to the refusal of the aristocratic classification of arts.
Everett Shinn was a man that dwelled among the mundane, and saw in the dull scenes of city-life the hidden beauty that subconsciously formed the fragrance of ordinary lives. Shinn and his companions believed in depicting the urbanized and the familiar as a dismissal of the academic restrictions that hindered the evolutionary advancement of the arts. This Realist movement of the Eight, the Ashcan school, provoked many critics and prominent figures and the probability of occupying a renowned exhibition with unconventional works was intentionally sabotaged.
The eight members of the Ashcan school fought against the odds and were received with great public appeal. The life-story of Everett Shinn presents one aspect of the glorifying tale of rebellious painters; yet, it offers a perspective that captures the essence of their ‘war’ in its entirety.
Life of Realist Painters: Everett Shinn
In a world of artists bound to idealism and the supernatural, Shinn was born. He was brought up in a middle-class family in the American state of New Jersey during the nineteenth century (1876), and lived through the first half of the twentieth century (1953).
He began his journey by attending the Spring Garden Institute, Philadelphia, to study mechanical drawing in 1888. Three years later, Shinn occupied a position at the Thackery Gas Fixture Works as a designer. It was not long before Shinn went back to school; as in 1893, he started his four-year studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Shinn applied his progress in school to his works with the Philadelphia Press; and described the experience as quite advantageous to his overall mentality and his artistic perception, in particular.
During his occupation in Philadelphia, he had the opportunity to get acquainted with many emerging artists of his time. Some were connected through mutual studies in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, others gathered at the studio of an ingenious painter called Robert Henri; but the result of this companionship would later become what is known as the society of the Eight.
By the end of the Nineteenth century (1897), Everett Shinn moved back to New York, where he mostly spent the rest of his days. He began revealing his pastels to the public in 1899 at a Pennsylvania Academy exhibition; and was hired the same year as an editor of the arts at Ainslee’s Magazine.
The first year of the Twentieth century marked the developing premise of a becoming legacy in the history of the arts. Shinn’s works began to receive recognition; as he had his colour illustrations featured in several magazines: ‘Harper’s Weekly’ for example. What truly made the beginning of the century the highlight of his time was Shinn’s contribution in his first one-man show. Shinn was given the stage to unravel his works to the public at Boussod, Valadon and Company, New York. He was also requested by the same organization to record lively scene of London and the Parisian life. While abroad, Shinn began to experiment with oil painting; and thus, turning his career away from illustrations to become a fine artist.
Shinn would later have a second career as a painter of murals for private property and public buildings, like: Stuyvesant Theater in New York and the City Hall of Trenton, New Jersey.
By the year of 1913, Shinn forsake easel painting and worked as a set-designer. He also acted as artistic director for some early film makers. He had a rather tense social status and married four times; and peacefully died at the age of seventy-seven in New York.
Taste in the Craft: The Realist View of Ordinary Life
Among his fellow artists and the Eight, Everett Shinn could be regarded as “the most versatile and eclectic.” His works varied from depicting the rigorous life of dockyard workers, crowds of shoppers and passersby, to elegant dance halls. Most of Shinn’s paintings of New York street scenes were mainly portrayals of the urbanized life of the city. He had a taste for the common images that could be perceived as quite familiar or, rather tedious to the contemporary beholder; and yet through his unrelenting talent he managed to transform the simple into the extraordinary without sacrificing the nature of such scenes.
Shinn’s perspective, in regards to his artistic maturity, developed remarkably throughout the years of his life. Along with his vigorous studies and accumulating experience in the field of arts, the opportunity to travel abroad seemed to widen his perception. After his voyage through London and Paris, he became obsessed with portraying theatrical scenes in oil painting. He showed great interest in the music and dance halls of Paris, and was also noted for his portrayals of New York’s vaudeville theaters and their dancers, singers, acrobats and even clowns.
Despite his affection for stage scenery, Shinn did not depict the aristocratic diversions of the theater. He preferred to capture the seemingly “popular entertainment” and the stage of the people. In his painting, The London Hippodrome, the audience occupy most of the canvas; and through the detailed countenance of each attendant, one may derive the theatrical experience in multiple forms, and not only in accordance to that of the painter.
– Cross Streets of New York, 1899
As can be seen in the presented image, the painting features a scene from the middle of a street. Its scope can be perceived as the view from the back of a moving carriage, advancing down the road. A touch of white dominates the spectacle, and the blurry definition of snow brings familiar sensations to its beholder. On either side of the painting can be seen a line of buildings, stretching far to the center of the painting which is not portrayed as exactly central.
A small cluster of striding men is presented on the right-end, clad in heavy black coats and mutual hats. The remnants of a man walking away from the beholder are faced with the image of another man moving in the opposite direction. A couple seems to stagger near the middle of the street, conversing; as a man struggles to get his carriage through the culminating layers of snow. On the left, shady and bleak figures of men seem to lead their own way.
The painting offers a mixture of realist and impressionist elements. The effect of motion that is applied to the upper-left, the exterior of the far buildings and the depiction of the sky represent an impression, but rather a realistic and common one.Whereas the scene captures an ordinary street, the figures of human life hold a dreamy and cinematic nature; one could say that the painting is in motion!
– The Roaring Twenties, 1922
The overall atmosphere of the work represents what the title reveals to be the nature of the painting and era. The Roaring Twenties is known for its remarkable social and political change; along with the rise of consumerism and extravagant lifestyle. People danced to the addictive harmony of Jazz music, drank lots of alcohol and still had extra money to spend. This “mass culture” affected most members of the generation, and also seemed to inspire many artists (Like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby).
Shinn was not an exception. In this painting, we can observe the true essence that shaped the Roaring Twenties. On the left, we can see two women dancing: one is clad in a bright dress with glistering pearls, and the other is dancing in a dark dress with a handkerchief in her hand. The postures of the other women in the painting reflect a careless attitude, and we can notice some faces of men sitting beside them. All the subjects are too indulged in the spree of the moment, to the point we can almost hear the sound of music along with the rhythmic taps of the dancers.
Society of the Eight: The Ashcan School
Do not be deluded by the name of the Eight. The Ashcan School was not an organizational movement, nor did it promote a specific doctrine or a moral message. The society of the Eight was simply seen as an intellectual approach to life through the mastery of colours.
Robert Henri, who is regarded as the godfather of the Ashcan School, viewed the movement as an artistic protest. Along with his fellow artists, they rejected the academic fundementals which were forced upon painting; and they believed they are ought to document the simple details that give form and meaning to their modern life and city.
Henri, along with great names like William Glackens, Everett Shinn, George Luks and John Sloan, ventured to depict the urbanized scent of everyday life. At first, they used to meet in Henri’s studio in Philadelphia. Their gatherings usually revolved around discussions of the arts, culture and readings of their favourite poets. However, their acquaintance would later unravel a mutual perspective on the state of contemporary arts, and their taste in the craft would come to be known as the Ashcan School.
The group believed that contemporary academic paintings and impressionistic approaches to the craft represented a decline in the natural progress of talent. They felt that the academic bureaucracy was preventing artists from exploring new and rich areas through their works. In response to such intellectual shackles, they began to paint what is commonly seen around them; and instantly creating a recognizable vibe for their approach.
The revolutionized view can be seen in most of their paintings, including Shinn’s works. Sloan’s Hairdresser’s Window and Henri’s Salome are also great examples of what the movement urged to depict. Henri would later incorporate three more artists in an independent show called ‘The Eight.’
By Helene Barbara Weinberg, Doreen Bolger, David Park Curry
- Everett Shinn – Artworks
By Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.), Doreen Bolger
- Everett Shinn – Wiki