Frist Center opens unusual Ashcan Exhibit

When painter 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.

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts will open Life’s Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists’ Brush with Leisure, 1895–1925 Friday, August 3, 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 October 28. 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.”

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.

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 their Web site at

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