Influences: The Ash Can School

John French Sloan Studio

The John French Sloan Studio with the Ash Can artists

The Ash Can School: The Ash Can School (of art) is loosely applied to a group of early 20th c. realist painters who focused on capturing the urban milieu of their day in a way that documented everyday urban life of the period. The “school” began in Philadelphia around1891 with Robert Henri (later to become a well-known art teacher) gathering together several newspaper illustrators, among them: George Luks, John Sloan, William Glackens, and Everett Shinn, the original five, plus Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson and Maurice Prendergast.

The school takes its name from the nitty-grittiness of their subject material. Henri wrote that he wanted art to be akin to journalism. He wanted paint to be as “real as mud, as the clods of horse-shit and snow, that froze on Broadway in the winter.” There subject matter were prostitutes, drunks, overflowing tenements, laundry hanging on lines and fire escapes, butchered pigs, and fights. It was their focus on urban poverty and the daily of urban life that caused the art critics and the art establishment to thumb their noses at them.

There style is loose and spontaneous fitting the spontaneity of the subject matter; very different from the style being taught at the same time in American art schools. Although each artist had his own style, the Ash Can style has been described as “slap-dash with a rapid handling of the paint, leaving behind brushstrokes.” Typically the palette was dark and subdued.

In1908, in response to the National Academy’s rejection of their work, the Ash Can Eight orchestrated an artistic rebellion by going against the status quo of the art establishment and self-organizing the first American art exhibit that was self-selected by a group pf related artists and without jury or prizes. This show became the model for the wildly successful Armory Show of 1913.

The work of the Ash Can School influence many painters, printmakers, and photographers who followed after. Two of the better known influenced painters/printmakers were; Bill Murphy’s lithograph, “Paramount Bar & Grill” being one of the better known examples. and Bill Murphy. There has been some discussion about the influence of Jacob Riis work on the Ash Can School.