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The Ashcan School
The Ashcan school of art evolved during the early years of the twentieth century in New York City. The core of the movement was formed by "the Eight"-Robert Henri, Arthur B. Davies, Maurice Prendergast, Ernest Lawson, William Glackens, Everett Shinn, John Sloan, and George Luks-a diverse group of painters opposed to academism who exhibited together in 1908. Another central figure, George Bellows, joined the movement later. Their rebellion against academic art led several to play key roles in organizing the iconoclastic Armory show (1913) and in founding the Society of Independent Artists (1917).
Conservative in style, the Ashcan paintings were revolutionary in content. Departing from the staid portraiture and genteel landscapes of the nineteenth century, the artists focused on urban scenes, particularly those exposing the shabbier aspects of city life. Their intent, however, was not muckraking social commentary but the portrayal of urban vitality. Four of the original members had begun their careers as newspaper illustrators, and their paintings exhibited the gritty realism, informality, and rapid execution of visual reportage. With such unprepossessing titles as The Wrestlers, The Shoppers, and Hairdressers' Window, Sixth Avenue, their paintings captured spontaneous moments in everyday events.
Also known as the New York Realists, they were reviled by critics as the "revolutionary black gang" and the "apostles of ugliness." The other, originally pejorative label-Ashcan school-became the standard term for this first important American art movement of the twentieth century.