The Show took place at the Macbeth Gallery in New York in 1908. Henri, Sloan, Luks, Glackens, and Shinn, the original Philadelphia rebels were joined by Maurice Prendergast, Ernest Lawson, and Arthur B. Davies. The group immediately became known in the newspapers as the "Eight Independent Painters," or simply "The Eight." Their Realism won them such derisive titles in the press as "the Revolutionary Black Gang," "The Apostles of Ugliness," and the best known, "Ashcan School" (Brown et al. 362).
The term "Ashcan School" was not actually coined until 1934, by which time the progeny of the first generation of painters had broadened the scope of New York City realist painting. Like their predecessors, many of the younger artists had socialist, if not Marxist, sympathies that were reflected in their art. The group included George Bellows, Edward Hopper, and Reginald Marsh, to name three of the most important. There were, in fact, dozens of painters who were making urban realism the foundation of their art (Craven 432).
In their first and, as it turned out, only exhibition as an organized group, The Eight experienced financial success despite the bad press. For the most part, they were derided by journalists for the usual reasons that commonly brought Realism under attack: its treatment of common everyday themes, or in the words of one reviewer, its "unhealthy nay even coarse and vulgar point of view" (qtd. in Brown et al. 362). The Realists were also chastised for their "poor drawing" and "weak technique" (Brown 362). Another objection was that the art exhibited was "revolutionary." In spite of, or possibl because of, the sniping journalists, the public came in droves. The new mutinous spirit could no longer be either contained or denied. However, this 1908 grouping was never repeated, and organized dissent died with the decay of the Society of American Artists.
Nevertheless, "The Eight" maintained their enthusiasm and began plans for bringing new currents of art to the American Public. "Eventually the 'men of rebellion' expect to have a gallery of their own," The New York Herald reported in 1907, "where they...can show two or three hundred works of art. It is likely, too, that they may ask several English artists to send over their paintings from London to be exhibited with the American group. The whole collection may be shown in turn in several large cities in the United States" (qtd. in Hunter and Jacobus, American 64). This statement anticipated the huge "Exhibition of Independent Artists" organized in 1910 by the original members of the Eight and such followers as Rockwell Kent, George Bellows, and Glenn Coleman. Henri reviewed this exhibition for The Craftsman in 1910, presenting a lengthily, personal statement of his philosophy of art, and included a spirited defense of the artists' freedom to think and to represent those thoughts through their works (Arnason 420). With its courageous precedent of eliminating the academic position of privilege and overcoming restrictive qualifications for entry, the independents' exhibition of 1910 foreshadowed New York's great adventure and discovery of international modern art of a radically different sort at the 69th Regiment Armory in 1913. Overnight, the Armory Show made realism seem conservative and dated. Still, The Eight were the first Americans in the century to revive an insurgent mood, to depict urban ugliness, and to venture into the modern mainstream by breaking hold of the academic past. (continue)
Armory Show Web Site