William Glackens: Citizen journalist

This week, visitors to the NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale should notice a familiar realism painter's works adorning the first-floor walls: William Glackens, one of the earliest practitioners of American modern art.

The museum is hosting the first major retrospective of the painter's works in 46 years, titled "William Glackens" and featuring 85 paintings and paper sketches drawn from its permanent collection and on loan from other museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

While the museum already fills its upstairs Glackens Wing with the painter's elegant originals — it owns about 500 such works — this survey marks the first time so many of the Philadelphia-born artist's paintings have appeared in a museum at once.

"It's long overdue. The artist deserves a fresh look," says Avis Berman, a Glackens expert and the show's independent curator, who will lecture about the painter at 2 p.m. Sunday. "A lot of these haven't been seen in public for 50 years, and that is this show's strength."


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Glackens, who died in 1938, is credited with delivering an early, American-led wave of modern art, rooted in the European influence of Edouard Manet, Paul Cezanne and Henri Matisse. His works from the early 1900s include dark-hued paintings of vaudeville scenes such as "Hammerstein's Roof Garden" and portraits of his bemused-looking wife, the painter Edith Dimock. He captured the crowded, working-class urban realism of New York's Greenwich Village, where he lived, but also color-saturated summer seashore scenes at Ellis Island and at Bellport in Long Island.

Glackens began his career illustrating for newspapers and magazines, sketching scenes from memory, including the charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War for McClure's magazine. Photojournalism was still "unreliable" in the 1890s, Berman says, but his faithful memory proved useful years later for diagramming more complex landscapes, especially "Christmas Shoppers, Madison Square," a 1912 watercolor showing an intersection clogged with Ford Model Ts, men toting sandwich boards, a street-corner Santa and, at the bottom center, a man picking the pocket of a posh-looking shopper.

"There are so many tiny vignettes here," Berman says. "This is a composite of many days of visiting the square, being an eyewitness to the commercialism. He had such an incredible visual memory."

"William Glackens" will run Sunday until June 1 at the NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd. Admission costs $5 to $10, and includes Berman's art talk. Call 954-525-5500 or go to MOAFL.org.

pvalys@sun-sentinel.com or Twitter @philvalys