George Luks, Madison Square, 1915
32 x 44 in.
George Benjamin Luks (1867-1933) was an American painter and illustrator. He is best known for his urban street scenes, which are considered seminal to the Ashcan School, a movement that depicted the gritty reality of urban life. Luks grew up around the coal fields of Pennsylvania, where he became acquainted with poverty and the working class as he observed his parents helping the miners' families. Luks attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts before traveling to Europe to continue his studies. Having learned from both the Old Masters and contemporary painters, Luks returned to the United States and found work in New York as an illustrator for Joseph Pulitzer's New York World. He became a member of the New York art scene and was encouraged to spend more time on painting. He soon developed into a powerful painter and an important member of the growing Ashcan movement. Madison Square is very different from much of Luks's work. It is not strongly realist and does not have a strong (apparent) political message. Instead this is an urban scene where the city is shown with a kind of wonder. The hazy night view, that seems to be clouded by rain, captures a stunning vision of Madison Square. The colors are intense yet gentle, and the brushwork perfectly conveys the blur of the night. We can make out cars and buildings, but the feeling of this piece penetrates far past its individual elements. It is a work of great artistry that communicates something indescribable and magnificent about New York at night. Despite the cold rain, there is great warmth here. Although it may not show the plight of the urban poor that Luks was so committed to, Madison Square upholds his mission to portray the truth of the city.