The Ashcan School

George Wesley Bellows; Cliff Dwellers 

George Wesley Bellows; Cliff Dwellers 

The Ashcan school of art concentrated on portraying New York's vitality and recording its seamy side, keeping a keen eye on current events and their era's social and political rhetoric. Stylistically, they depended upon the dark palette and gestural brushwork Diego Velazquez, Frans Hals, Francisco De Goya, Honoré Daumier, and recent Realists such as Wilhelm Leibl,  and Edgar Degas. They preferred broad, calligraphic forms, which they could render "on the run" or from memory, thereby enlisting skills that most of them had cultivated as newspaper illustrators. Although the Ashcan artists advocated immersion in modern actualities, they were neither social critics nor reformers and they did not paint radical propaganda. While they identified with the vitality of the lower classes and resolved to register the dismal aspects of urban existence they themselves led pleasant middle-class lives, enjoying New York's restaurants and bars, its theater and vaudeville, and its popular nearby resorts such as Coney Island. Because they avoided civil unease, class tensions, and the grit of the streets, their works are never as direct or disturbing as those of their European counterparts or of the reformist images of American Photographers such as Jacob Riis.