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Travelers

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Travelers

Artist: George B. Luks (American, 1867 - 1933)

Date: c. 1915
Medium: Black crayon on translucent wove paper
Dimensions:
Overall: 8 3/16 x 11in. (20.8 x 27.9cm)
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 58.183
Text Entries

Luks and Edward Root enjoyed a warm friendship, and the MWPI owns much Luks material that once belonged to Root. Included are dozens of drawings and sketches, many of which are on scraps or folded sheets of paper (the better to fit in the roving Luks’s pocket, one may assume). Like Jerome Myers, Luks frequented “colorful” East Side locations in New York, where he sketched endlessly. Luks believed that a vital art was a current one; he stated, “People should be interested in the art of their time instead of looking at pictures of Minerva manicuring her nails.”(1)

Luks’s drawing style can be characterized as aggressive and confident. Trained as an artist-reporter, he had a facility for capturing a fleeting expression or gesture with a few simple strokes of the crayon.(2) Even in his quickest, most cursory sketches Luks was capable of sensitivity; he could define a figure with selected patches of shading that left much of the paper untouched. However, during his newspaper career, Luks authored one of two competing “Yellow Kid” comic strips. He frequently allowed this broader, satirical style to permeate his drawings, and there is a whiff of it in the MWPI work.(3)

In the MWPI drawing, although Luks restrained his inclination for racial stereotyping, he emphasized salient characteristics, particularly in dress, associated with national types. At left in the drawing two men sit on steamer trunks. Outfitted with spats, vests, handkerchiefs, high collars, and canes, they have a natty appearence. Both men also smoke pipes. They may be identified as British by the “London” sticker on their baggage. These two burly characters overwhelm the others in the composition. In the background there is a loosely sketched couple, but Luks’s eye caught telling details; the man on the left sports a plaid coat and mutton—chop whiskers. In the foreground at far right two thin women wearing large hats stand and read from books, as if they were proselytizing. There is a simple duffle bag at their feet. Central to the group of figures is a man seated next to the British blokes. He wears a black cap, a coat with a large white collar, white pants, and soft boots. A child in similar attire stands to the right. This central figure, who eyes the British types quizzically, is probably Luks’s idea of a Chinese man. That Luks was able to condense so much information into the drawing with a minimal amount of marks on the paper attests to his agility.(4)

MEM

1. New York Tribune, February 16, 1923.

2. For information on the tenures of Luks and other members of The Eight at Philadelphia and New York daily newspapers, see Everett Shinn, “Artists of the Philadelphia Press,” Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin XLI (November 1945); Bennard Perlman, The Immortal Eight (New York: Exposition Press, 1962), 76—82, 87—90; William Innes Homer, Robert Henri and His Circle (Ithaca, N.Y., London: Cornell University Press, 1969), 81; and Perlman, “Drawing on Deadline," Art and Antiques, October 1988, 115—20.

3. The MWPI holdings include an 1897 New York World cartoon, “Hogans Alley Folk at the Aquarium," in which the gang wreaks havoc in the aquarium; the caricatures of the three African-American figures in the crowd are outrageously offensive. Another group of blue crayon sketches from the MWPI collection depicts women Luks observed at a DAR convention at the Willard Hotel. Luks reduced them to stereotypes—the fat woman, the skinny woman, and the “Grand Dame.”

4. Although it is sketchy, Travelers is larger and more complete than many of the other Luks drawings in the MWPI collection. The MWPI also owns several Luks watercolors, however, that are rendered with a high degree of finish.

 

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