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Under the Trees, Luxembourg Gardens

On view

Under the Trees, Luxembourg Gardens

Artist: William Glackens (American, 1870 - 1938)

Date: 1906
Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall: 19 1/2 x 24 1/4in. (49.5 x 61.6cm)
Framed: 27 1/2 x 31 1/4 x 2in. (69.9 x 79.4 x 5.1cm)
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 50.15
Text Entries

During the Summer of 1906 William Glackens spent three months in France, mainly in Paris, which he had not visited since his eighteen months’ stay there in 1895-96. Ira Glackens has described the trip, which was preceded by a visit in Madrid, in his book William Glackens and The Eight.(1) He sums up his father’s feelings toward things French as follows:

Paris was always my father’s favorite city, and France his spiritual home. Everything suited him there, the food, the wine, the people in the streets and public gardens, whom he loved to sketch; the look of restaurants, shops, and cafes; the color of the houses, the signs, the trees, the rivers, the fishermen, the villages, the flow of life. No other country seemed so to invite his pencil and his brush.(2)

Glackens returned to New York in the fall having completed about a half-dozen French canvases, one of which is Under the Trees, Luxembourg Gardens.(3) We have abundant evidence of the artist’s style at this time because it was an exceptionally productive phase in his creative development. Although Glackens was still deeply engaged in illustration commissions, he was most anxious to devote as much time as possible to painting. Less than a year before, his Chez Mouquin (Art Institute of Chicago) had received an Honorable Mention at the Carnegie International Exhibition.(4)

The organization of Under the Trees, Luxembourg Gar-dens consists of a dramatic black tree trunk in the center which, from top to bottom, divides the canvas into two roughly equal zones. Smaller trees are placed on either side and create, by subtly receding into space, an asymmetrical compositional balance. Against this dense verdant screen-like setting, further interspersed with slender willowy tree trunks and branches embedded in the green foliage, is arrayed a band of figures in the foreground. Both seated and standing, these typical Glackens characters are intently engaged in various forms of activity—sewing, talking, and playing—while subsidiary motifs of chairs, both wooden and iron, are placed at angles to the picture plane.(5)

The composition derives fundamentally from Manet’s Music in the Tuileries of 1862 (National Gallery, London), a painting probably known to Glackens firsthand when it was exhibited at Durand-Ruel’s New York gallery in 1895.(6) The Utica picture adopts the same informal vignette-like glimpse of everyday activity, caught the way in which an experienced illustrator such as Glackens was most adept.

The paint handling is spontaneous, gently rugged, and summary rather than highly polished. On the whole, the composition is less formal and premeditated than either In the Buen Retiro (private collection), or the Corcoran version of the Utica canvas.(7) Notes of color include the standing uniformed figure of a soldier With red trousers, hat, and epaulette—an eyecatching motif also favored by Glackens’s close friend Maurice Prendergast—as well as white dresses, and various shapes and colors of hats. These are enlivened by an occasional touch of blue, beige, pink, or red, all enveloped by the dominant surrounding foil of the green-black park setting.

Glackens expresses vivacity and mastery of gesture, depersonalizing the individual figures by showing most of them from the back or in three-quarter or profile vantage points. Thus he focuses upon the animation of the overall scene rather than particularizing the individual roles of his cast of characters.

Under the Trees, Luxembourg Gardens is a representative example of Glackens’s best work of the period. It also exemplifies the approach of the American realist painters, who comprised most of the group subsequently known as The Eight.


1. Reprinted from William Glackens and the Eight: The Artists Who Freed American Art by Ira Glackens, published by Horizon Press, New York. copyright 1983, pp. 67-72.

2. Ibid., pp. 69-70.

3. The others are Luxembourg Gardens (Corcoran Gallery of Art), Luxembourg Gardens Wichita Art Museum), Flying Kites, Montmartre (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), Cafe de la Paix (private collection), Chateau-Thierry (Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, California), and Beach at Dieppe (Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania). The Huntington Library also has a small oil sketch (pochade) for the painting of Chateau-Thienry. In addition, Glackens made at least four drypoint etchings, all in editions of three or less, which are related to this series of paintings. One of these. The Luxembourg Gardens, an etching with color, signed in the plate “W. Glackens 06 Paris" (Philadelphia Museum of Art), closely resembles the motifs in the Wichita canvas. This print is reproduced in “Recent Art Books,” Arts and Decoration, vol. 6 May 1916), p. 349 and in Forbes Watson, William Glackens (New York: The Arts Monographs Duffield and Company, 1923), plate 3.

4. The jury for this exhibition included Thomas Eakins and Robert Henri.

5. There exists a preliminary sketch of the composition, done on the spot in Paris, and differing only in detail from the finished painting. This drawing is reproduced with the title In the Bois, from an unidentified source, in the clipping scrapbook of the Mallet Library of Art Reproductions on deposit in the library of the National Museum of American Art/National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

6. Francoise Cachin, Charles S. Moffett, and Michel Melot, Manet:  1832-1885, exhibition catalog (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983). pp. 122-26, 537.

7. In the Bueno Retiro, painted in Madrid was the only canvas from the 1906 trip that was included in the exhibition at the Macbeth Gallery in February 1908 (no. 57 “Bues [sic] Retiro, Madrid”). See also Richard J . Wattenmaker, “William Glackens’s Beach Scenes at Bellport, “Smithsonian Studies in American Art, vol. 2, no. 2 (Spring 1988), pp. 75, 86 and n. 23.


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