“The Eight” was a group of American artists devoted to depicting urban realism in each of their own unique styles. They were considered to be rebellious pioneers of modern American art. The Eight exhibited only once together in 1908 where they took it upon themselves to organize the exhibition rather than to go through the National Academy.
Robert Henri (1865-1929) was the leader of the group. He met and befriended the “Philadelphia Four,” a group of newspaper illustrators (William Glakens, George Luks, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan) and encouraged them to become painters. The five of them eventually moved to New York City and also came to be associated with the Ashcan School. Henri soon became angered by the Academy for shunning his friends and decided to organize his own exhibition along with them as the “Philadelphia Four,” including Ernest Lawson, Arthur B. Davies, and Maurice B. Prendergast. The news awarded them the name “The Eight” in their headlines. Henri commented on the name to John E.D. Trask:
The name ‘The Eight’ is not of our making nor do we desire that or any other name. We are not a society and are not organized for any other purpose nor for a longer time than the duration of this exhibition … We have made no plans for continuation as a body. If it should happen that the same men reunite for an exhibition in the future it must be entirely a new affair. There has therefore never been an organization of a society called ‘The Eight.’ Nor has there been any idea of opposition to any other body or institution.
Their work often depicted street scenes of the poor and common sections of New York City, a subject clearly not glamorous enough for the Academy. Paintings that exemplify the movement include Sloan’s Main Street, Gloucester, Henri’s Snow in New York, and Shinn’s The Fifth Avenue Bus, 23rd Street and Broadway. The Eight have had an undeniable influence in later artists such as George Bellows, Reginald Marsh, and Richard Estes. Their art allows viewers to imagine life in New York City at the beginning of the 20th century.
Do you know of any other contemporary American artists that depict urban realism in their art?
“The Eight” depicted urban scenes; can a connection to their work be made with art depicted in urban scenes (i.e. street art)? Do you think these two movements are related in that they both reject having their art be “judged” to be displayed in a museum or galley, whether it be by the Academy or by the panel of an institution? Check out www.woostercollective.com to make comparisons to the most recent street art.
In recent years, many museums have held exhibitions in honor of The Eight. Come to the New Britain Museum of American Art and view our own collection of The Eight on view on the second floor.