George Benjamin Luks was born August 13, 1867 in Williamsport, PA. The son of immigrants, his father was a physician/apothecary who served the poor of the northern Pennsylvania coal mining town where they lived. His first art instruction came from his mother, who painted as a hobby. In 1884 he enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts eventually dropping out to pursue studies in Düsseldorf. Upon returning to Philadelphia, in 1894, he took a position as a correspondent artist at the Philadelphia Bulletin. During this period he met and become friends with fellow illustrators John Sloan, William Glackens and Everett Shinn. Together their evenings were spent gathered in the studio of artist and teacher Robert Henri, were they would become known as the “Philadelphia Five.” In 1896, following his friends, he moved to New York City and began working as a cartoonist for New York World and Hogan’s Alley. The rejection of one of Luk’s paintings from the 1907 National Academy of Design’s annual exhibition is believed to be the motivation for the formation of the independent exhibiting group “The Eight,” which consisted of Luks, Henri, Glackens, Sloan and Shinn with the addition of Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson and Maurice Prendergast. Focusing on the realistic portrayal of urban life, often depicting the city’s grimier side, “The Eight” became associated with other artists painting these themes and personalities in what was called the “Ashcan School.” Luks would go on to teach at the Art Students’ League from 1920 until 1924, founding his own school of painting in 1925. He would teach and produce original paintings until his death on October 29, 1933, in a barroom brawl.
There are two Luks paintings in the collection, Portrait of Gene Tunney and Tom. The Portrait of Gene Tunney is the epitome of the gritty side of urban life, Tunney was a working class hero who would be the first heavy weight champion to retire undefeated. Tom shows a child of the urban streets, which often disquiets visitors with its stark and powerful portrayal.