George Benjamin Luks, American urban realist painter and draftsman, is chiefly
remembered as a member of the group of artists known as The Eight and for his
association with the Ashcan School. He was born August 13, 1866 or 1867, in
Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to German emigrant parents, physician Emil Carl Luks
Bertha von Kraemer Luks.
Luks’ parents encouraged his early artistic talent; after high school in Shenandoah
he was sent to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. In 1885,
he left for Europe where he enrolled at the Staatliche Kunstakademie
Düsseldorf. During the next several years Luks traveled throughout Western
Europe, visiting the museums and studying the old masters; extended time was spent
in Paris and London before returning to the United States in early 1894. He took
job with the Philadelphia Press as an
artist-reporter, producing finished drawings from his quick sketches at the scenes
of murders, trials, fires, train wrecks, and other sensational events. His roommate
at this time was another Philadelphia Press artist,
Everett Shinn. Through Shinn, Luks became acquainted with artists John Sloan,
Henri, and William Glackens.
In June 1895, Luks was sent by the Philadelphia Evening
Bulletin to Cuba to report on the Spanish-American War. After being
fired the following March for not filing his reports on time, Luks moved to New
and immediately found work with Joseph Pulitzer’s New York
World. Later that year he got the job of drawing the Hogan’s Alley comic strip with its Yellow Kid character
for the New York World after its creator Richard
Outcault was hired away by William Randolph Hearst’s New York
In 1897, Luks got William Glackens a job drawing cartoons for the New York World, and the two began sharing an apartment.
Glackens, who had just returned from a two-year voyage to France where he decided
become a painter, persuaded Luks to paint oil sketches of city life.
Luks soon became a prolific painter, but his depictions of urban scenes and society’s
outcasts in a style that some of his contemporaries considered to be slapdash
often rejected by exhibition juries. After the National Academy of Design refused
exhibit paintings by Luks, Shinn, and Glackens in its 1907 spring show, one of
jurors, Robert Henri, resigned from his position and met with Sloan and Glackens
discuss putting on their own group show. In February 1908, the Macbeth Galleries
New York put on an exhibition of paintings by eight artists; the five from
Philadelphia–Glackens, Henri, Luks, Shinn, and Sloan–were joined by Arthur B.
Davies, Ernest Lawson, and Maurice Prendergast. The exhibition received substantial
newspaper coverage; the Sun referred to the group as
The Eight and other critics and reporters quickly followed. The show was an
important challenge of traditional art in America.
Luks also exhibited in the famous 1913 Armory Show, but the cubist works in the show
had no influence on Luks’ own artistic style; he continued painting the way he
to paint years before.
In 1920, Luks began teaching at the Art Students League in New York. It was at this
time that Elizabeth Olds won a scholarship to study at the League. Olds’ abilities
and temperament, as well as her interest in people and portraiture, impressed
She became his favorite student and often accompanied him on trips to the Bronx
the lower East Side to sketch the people. Olds remained in New York for about
years after her scholarship expired to work as Luks’ assistant. When in 1925 Luks
left the Art Students League, Olds found him an atelier on East 22nd Street and
helped him set up the studio for his own art school.
Luks was married three times, though he had no children. He died October 29, 1933,
the doorway of a New York bar.