Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Life on the Press

Life on the Press: The Popular Art and Illustrations of George Benjamin Luks

Robert L. Gambone
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 240
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Life on the Press
    Book Description:

    George Benjamin Luks (1867-1933) is renowned for the oil paintings, watercolors, and pastel drawings he created as an acclaimed member of the artists' collective known as the Ashcan School. His professional development came, however, from his apprenticeship as a newspaper and magazine artist. Luks spent his early career drawing cartoons, spot illustrations, political caricatures, and comic strips for theNew York Worldand other papers. These early portraits and stories of street urchins, peddlers, shopkeepers, and other ordinary New Yorkers would all be revisited in his later painting. He achieved fame when he took over drawingHogan's Alleyfor Joseph Pulitzer'sNew York Worldafter the strip's originator Richard F. Outcault defected to William Randolph Hearst'sNew York Journal.

    Life on the Press: The Popular Art and Illustrations of George Benjamin Luksexplores the roots of the artist's career drawing turn-of-the-twentieth-century New York City. The city's vital popular press served as a crucible in which a number of American artists honed their talents and learned how to communicate ideas to a broad popular audience.

    The resultant work, both popular and controversial, challenged notions of good art and proper subject matter. Robert L. Gambone's study brings Luks's early work to light and reveals the funny, often edgy, and sometimes prejudicial creations that formed the base upon which Luks built his later career.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-479-9
    Subjects: Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Chapter One A Luks Biography The Context of His Graphic Art
    (pp. 3-46)

    On February 3, 1908, at the Macbeth Gallery in New York City, eight artists rebelled against the National Academy of Design, whose conservative juries, monopoly control over the most prestigious exhibition venue in the city, and pictorial bias favoring landscapes, portraits, or historical themes they deemed intolerable. Not all were radicals. Their unofficial leader, Robert Henri (1865–1929), achieved recognition with the purchase of his work by the French state and subsequent election into the Academy, where he regularly exhibited and served as juror. Collectively, these mavericks firmly believed in the right of artists to choose their subjects, to exhibit...

  5. Chapter Two An Illustrator Comes of Age
    (pp. 47-85)

    On May 27, 1891,Puckpublished its first cartoon by George Luks. Though freelancing his drawing to Joseph Keppler’s magazine at the standard rate of five dollars a cartoon, Luks well may have hoped this initial achievement would induce Keppler to offer regular employment in the manner of Frederick Burr Opper and that such work would eventually lead to an assignment to draw color lithographs, three of which Keppler featured in every magazine issue and a prime reason why his journal soon outstrippedHarper’sin popularity. Luks also may have hoped his German background and training at Düsseldorf would have...

  6. Chapter Three Life on the Press Philadelphia Evening Bulletin and New York World
    (pp. 86-129)

    At the close of 1883 Luks determined to seek out alternatives to magazine work. By January 1894 he secured a position on thePhiladelphia Press, rooming with Everett Shinn, an odd arrangement. Nearly every day the debonair, abstemious Shinn intervened to rescue the squat, pudgy, bibulous Luks from O’Malley’s bar, a drama made comic by Luks’s insistence upon wearing a striped plaid coat, cream-colored corduroy vest, flowing black tie, and jaunty bowler hat (Perlman,Immortal Eight, 54, 57). In the 1890s most American newspapers contained drawings, though at first these were merely line pictures traced over photographs, the photo image...

  7. Chapter Four The Gilded Age from the Other Side of the Tracks Hogan’s Alley
    (pp. 130-176)

    When Luks began his stint at Joseph Pulitzer’sNew York World, he could scarcely imagine that five and a half months later he would illustrate the paper’s most popular comic strip,Hogan’s Alley, interpreting its impishly loveable character, Mickey Dugan, a barefoot street urchin with bald head, large ears, and buck teeth, perpetually clad in a yellow nightshirt. Richard Felton Outcault’s character debuted in Pulitzer’s newspaper on February 17, 1895. At first Dugan assumed a secondary role in eleven small black-and-white cartoons appearing irregularly between February 17, 1895, and March 15, 1896. On that latter date, and continuing until Outcault...

  8. Chapter Five Politics and Sarcasm Sandburrs and the Verdict
    (pp. 177-211)

    By December 1898 George Luks began to tire of newspaper work. AlthoughHogan’s Alleyfreed him from cranking out pictures to accompany sensationalized press articles, drawing the strip also constrained Luks to repeat the character originated by Richard Felton Outcault, limiting the freedom to explore his own artistic style. No doubt Luks’s turn to oil painting in works likeThe AmateursandLondon Cabbyfurther whetted his appetite for exploring alternative modes of expression. For a brief period in 1898 he found an outlet illustrating Alfred Henry Lewis’s bookSandburrs, a compilation of short stories first published in that year.¹...

  9. Chapter Six Into the Roaring Twenties Vanity Fair and New Yorker
    (pp. 212-246)

    While at theVerdict, George Luks freelanced drawings toBroadway Magazine, a popular journal laced with images of leggy chorines along with more staid reviews of dramas and interviews with leading stars.¹ Luks only contributed three drawings between March 1899 and March 1900. Nevertheless, each highlights a unique aspect of his talent, giving evidence of his abilities and wide-ranging interests.

    The most interesting of these is the first,Night Scene in Herald Square, Broadway and Thirty-fourth Street (Broadway Magazine, March 1899, 867; fig. 6-1), depicting a nocturnal image of horse-drawn Hansom cabs against a backdrop of elevated train tracks. Glowing...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 247-256)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 257-266)
  12. Index
    (pp. 267-284)