In the opening decade of the new century, the academic domination of the American art world was challenged by a group of young realist painters-- Henri, Luks, Glackens, Sloan, and Shinn. These five were close friends--all Philadelphians, all former students of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and all except Henri ex-newspaper artists, at one time or another with the Philadelphia Press. This journalistic experience, by contrast with conventional art training, had given them a lively feeling for the contemporary world. Their leader was the oldest, Henri, vital, magnetic, a born teacher, filled with enthusiasm for both life and art, and with a gift for opening the eyes of others. Through his informal teaching, and still more by his personal friendship, he exerted a strong influence on his younger fellows. He encouraged them to graduate from newspaper work to painting; he confirmed their preference for the current scene; he introduced them to the great realists of the past, Velázquez, Rembrandt, and Hals, and their modern descendants, Goya, Courbet, Daumier, and Manet. A more immediate ancestor was Eakins, their Philadelphia predecessor in realism, whose viewpoint was handed down to them through his pupil Thomas Anshutz, under whom all five studied at the Pennsylvania Academy.
Rebelling against academic idealism, these young realists turned to the life around them, which meant the life of the city (at first Philadelphia, then New York, where they all settled). They loved the city as the nineteenth-century genre painters had the country. In their paintings, that vital, disorderly modern phenomenon the American city found artistic expression for the first time outside of popular illustration. They liked its night life, theaters, dance halls, saloons, prize fights, its excitement and glamour, its inexhaustible variety of human types and happenings. Preferring character to ideal beauty, they relished low as well as high life, the masses as much as the upper classes, the slums as much as Fifth Avenue ( Luks and Sloan favoring the former, Glackens and Shinn the latter). They painted the urban scene with frankness and humor--a humor that for years had been sadly lack-