oil on board, 16 1⁄2 x 22 5⁄8 inches,
Early in his career William Glackens was attracted to crowds at the seashore. In numerous variations these beach scenes constitute a theme that absorbed him until the end of his life.
Glackens’ first beach scenes are of Coney Island, an easy train ride from his home and studio in New York City. In 1911 in Bellport, Long Island, the artist began to explore the subject in depth. He spent the succeeding five summers there and from 1918 to 1919 and 1936 on the New England coast. This body of work is acknowledged to be among his most distinctive achievements.
In 1919 the Glackens family spent the summer at Eastern Point in Gloucester, Massachusetts and it is here that Bathers was painted.
The vibrant animation of Glackens’ figures, caught in informal poses, is carried over directly from his drawings. We know the mother combing her daughter’s wet hair; it might be our friends chatting under the umbrella near the water. Their movements, walking, swimming, stretching, are specific gestures. The figures are rapidly yet surely painted, firmly fixed in space. Their graceful contours give rhythm to the painting and are strengthened by the structural elements of the composition. The curves of the shore are echoed in the curves of the umbrellas, and the curved lines in the patterned fabric of the seated figure in the foreground. These devices help move the viewer’s eye across the scene. This is further developed by Glackens’ sophisticated use of color: the dark blue bathing garments, acknowledging his interest in the cool palette of Manet, root the foreground and then carefully accent the mid-ground to define further the spatial composition. Glackens’ personal feeling for color and light has now becomes a fusion of the Impressionism he knew by the example of his fellow Americans, Ernest Lawson and Maurice Prendergast, and the Fauvism which he had seen in Paris in the work of both Alfred Maurer and Henri Matisse. Broad brush strokes in the foreground become the smoother yet bold shapes and warmer tones of the rocks and, finally, the thinly brushed, soft hues of the sky.
William Glackens contributes his own sense of shapes and crisp sparkle to Bathers. He focuses on the essential immediacy of his subject, its incidental details, and its humanity, with a sophisticated gentleness and joyousness. The viewer truly feels a part of the moment.
As Albert C. Barnes commented on these beach scenes, “He shows with detachment the essential picturesqueness and humanity of the events represented, and his only comment upon life is that it is pleasant to live in a beautiful world.”1
1Albert C. Barnes, The Art in Painting, (Merion, Pa.: The Barnes Foundation Press, 1925), p. 297.