Oil on canvas
20 1/8 x 16 1/8 in.
Wichita Art Museum, Roland P. Murdock Collection
Currently on Display
About the Artwork
George Luks was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania in 1867. From 1885 to 1895 he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Dusseldorf Academy, and painted in London and Paris. Most meaningful, however, for the development of his artistic style and vision was his first-hand exposure, while in Europe, to the work of Frans Hals and Francisco Goya. On returning to the United States, Luks began a career as a newspaper illustrator and cartoonist, first in Philadelphia and then in New York from 1896 on. This experience fostered Luks’s talent for seizing instantaneously upon the essentials of a subject and recording them in a direct and accurate manner. In 1908 Luks exhibited at the Macbeth Gallery as a member of “The Eight,” out of which later emerged the larger Ashcan School under the leadership of Robert Henri. The Ashcan School artists stood in opposition to the conservative attitudes and values of the genteel art establishment and devoted themselves to the depiction of working-class subjects in urban environments.
Inspired by Hals, Luks often returned to scenes of youth and childhood, choosing for his subjects local children from his working-class neighborhood. In characteristic fashion, he pictures Mike McTeague against a dark and simply handled background, which serves to direct attention to the boy’s brightly lit face. While Luks usually portrayed conventional types such as the laughing child, Mike McTeague is recorded in a sullen pout—an unexpected mood for an artist to capture in a portrait of a child, but an entirely natural one, nonetheless.
Also surprising is the pictures intense palette. The strong hues and subtle variation of the orange and yellow pigments are enhanced by the deep claret tones in the background. Luks’s use of vigorous color reflects the lessons of his teacher and friend Robert Henri. The jaunty orange smock and hat worn by Mike McTeague provide a strong contrast to his serious demeanor. Ultimately, the energetic brushwork and vivid palette serve to communicate the vitality and spirit of the sitter underneath the pouting exterior.