Louis M. Glackens: Pure Imagination

April 14, 2024 through March 30, 2025

Louis Glackens, Hurry up Girls - Here comes the customers, n.d. Pencil, pen and ink on paper, NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, William Glackens Collection, 92.132

“Full of humor and imagination, they flowed from his [Louis Glackens] pencil like water from a tap. Like Shakespeare he never blotted a line.” -Ira Glackens

Until now, the life and work of artist Louis M. Glackens (b.1866, Philadelphia, PA, d. 1933, Jersey City, NJ) has been relegated to an aside within the narrative of his younger brother, Ashcan School artist William J. Glackens. While both brothers “drew in the cradle” – a compulsion that stayed with them throughout their lives – it seems that Louis Glackens had the misfortune of being “born too soon”.

Louis Glackens was a trailblazing figure who became one of the first illustrators of animated cartoons from 1915-1920, creating characters for production houses such as Baré, Pathe and Sullivan Studios. His fantastical depictions of mermaids, anthropomorphic beasts and pie-faced grown-ups carved a path for what would become the wonderful world of Walt Disney. Regrettably, Louis Glackens was out of step with the fashion of his time and bared the curse of the avant-garde. As such, his vast contribution to the history of cartoons has remained largely unexplored. This exhibition seizes the opportunity to reevaluate Louis Glackens’ cultural contributions through the gift of hindsight and wealth of illustrations generously gifted to the Museum by The Sansom Foundation, Inc.

Like his brother William, Louis Glackens had a discerning eye through which he observed the human condition. However, while his brother was rooted in the realism of the Ashcan School, Louis Glackens chose to deliver his take on reality through a more fable-like world, in which the absurdity of life was captured through an economy of line and an abundance of wit.

For 20 years, Louis Glackens served as a staff artist for the satirical weekly Puck, the first widely disseminated humor magazine in the United States. The artist was prolific in creating his satirical scenes, doused in acerbic wit, combining his childlike fantasies with a hearty dose of jaded cynicism.

Louis M. Glackens, The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la!, Puck magazine cover, April 24, 1912, published by Keppler & Schwarzmann.

A Puck magazine cover from April 1912 is illustrative of this attitude. Set within a quaint, pastoral scene is a little cottage with a charming front yard, tended to by a matronly woman wearing a striped frilly dress and sunbonnet. Upon closer inspection, it appears that the woman has a hook mustache and looks an awful lot like the 27th President William Howard Taft. The President is wielding a watering can, emblazoned with the word “PATRONAGE”, which he pours over a bed of flowers, blossoming with the heads of gentlemen in top hats. This rare breed of flower is called, “DELEGATES: HARDY QUADRENNIAL”. Below the cartoon is a caption reading, “THE FLOWERS THAT BLOOM IN SPRING, TRA-LA!”, a satirical nod to Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta, The Mikado (1885). Glackens’ commentary on Taft’s ill-fated run for re-election and his quid-pro-quo exchange with future President Harding and his cronies reads like a New Yorker cartoon of now. The image is rendered with the masterly draughtsmanship that Louis and William both inherited “from an untraceable source”, according to William’s son, Ira Glackens. Their distinct ability to conjure a scene brimming with vitality unites this unlikely pair, complicating the narrative of what constituted realism and social critique in the Progressive Era.

Over 100 years after the folding of Puck magazine in 1918 – and the consequent diminishing of Louis Glackens’ career – we may come to appreciate the artist’s uncanny ability to convey the sentiments of his time with the brevity and grace of a great comic artist.

This exhibition was curated by NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale’s Bryant-Taylor Curator, Ariella Wolens.