Biography

(1876-1953)

A member of The Eight, a group of painters known for their realistic portrayal of American urban life, Everett Shinn distinguished himself from the other members of this circle in his concern not only with seamier side of city life but also with the joyful, glittering, glamorous aspects of leisure and entertainment. The Eight included George Luks, John Sloan, and William Glackens, who were lead by the somewhat older Robert Henri. Starting their careers as illustrators and artist-reporters for the popular press, and working with Henri's guidance, these so-called Ashcan artists chronicled the congestion, spectacle, and excitement of turn-of-the-century New York with a particular attention to the development of modern mass culture.

One of the greatest pastel artists of the twentieth century, Shinn was also a successful muralist, theatrical scene designer, and portraitist, as well as an illustrator. Born on November 6, 1876 in Woodstown, New Jersey, Shinn was an inveterate tinkerer as a boy, drawing, designing and playing with things mechanical.  He attended Quaker schools at first, but at the age of fourteen went to study engineering and industrial design at the Spring Garden Institute in Philadelphia.  After two years, he left the school and went to work for Thackeray's Gas Fixtures Works, also in Philadelphia, where he found sketching scenes outside the window more appealing than drafting the chandelier designs.  Between 1893 and 1897, he was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  About the same time he was hired as an artist-reporter for the Philadelphia Press.  Through the Academy and the Philadelphia newspaper world (Shinn would also work for the Inquirer and the Ledger) he forged friendships with Luks, Sloan, Glackens, and Henri all of whom would be members of “The Eight” group.

Shinn moved to New York City in 1897 and quickly found employment as an illustrator for the newspaper The World.  He was employed work by Harper's Weekly and, in 1906, illustrated Charles Paul de Kock's book Frédérique. He sketched his vibrant, new environment in watercolor and pastel and was given a solo exhibition of his pastel work at the Pennsylvania Academy in Philadelphia.  The art critic Sadakichi Hartmann, writing in 1901, observed that Shinn worked from memory, rather than from models, sketches, or photographs.  Shinn's “memory sketches” as Hartmann called them, were rapidly executed and full of vitality, freshness, and movement.  Whether depicting the stately facades of the houses around Washington Square, near the artist's Greenwich Village home, or a rag picker in a dingy Paris courtyard, Shinn masterfully suggested with quick lines of the crayon or brush the energy and atmosphere of his subject.

 

In New York, Shinn was a friend to decorator Elsie de Wolf and architect Stanford White, and he designed and executed murals for the homes of their clients.  He created eighteen mural panels for David Belasco's theater that opened in 1908 and murals for the Council Room, City Hall, Trenton, New Jersey (1911).  Shinn is most famous for his murals in the Oak Room of New York's Plaza Hotel (1940s).

Throughout his career Shinn was fascinated by the theater and the act of performance, which he made the subject of many of his works.  He also wrote, directed, and performed in three plays and, after 1905, the theater became one of his favorite subjects to paint or draw. From various vantage points, he depicted stagehands backstage, comedians before the footlights, and musicians in the pit.  Between 1917 and 1923, Shinn worked as an art director for Sam Goldwyn at Goldwyn Pictures, Inspiration Pictures, and William Randolph Hearst at Cosmopolitan Pictures. The circus also appealed to Shinn.  One of his most famous paintings, London Hippodrome (1902) is in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Throughout his career Shinn exhibited regularly at galleries and museums such as Boussod-Valadon, the St. Louis Art Museum, M. Knoedler & Co., Durand-Ruel, and at E. Gimpel and Wildenstein.  In addition, he participated in the group show of “The Eight” at Macbeth Gallery in 1908, the Exhibition of Independent Artists in 1911, and was invited to send works to the International Exhibition of Modern Art, better known as the Armory Show, in 1913, but for some reason declined. In 1949, Shinn was made an Academician of the National Academy of Design.  His work was often included in the annual, juried exhibitions of the National Academy of Design, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Art Institute of Chicago, where Shinn's pastel Early Morning, Paris earned a prize in 1939. In 1951, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the following year James Graham & Sons began representing him.

Shinn died on May 1, 1953. His paintings and drawings may be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Delaware Art Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, New York among others.

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