George Luks, American, 1867 - 1933
Medium: Oil on canvas
Painting: 43 5/8 x 38 7/8 in. (110.8 x 98.7 cm)
Frame: 52 3/4 x 48 1/4 in. (134 x 122.6 cm)
Credit Line: Memphis Park Commission purchase
Object Number: 54.2
George Luks was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and briefly attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts before traveling extensively through Europe in the early 1890s. When he returned to the United States, he joined the Philadelphia Press as an illustrator and met other newspaper artists, including Everett Shinn and Robert Henri. It was Luks’ experience in journalism that taught him how to render his subjects quickly and accurately. As a member of the Ashcan school, a group of artists who rendered the everyday experiences of urban life, first in Philadelphia and later in New York City, Luks concentrated on the more humble aspects of the city around him, primarily painting the poor and working class.
A familiar figure familiar in Luks’ body of work was the fortune-teller. This portrait depicts an elderly woman against a simple background; the subdued colors, which evoke urban grime, probably derive from Dutch and Spanish Baroque precedents. Also like Baroque masters, Luks treated his humble subject with sympathy and respect, as indicated by the large size of the canvas. Through dramatic color contrast, Luks creates two focal points: her coarse, weathered face, and her hand, box of paper fortunes, handkerchief, and birds. When realized in his characteristic painterly style, the result is a vibrant image of an urban character.