GEORGE LUKS 1866-1933
The Cafe Francis, c. 1906
Oil on canvas, 36 X 42" (91.44 x 106.68 cm.)
Signed, lower left
Museum purchase, 960-0-105
The joie de vivre animating The Cafe Francis also characterized its creator, popularly known as "Lusty Luks." Contemporaries spoke admiringly of both George Luks's art and his persona; "the vitality of him!" declared the New York critic James Huneker.1 Luks, whose hard-drinking and pugnacious ways were legendary, fostered an image of himself that was larger than life. He claimed to be a professional boxer named "Chicago Whitey" and he confidently asserted that not only could he "paint with a shoestring dipped in lard," but that "there are only two great artists in the world-Frans Hals and little old George Luks!"
It is not Hals, however, who lies behind The Cafe Francis, but Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Indeed, The Cafe Francis is one of Luks's most Impressionist compositions and differs from his better-known, more darkly colored scenes of lower-class urban life. Here the lighter palette, the feathery brushstrokes defining the woman, her dress and accessories, the cropping of figure s-especially the shadowy figure at left-and the sense of immediacy all contribute to the Impressionist flavor. With its robust, beaming figures, The Cafe Francis conveys a buoyant optimism associated with Renoir's work, which Luks had admired when in Europe.
Luks had little formal training; he had studied for a month at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1884 and traveled extensively in Europe during the early 1890s. In 1894, he joined the Philadelphia Press as an illustrator, and began meeting other newspaper artists including John Sloan, Everett Shinn, and William Glackens. Like them, he associated with Robert Henri and moved to New York by the end of the decade. There Glackens encouraged Luks to return to painting despite his successful career as an illustrator and cartoonist. When Luks composed The Cafe Francis he most likely had in mind Glackens's painting, Chez Mouquin (1905, Art Institute of Chicago).
In his work, Glackens, like-Luks in his, depicts the powerful-looking James Moore with one of his "daughters" (Moores euphemism for his female companions). Moore owned the Cafe Francis, which he advertised as "New York's Most Popular Resort of the New Bohemia." Located at 53 West 35th Street in New York City, the Cafe Francis rivaled Mouquin's as a restaurant popular with artists and writers. Luks, Glackens, and their friends patronized both establishments. Both Glackens's and Luks's compositions focus on a large-scale couple in a noisy, active restaurant setting, but Luks shows James Moore as older, suggesting that his painting followed the Glackens. Although not dated, The Cafe Francis probably was painted around 1906, after Glackens's composition and before the Cafe Francis closed in 1908.
1908 was also the year that Luks and seven of his peers exhibited at the Macbeth Galleries in New York as The Eight. Triggered by the rejection of a Luks painting from the 1907 National Academy of Design annual show, the eight artists-who besides Luks included Henri, Glackens, Sloan, Shinn, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast, and Arthur Davies successfully mounted an anti- Establishment exhibition that signaled the demise of academic authority.
In the following years, Luks, who had had six works included in the 1913 Armory Show, garnered major awards from the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The Establishment embraced his once - considered-radical art. Still, Luks never ceased his outspoken manner and described himself in a talk given the year before his death in terms that resonate remarkably with the lively spirit portrayed in The Cafe Francis: "I'm George Luks, and I'm a rare bird. You people stick with me and you'll have a good time."