Everett Shinn (1873-1953)

Everett Shinn (1873-1953)

Born in Woodstown, New Jersey, in 1876, Everett Shinn was a theatrical young man with a tendency for such buffoonery as tightrope walking and bicycle tricks. It is probably this daring side of his personality that prompted Shinn to exhibit as part of “The Eight” at the Macbeth Galleries of New York in 1908.  The exhibition included the diverse works of eight artists, with the only commonality being their protest against the policies of the National Academy of Design.  Giving American art a new direction, the group chose to paint the ordinary rather than the decorous aspects of life and later became known as the “Ashcan School.” It was in fact Everett Shinn, showing the same rebelliousness as in his youth, who first depicted an ashcan in his work, a 1901 pastel of homeless men and women.  Shinn quickly lost interest in illustrating the lower-class, however, and turned to the dazzle of the New York night life.

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Shinn did not begin his academic training as an artist but rather as a mechanical draftsman at the Spring Garden Institute of Philadelphia.  Shortly after graduation, he took his first job with the Thackeray Gas Fixtures Works where he found his propensity not in drawing chandeliers, but in depicting the Philadelphia streets in the margins of his drafting paper.  His supervisor, while displeased with his lack of professionalism, was impressed by his talent and told him, “Go to an art school, young man. You have the gift to draw - do it because you can and I can’t.” [1]

Following his release from this position, Shinn enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, working beside many future members of “The Eight,” including Robert Henri, George Luks, and John Sloan.  Shinn, like many of his studio mates, began work as an artist-reporter for the Philadelphia Press in 1893, but moved to New York just a few years later, led on by the thrill of capturing the news in art. His first position was with the New York World, and he continued to work for a variety of publications throughout his career, including Harper’s Weekly, Red Book, and Cosmopolitan among others.

A handsome, witty young man, Everett Shinn’s name became a familiar one to the New York City social scene, and he befriended many figures from the art world.  He became obsessed with the glamorous night life in New York, and also in London and Paris, during the six months he spent sketching abroad in 1900.  He loved to depict women in particular - the beautiful actresses with which he socialized frequently, even during his four marriages and subsequent divorces.  His works became highly recognized and were widely exhibited, including at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1899-1908, the Boston Art Club from 1901-1907, and the Exhibition of Independent Artists in 1910. 

An extremely versatile artist, Shinn also dabbled in portraiture, interior design and mural painting, working alongside designer Elsie de Wolfe, and undertaking murals at the Trenton City Hall Council Chambers, as well as the Belasco Theatre.  In addition to acting as the art director for the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio from 1917-1923, Shinn even hosted his own 55-seat theatre in his New York home.

Although he created, directed, acted in and designed the sets for numerous plays, Everett Shinn is best remembered not for these contributions to the theater, but for his charcoals, watercolors and pastels of city life in New York.  Today his works can be found in the collections of the Albright-Knox Gallery, the Detroit Institute of Art, and the Brooklyn Museum, among others. 

References: Mahoni, Sharp, Young, The Eight; “Everett Shinn: An Exhibition Organized by the New Jersey State Museum” 1973; “Shinn” by Ormande de Kay, American Heritage, 1985; “Everett Shinn, the Versatile” by Louis Frohman, International Studio, 1923; Wong, Janay, Everett Shinn: The Spectacle of Life, Berry-Hill Galleries, New York, 2000.

[1] De Kay, Ormande, “Shinn.” American Heritage, Dec. 1985, p. 69.

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