Pastel artist, oil painter, illustrator and artist/reporter Everett Shinn was the youngest member of the group of turn of the 20th Century American painters known as “Ashcan school”.
Shinn was born in New Jersey and attended the Spring Garden Institute in Philadelphia, a technical school with classes in mechanical drawing and architecture, where another artistically inclined student named John Sloan was also a student.
Both would go on to become part of “The Eight”, a group of painters in New York who exhibited together in joint defiance of the artistic conventions of their day. The core group of them were given the name “The Ashcan School” out of derision by critics who deplored their frequent subject matter of rough, lower class people and their surroundings. (For more on The Eight and The Ashcan School, see my post on John Sloan.)
While in Philadelphia, Shinn went to work for The Philadelphia Press as a “visual reporter”, essentially an illustrator who served the role of quick observation and reporting that would soon be superseeded by the burgeoning new medium of photography. At the same time he enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
At both the paper and the Academy, he fell in with a group that would later form the core of The Eight — John Sloan, William Glackens and George Luks, sometimes referred to as The Philadelphia Four. All of them came under the influence of Robert Henri, the outspoken artist and advocate of honest and unfanciful realism who was teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy at the time.
Shinn would continue to produce illustrations for various magazines and newspapers when he and his compatriots moved to New York, but only when he wanted to, not on a regular basis.
In his later career, his paintings and pastels of gritty urban life gradually gave way to more genteel subjects, and pastel gave way to oil after a trip to Europe and exposure to a wider circle of painters there.
Admirers of his early work criticized him for betraying his former role in portraying everyday life with social honesty, but, like Sloan, Shinn said it was never a matter of social or political protest, simply artistic observation.
Shinn worked in a variety of media — oil, watercolor, gouache and colored chalks, but is best known for his bold use of pastel and oil pastel. You can see evidence of his training as an observer in many of his works, as well as the influence of Degas in a number of his pastels, particularly those of theatrical subjects.