The Café Francis
The Café Francis is the work of George Benjamin Luks, a spirited rebel, illustrator, and painter whose life was as tumultuous as his paintings. Luks’ style can be seen here as conspicuously less genteel than the late 18th and turn of the 19th century Portraiture art in America. Clearly, he was aware of the Modernist revolution occurring in he art studio of Europe.
Instead of the polished, flattering style so typical of portraiture in 1906, Luks’ borderline caricature, thickly laid paint, and gestural brushwork, pokes fun of the upper-class couple he captured here. Luks was one of “The Eight”—a group of early 20th century artists who banded together to promote modern approaches in the United States. The Eight, also known by critics as the Ashcan School, revolted against the “Genteel Tradition,” and were compelled to show New York life as they experienced it: exposing all its realities, roughness, and vitality.
The Ashcan artists strived to shine a light on the ordinary—rejecting polish and veneer for truthfulness and honesty. Their act of rebellion is reminiscent of the harshly-criticized Impressionists. To add to their radical art, they made the decision to educate Americans about modern art, by bringing it to America in the famous Armory Show of 1913.
Luks was a master of color in oil as well as life. He was a robust man, fond of his drink and the art of boxing, as reflected by the numerous boxing images so often portrayed in his art.
Having spent his youth in Vaudeville, Luks championed the underdog and enjoyed keeping company with those down on their luck. “He is Puck, He is Caliban. He is Fallstaff,” wrote contemporary art critic James Gibbons Huneker of Luks. Then, tragically, Luks body was found in a doorway by a policeman one night in the fall of 1933. Luks died, with the same intensity he lived his life, after a bar-room brawl.