(Woodstown, New Jersey, 1876 - 1953, New York, New York)
Everett Shinn was born in Woodstown, New Jersey in 1876 to Isaiah Conklin Shinn and Josephine Ransley Shinn. (1) The family appears to have been related to General Isaiah Shinn, the founder of Woodstown, a Quaker-dominated community. Though Shinn's family was not actively religious, he did attend a Quaker school in Woodstown called the Baron Academy. Shinn was a less than model student, but his drawing ability was evident early and he invented a number of gadgets including a model submarine and a working steam engine.
In 1888, at the age of 12, Shinn left Woodstown and enrolled at the Spring Garden Institute in Philadelphia where he studied mechanical drawing and other engineering subjects. Two years later he was hired by the Thackeray Gas Fixture Works to design light fixtures. He rapidly became bored with the work, however, and was fired when the foreman found him doodling on the edges of his design plans. As he was leaving, the foreman advised him to make use of his drawing talent and enroll in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Shinn registered for classes at the Academy in the fall of 1893 and simultaneously began work as a staff artist with the Philadelphia Press. At the Press, Shinn met William Glackens, John Sloan, and George Luks who became his roommate.
Between 1893 and 1895, Shinn worked for the Philadelphia Press, Philadelphia Ledger, and Philadelphia Inquirer while continuing to take classes at the Pennsylvania Academy. By 1895, Shinn, Glackens, and Luks had all settled at the Philadelphia Press. John Sloan also eventually joined them late that year. Through Sloan and Glackens, Shinn met Robert Henri and began joining in the regular gatherings and classes at Henri's studio.
In 1897, Shinn moved to New York to work for the New York World. A year later, he began doing illustration work for magazines and by 1899 had been appointed art editor of Ainslee's Magazine. His primary goal, however, was to win the center spread in Harper's Weekly. After a year of hectoring the editor, his colored drawing, A Winter's Night on Broadway, was published in February, 1900. During the following years, Shinn's drawings and pastels regularly appeared in magazines such as Vanity Fair, Judge, Life, Look, Collier's, Century, and many others.
In 1898, Shinn married Florence (Flossie) Scovel, a Philadelphia illustrator. Early the following year, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts hosted a solo exhibition of Shinn's paintings and in February of 1900, Shinn had his first large one-man show at Boussod-Valadon Galleries in New York. (2) After the exhibit closed in April, Shinn and his wife traveled to Europe where Shinn began to try his hand at oil painting. In July of 1900, Goupil's of Paris held an exhibition of his pastels of Parisian street life. The Shinns returned to the United States in the fall of 1900. The following January, Boussod-Valadon Galleries held a second large, one-man show of Shinn's pastels, oils, and drawings of scenes in Paris and London.
The period from 1900 to 1911 was a time of great productivity for Shinn. He participated in a large number of shows and sales at a variety of locations including the Boussod-Valadon and Kraushaar Galleries, the E. Gimpel and Wildenstein Gallery, the Pennsylvania Academy, the Chicago Art Institute, the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, the Corcoran Gallery, and the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, Oregon. The largest and best known of these exhibitions took place at M. Knoedler and Co. in March of 1903 and Shinn also participated in the famous Eight Exhibition at Macbeth Gallery in 1908. He later declined an invitation to participate in the 1913 Armory Show.
During this active period, Shinn was working mostly in pastels and red chalk. He concentrated on scenes of street life and urban nightlife, particularly the theater. (3) By the end of 1912, Shinn had begun doing interior decoration and mural painting for a number of private homes under the auspices of Elsie de Wolfe, a decorator and socialite. Shinn also was introduced to David Belasco and Stanford White who commissioned him to do murals and other decorations for their homes and offices. (4)
In 1912, Shinn and his wife, Florence, divorced. The following year Shinn married Corinne Baldwin, with whom he had two children. Shinn's versatile career took another interesting turn in 1917 when he was hired by Goldwyn Pictures as art director for their New York studio. In addition to supervising the artwork at the studio, Shinn also did art direction for Goldwyn's movie Polly of the Circus. Subsequently he worked for Inspiration Pictures from 1920 to 1923, and then in 1923 he began to work for Cosmopolitan Pictures as art director for William Randolph Hearst's film Janice Meredith, among others.
Shinn divorced and remarried twice more over the course of the next twenty years. He and Corinne were divorced in 1921 and he married the actress, Gertrude Chase, in 1924. They divorced in March of 1932 and a year later he married Paula Downing. They subsequently divorced in 1942. During his years working for movie studios, Shinn's art career suffered and it was not until the late 1930s that he again began to participate regularly in exhibitions. (5) In 1949, Shinn was made a member of the National Academy of Design, and in 1951 he was initiated into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. During the same period, he was asked to write a memoir of the Eight for the catalog of a retrospective exhibition. (6) Though he suffered from a tremor of the hand for several years before his death, Shinn continued to produce drawings and pastels of his favorite theater subjects. (7) He died of lung cancer in 1953. (8)
Everett Shinn's works are characterized by an appearance of rapid execution and a strong sense of the artist's gestures. Objects and figures are outlined in short, quick strokes, and highlights and shadows are created with brief touches of color. There are often passages of careful detail in many of his works, but overall, detail is indicated with a kind of shorthand rather than carefully recreated. Shinn's figures are particularly stylized, often bordering on caricature, and they tend toward general types rather than distinctive individuals. During and after the 1920s, Shinn's women became even more stylized with extremely elongated legs and round, doll-like faces. Shinn often cropped his compositions to capture unusual viewpoints and to create a sense of movement and immediacy. He also exploited the soft, blurry quality of pastel and chalk to recreate atmospheric effects such as snow, rain and fog.
Because he concentrated on depicting scenes from modern life, Shinn's work is often compared to the French Impressionists, but the elements of caricature and type-casting in his works have also suggested comparisons to Honoré Daumier and Toulouse Lautrec. (9) The framing and cropping devices he used are particularly reminiscent of the works of Edgar Degas. The style Shinn used in his murals and interior decorations is in contrast to his other works. Their rococo style has been compared to the works Jean-Honoré Fragonard and François Boucher.
Shinn preferred to work in pencil, pastel, and conte crayon rather than paint, most likely because of the speed with which he worked. Red chalk was a particular favorite. Regardless of the medium being used, Shinn chose limited palettes for his works, particularly emphasizing blue, black, and white. Shinn created preliminary studies in red chalk for his murals and then transferred the studies to the final panels for painting. Preliminary studies for his oil paintings were sketched on the canvas then painted over with layers of thin washes of pure pigment. Heavy opaque color was used for highlights. Shinn's pastels were drawn on damp paper then dried, leaving a hard, shiny pigment surface rather than the dusty finish typical of pastel. Shinn would then add finishing touches with ink and colored gouaches. The pastel in the MMFA collection, Girl on Runway—Winter Garden, New York, is a characteristic of Shinn's work in medium, subject and composition.
(1) Biographical information has been compiled from the following sources: Louis H. Frohman, "Everett Shinn, the Versatile", International Studio, October 1923, pp. 85-89; Mahonri Sharp Young, The Eight: The Realist Revolt in American Painting, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 1973; Edith DeShazo, Everett Shinn, 1876-1953: A Figure in His Time, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., New York, 1974; Bennard B. Perlman, Painters of the Ashcan School: The Immortal Eight, Dover Publications Inc., 1979; Bennard B. Perlman, "Rebels with a Cause", ARTnews 81:62-67, December 1982; Linda S. Ferber, "Stagestruck: The Theater Subjects of Everett Shinn", in American Art Around 1900, edited by Doreen Bolger and Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., University Press, 1990; Elizabeth Milroy, Painters of a New Century: The Eight and American Art, Milwaukee Art Museum, 1991; H. Barbara Weinberg, Doreen Bolger and David Park Curry, American Impressionism and Realism: The Painting of Modern Life, 1885-1915, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, distributed by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1994; Rebecca Zurier, Robert W. Snyder, Virginia M. Mecklenburg, Metropolitan Lives: The Ashcan Artists and Their New York, National Museum of American Art, 1995.
(2) The show consisted of 43 paintings and drawings, most of which were pastels.
(3) Shinn had been fascinated by the theater since childhood and was an amateur playwright, producer, and director. Some of his plays were eventually published and incorporated into vaudeville acts. He actively participated in the theatricals at Robert Henri's studio and eventually had a small stage built inside his house for amateur productions.
(4) Shinn also decorated the home of Mrs. William Coe on Long Island, the home of Mrs. Edwin S. Boyer in New York City, the home of Warren M. Salisbury in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and the home of George H. Townsend in Greenwich, Connecticut. Other mural commissions included the J. N. Stuyvesant Theatre on West Forty-Fourth Street in New York in 1907, the Trenton, New Jersey Council Chamber in City Hall in 1911, and the Plaza Hotel men's bar in 1944.
(5) These later exhibitions included the New York Realists exhibition at the Whitney Museum in 1937, a retrospective of the Eight at the Brooklyn Museum in 1943, and exhibitions at the Museum of the City of New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh.
(6) "Recollections of the Eight" in The Eight, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, 1943.
(7) Shinn is known to have signed some of these late works with earlier dates because they sold better. He is also known to have drawn a number of his later subjects from memories of earlier scenes.
(8) Late in his career, Shinn changed from Boussod-Valadon to Graham Gallery for his primary dealer. Graham Gallery also handled the sale of his estate. Shinn's papers are on file at the Delaware Art Museum and the Archives of American Art. Records of his exhibitions and sales from c. 1899-1911 is on microfilm at the Archives of American Art (Rolls 952, 953). For a fictional account of an artist's life based on Shinn's life story see Theodore Dreiser's The Genius, published in 1915.
(9) DeShazo, 1974; Weinberg, Bolger, and Curry, 1994; Zurier, Snyder, and Mecklenburg, 1995
Margaret Bullock, 6.6.97
Revised MLA, 11.8.08 incorporating research by Margaret Burgess