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A Watershed Exhibition: The Eight, 1908

On February 3, 1908, MacBeth Galleries, New York, opened an exhibition featuring artists who would become known collectively as The Eight, including Arthur B. Davies, William J. Glackens, Robert Henri, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan. Although the show remained on view in New York less than two weeks, it traveled on to several cities including Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia, and became recognized as a watershed exhibition of 20th-century vanguard art.

The goal of the exhibition had been to celebrate America and American art—a theme directly addressed by the majority of artists, who depicted regional subjects including cityscapes of New York and coastal scenes of Maine; the cinema and cabaret; as well as urban dwellers young and old. Maurice and other members of The Eight shared an interest in similar subject matter—the leisure activity of people in an urban context, which originally derived from the French Impressionists. Maurice, however, stood out among his colleagues: at 49 years of age, he was the oldest member of The Eight and the only Bostonian. Moreover, he was represented in the exhibition by at least ten scenes of St. Malo, distinct from the other works in their European derivation and vibrantly colorful jewel-toned palette.

This exhibition, which was to be the triumph of “American” art, also became a vehicle for the dissemination of the new French modernist styles, thanks to Maurice’s daring contributions to the show.

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