At the turn of the century a group of pioneering artists commonly referred to as the Ashcan School poignantly recorded the everyday life of New York City. This group was led by Robert Henri, George Bellows, George Luks, Everett Shinn and William Glackens, who portrayed the streets of New York with a fresh and uncompromising manner that was unparalleled at the time. Contrary to prevalent aesthetic theories that emphasized style, form and execution, the Ashcan School promoted subject and meaning above all as the elements most important to a work; these artists responded reverently to all strata of urban society. Perhaps the best chronicler among these artists was Glackens. A Stroll in the Park offers a glimpse of two women taking advantage of the park's wide pathways and refreshing shade. Through the deft manipulation of color and brush, Glackens ornaments the canvas surface with thick strokes of red, green, yellow, orange, purple and black. The artist further enhances the freshness and gaiety of the scene by infusing it with rejuvenating sunlight.
Glackens distinguished himself from his peers in his use of a high-keyed palette that was influenced by the French Impressionists, primarily Pierre-August Renoir and Claude Monet. Glackens' images, especially after 1908, have stronger affiliations with the Impressionists than with the hardened images and more sober coloring of his Realist companions. A Stroll in the Park, painted circa 1915 to 1918, celebrates Glackens' mastery of palette. Glackens' affinity to Renoir was heightened by his friendship with Dr. Albert Barnes of Philadelphia, for whom he served as an art advisor. Barnes was also an avid collector of both artists' works. According to Forbes Watson in his monograph on the artist published in 1923, although Glackens' work was clearly influenced by Renoir, it has a more straightforward and genuine American approach than his French counterpart. "His painting tradition is French, but his point of view is American...The whole attitude is American. The subject is seen through American eyes." (F. Watson, William Glackens, New York, 1923, p. 21)
Public parks in New York at the beginning of the twentieth century were urban refuges accessible to any city dweller, but the degraded state of these parks sparked outrage with the local newspapers. In 1907, one newspaper decried the "deplorable deterioration of the parks and squares of this city" and "the riffraff of humanity," commenting that "many a tract intended as an oasis where self-respecting working men or tired toilers might rest...and woman and children might go for outings and exercise, is now practically in the possession of the idle and the vicious...[and] the air is tainted by diseased and filthy vagrants who have almost driven away those for whom the parks were intended." (New York Herald, April 7, 1907, as quoted in American Impressionism and Realism, New York, 1994, p. 155) Glackens, in contrast, viewed New York parks with a more benevolent eye. Through his canvases he retold the daily lives of the diverse and fascinating people who populated these public spaces capturing with acuity and vitality a myriad of interesting scenes. It has been written that the "focal point of William Glackens' New York is the world of [parks], at once genteel and open to all, where uptown meets downtown, where the tradition of old New York encounters and combines (as it does to this day) with the new...where wealth and poverty mingle in wondering contrast, at once possibly forgiving but not forgetting." (L. Katz, William Glackens in Retrospect, St. Louis, Missouri, 1966, n.p.) Glackens poignantly illustrates in A Stroll in the Park his democratizing eye and light-hearted view, conquering the conventional visions of the city's urban realities.