As a student and throughout his career, William Glackens visited Paris where he found inspiration in the art of the French Impressionists. The extraordinary first-hand exposure to French art had a profound effect on Glackens' approach and he soon adopted a vivid palette that employed contrasting color harmonies with the themes of cafes and parks.
The present painting, L'Aperitif, is an exemplary work demonstrating Glackens' use of jewel-like colors and staccato brushstrokes. Wearing a bright red coat with a yellow scarf and large black hat, a fashionably dressed woman is seated in a crowded Parisian café. The woman appears to be seated alone with her drink and cigarette. Unlike many of Glackens' other portraits of women, she does not have soft, feminine features--accentuated by her angular nose which is mimicked in the brim of her hat hanging over her right eye. She is garishly made up with a stark white face, dark eyebrows, purple eye shadow and bright red lipstick. Behind the woman is a mirrored background which Glackens uses to enlarge the space providing a view of the other tables and patrons in the café.
During his frequent travels in Europe, Glackens discovered that the palette and technique of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists had a liberating effect on his own sense of color and method and began exploring and utilizing high-keyed colors using quick, spontaneous brushstrokes. Regarding Glackens' new color palette, Arthur Hoeber noted, "If Mr. Glackens thus sees his nature, he must enjoy life far more than the ordinarily equipped human, for there is a riot of tone to his vision." (as quoted in W.H. Gerdts, William Glackens, New York, 1996, p. 90)
In 1912, Glackens traveled to Paris in order to select and purchase paintings for the distinguished collector, Albert Barnes. During this trip Glackens, traveling with his friend and fellow painter Alfred Maurer, had the opportunity to examine many Impressionist and Post-Impressionistic works by visiting the most prominent galleries of the day such as Durand-Ruel and Bernheim-Jeune. Glackens was particularly influenced by Auguste Renoir. Indeed Glackens remarked of the artist, "Can you think of a better man to follow?" (as quoted in William Glackens, p. 94) Glackens would have certainly seen Renoir's work during his first visit to Paris in 1896 at an exhibit at the Durand-Ruel Gallery in which forty-two of his canvases were shown.
Barnes, however discussed the difference of the two artists, "For color the skillful, joyous use of brilliant, strong moving color, the only man of this generation who can be said to be [Glacken's] equal was Renoir. His psychology is so near that of Renoir, he saw the world in so nearly the same terms, that he has been much influenced by Renoir, especially in the use of color. But Renoir never has the ability of Glackens to express by drawing some of the things in life which move us so deeply. Renoir seems to us now to be a greater artist than Glackens; but those of us who have lived with the work of both men long enough to know the characteristics of each, never would mistake one for the other or admit that Glackens is either an imitator of Renoir or less of an individual artist because he has expressed himself in color which we associate with Renoir's work." (as quoted in William Glackens, p. 97)
In applauding the merits of Glackens' later paintings, Grace V. Kelley noted, "For those who enjoy good painting, intrinsic color, a singing wonder in the artistic vision, Glackens will always give pleasure. My own summing up might be that Glackens with no axe to grind and motivated only by the visual thrill, has passed on his visual experiences to those capable of receiving them as visual experiences, and in so doing has fulfilled the function of the authentic artist." (as quoted in William Glackens, p. 155)