An English Table

An English Table
Stephen Gjertson
Oil on canvas
28 x 22 inches (71.12 x 55.88 cm)

 A Living Artistic Tradition

by Stephen Gjertson

The Origin of the Phrase

The expression “Classical Realism” originated with Minneapolis artist Richard Lack. Lack studied with Boston artist R. H. Ives Gammell (1893-1981) during the early 1950s. In 1967 Lack established Atelier Lack, a studio-school of fine art patterned after the ateliers of 19th-century Paris and the teaching of the Boston impressionists. By 1980 he had trained a significant group of young painters. In 1982, they organized a traveling exhibition of their work and that of other artists within the artistic tradition represented by Gammell, Lack and their students. Lack was asked by Vern Swanson, director of the Springville Museum, Springville, Utah, (the exhibition’s originating venue), to coin a term that would differentiate the realism of the heirs of the Boston tradition from that of other representational artists. Although he was reluctant to label this work, Lack chose the expression “Classical Realism.” It was first used in the title of that exhibition: Classical Realism: The Other Twentieth Century.

In the exhibition’s catalogue Lack stated one reason why such a term was needed: “Any 20th-century painting that suggests a recognizable object, however crudely or childishly rendered, qualifies as ‘realistic.’ Obviously, the simple word realism, when applied to painting, has become so broad in its sweep and general in its application that it is no longer meaningful.” He was well aware of the difficulties involved in attempting to come up with a term that was recognizable, yet descriptive. He knew that within the context of art history, the phrase “Classical Realism” was an oxymoron. 


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