Painters in Winter: Chapter Eleven

William Glackens (with daughter Lenna)

William Glackens (with daughter Lenna)

Ten of ten, Wednesday morning. The eighth. Evelyn Nesbit Thaw arrives in a shiny electric brougham at the Manhattan Criminal Courts building. She’s dressed in a modest tailored blue suit which flattens her figure and makes her look like a convent girl of twelve. A bunch of violets are tucked between the crown and rim of her hat. The moment she steps from her automobile, she’s surrounded by snapshotters and reporters, and while she tries to look appropriately solemn–it’s the third day of her husband’s second trial for murder–Evelyn can’t help but smile at several newspapermen she recognizes. She doesn’t want them to think she’s been spoiled, made snooty, by all the folderol of her recent life. She’s still Evelyn, fellas. The Floradora Girl.

She takes her seat in the first row of the spectators’ gallery; from here she can lean forward and whisper suggestions to Martin Littleton, the chief defense attorney. A Southern gentleman with a love of vowels and a deep disregard for consonants. He trusts Evelyn’s instincts when it comes to potential jurors. Is convinced she can spot a hard heart at twenty paces.

Harry K. Thaw, the Pittsburgh millionaire who fired three bullets into the brain and face of Stanford White more than a year and a half ago, enters the courtroom. His stride is confident, his demeanor serious. (No impudent gestures this morning. Unlike yesterday, when he thumbed his nose at the press corps.) He’s flanked by two vinegary bluecoats who’ve escorted him across the Bridge of Sighs from the Tombs Prison. After nodding at his legal counsel and bowing formally to Evelyn, he turns his head and glares at Prosecutor Jerome, sniffing on a menthol pencil to clear his sinuses. The grippe, is it? May you get double pneumonia! And die! Thaw sits down at the defense table, opens his mail, scans a few letters, then reaches across Littleton and picks up today’s Times. Fear Jack London Lost in South Pacific.

Jack London, the writer? Quite so: “The well-known author of Klondike stories and Socialist propaganda,” it says here in the morning final. Left Hilo, Hawaii, October the seventh, bound for the Marquesas Islands in a little fishing boat called The Snark. And has not been heard from since.

Tragic, thinks William Glackens, reading the same item, at roughly the same time as Thaw, but in his comfortable kitchen at home. Assuming, of course, that it’s true. Which is not necessarily the case. Glackens has been around the newspaper game long enough to be skeptical about everything that sees print, except the date. And sometimes they get even that wrong.

Drizzling Karo syrup over a slice of oatmeal bread (if Edith were here, she’d be horrified, would say, That’s what you’re having for breakfast? But, then, if Edith were here, instead of in Connecticut, he wouldn’t be having it, would he?), Glackens pictures himself aboard The Snark, clipping along at a steady ten knots. He can almost feel the boat list, the deck bounce under his feet, the sun baking his shoulders–can almost hear the gasoline engine, taste the salt air. What a glorious adventure!

Till the typhoon hits–eh?


Till the typhoon hits.

Every adventure has its price, as Glackens well remembers from his salad days as a news artist. Sketching a warehouse inferno, he’d pass out from the smoke, then cough like a miner for days afterwards; sneaking into a barn, a brownstone, a grim little alley–the scene of a crime–he’d slip and fall in wet blood, spraining an ankle or ruining his very best trousers, or both. And if he spent part of an afternoon at the city morgue counting bullet holes in a gambler’s forehead? He’d be up all that night, pacing his bedroom, insomniac, morose. Every adventure has its price.

And the bigger the adventure, the dearer the price. He covered the Cuban War for McClure’s magazine, was there at Daiquiri, Bloody Brook, San Juan Hill–and would’ve starved to death if he hadn’t finally, desperately, helped himself to a charging soldier’s abandoned mess kit; he saw the Stars and Stripes raised over the Governor’s Palace at Santiago–and the following day came down with malaria.

Adventure? Is for young men. They, at least, can afford the price. At 38–and married–and a father–Glackens is perfectly content to live predictably, conventionally, safely. And yet. A staunch boat, the companionship of an experienced sea captain and Japanese cabin boy, Edith at the wheel, her duck trousers whipping in the breeze, a world cruiser, a–

–Sudden typhoon. Sharks. Cannibal islands.

Poor Jack London.

Tossing down the newspaper, Glackens collects his breakfast dishes and carries them to the sink. Adds them to last night’s heap. The kitchen is large, with vitreous white-tile walls. A wooden floor. Cast-iron stove, gas range, steam radiator. A bar of pale sunlight coming aslant through a high curtained window. Glackens in a loose, paint-speckled blouse, corduroy trousers. Bedroom slippers. Looking at the pendulum clock on the dumbwaiter door.

It’s twenty past ten, and he should be in the studio, working; he should’ve been there an hour ago. But he overslept. Again.

Happens whenever Edith is away.

When she’s here, he’s up, shaved and dressed by eight o’clock; he’ll eat a hot breakfast and have a second cup of coffee and still be at work by quarter of nine.

If it’s a day of commercial work, he’ll spend three or four hours doing magazine and book illustrations, crumpling half-a-dozen drawings for every one that he keeps, hating the entire business while maintaining the highest professional standards. (Edith has chided him often for half-killing himself over a measly sixty-dollar assignment, and has snatched countless pictures from the wastebasket; smoothed them out, saved them in a file.)

If it’s a day of commercial work, Glackens will stop for lunch.

If it’s a painting day, he won’t. He’ll keep going till the light’s no good, or his legs begin to ache.

When Edith is here.

When she is not, he turns into a shameless time-waster, sees entirely too much of his friends. Goes out. And on the way home, must stop into some all-night pharmacy, for stomach bitters. Falls into bed at two or three in the morning. Rises late, in heavy spirits, then mopes around. Eating poorly, drinking wine at noon. Working in fits and starts. Begging a canvas to paint itself: sometimes kneeling before his easel, tearing at his hair, and praying for inspiration.

Twenty minutes–at most, an hour–of sheer torture, with a palette in one hand, a brush in the other–then, oh, what’s the use, he’ll take a break. Brew coffee or brew tea. Stare out the window into Washington Square. Feel pangs of sympathy for the homeless men loitering under the elms and pin oaks, or feel lucky. Will throw on his coat and go buy the paper from a spastic German on MacDougal Street. Nod at the young widow out walking her dog, or the stout clergyman rushing to visit the old dowager with the Dutch name cloistered in her rowhouse on the north side of the square.

Back in the kitchen again, Glackens will go through the entire paper, reading headline stories and shirt ads, crime squibs and sporting news (billiards, bowling, trap-shooting, roller-skating), the business page, even letters to the editor, anything and everything. Reading about diva Madame Nordica’s musicale at Sherry’s, and the suicide at the Adelaide Apartment Hotel; about three ice skaters who drowned, and jury selection at the Harry K. Thaw murder trial.

It’s been a bit of a burn, every day this week, for Glackens to read about that, since he was almost given the job of sketching the trial for the Evening World. At the last minute, though, someone else was hired. The assignment would’ve played havoc with his painting schedule (what painting schedule?) but the money would’ve been most welcome.

Since the stock market went kerthump last March, he’s had a tough time financially; magazine revenues are down, which means smaller issues–and fewer illustration jobs at drastically lower rates. And with the new baby–the Glackens’ first child, Ira, born on the Fourth of July–he’s really felt the pinch.

Though, so far, he’s resisted borrowing from Edith’s father.

Glackens prefers to not be in his debt.

Makes for good relations.

And relations with Mr. Dimock are good, they’re very good, indeed–though he and his father-in-law never have much to say to one another, each being naturally reticent and neither having the slightest ken of the other’s business. Mr. Dimock is a prosperous silk merchant, and something of an oddball. Traces the progress of distant wars by sticking colored pins into maps. And writes long rambling letters to the Hartford Courant, deploring football, bullfights, and the horse fly.

Glackens is on good terms with everyone in the Dimock family, including the crabby old live-in aunt, who’d always hoped that her favorite niece would someday marry a European nobleman.

He just wishes that Edith wasn’t on such excellent terms with them all; wasn’t quite so–devoted to her relatives. He hates it that she’s forever training up there on visits that stretch practically into residence. If it isn’t some illness of her father’s, it’s her mother’s loneliness, or Edith’s sudden desire to spend time with her younger sister Irene.

Since August she’s been in Connecticut more than she’s been in New York. The house in West Hartford is big–it’s so much easier to take care of an infant in a great big old house, she says, with members of her own family around to help. Which is certainly true. The first weeks after Ira’s birth, Glackens nearly despaired of ever again doing any work.

So Edith is quite right–it is the best arrangement for everyone, for the time being.

Nevertheless, Glackens wants her back, now. Wants her company. Her encouragement. Right now. Wants her here to say, I don’t think you should do anything more to that picture, Willie. I think it’s finished.

She always sounds so reasonable, sensible. She’s always so calm. Edith is.

What’s wrong with a man being in awe of his wife? Of her judgments, the wisdom of her cautions? Or her bright wit, her optimism, her head for numbers? Her beautiful face? He’s as much in love with her as he was the first month, though much less shy about kissing her.

And if she doesn’t come back soon, he might start attacking his paintings with a carving knife. If he gets crazed enough and she’s not here to stop him, he just might.

Beginning with the one called The Shoppers.

Surely Michelangelo took less time with the Sistine Chapel than Glackens is taking on that damn picture of Edith and her friends at a dressmaker’s shop. He keeps painting out the heads and doing them over again; it’s like–like some ironical punishment in a Greek myth: he can’t stop!

But today he means to be done with it. Either he finishes that painting today, or he pulls it from the show. Today’s the deadline. Today.

And he’ll get started–just as soon as he’s had another cup of coffee.

And finished paging through the Times.


Down at the Criminal Court, they’re still interviewing talesmen, trying to make a jury. Ship-broker, cigar dealer, importer, manager of the Corn Bank. Judge Dowling keeps looking at his watch. Acceptable, says Prosecutor Jerome, about the Vice-president of W.R. Grace and Company. Unacceptable, says Martin Littleton after seeing Evelyn’s signal. You’re excused, sir, says Judge Dowling with clear disappointment. Harry Thaw is passing his fingers rapidly through the hair above his ears while softly humming “Come Down Ma Evenin’ Star.” His place at the table is littered with half-finished notes to his attorneys, and with his doodles.

The press gallery is only half-filled. At the first trial, it was packed. Everyone’s growing tired of the whole affair; of the red swing, the knockout drops, and the animal side of the city’s greatest architect. The defense, this time, will seek acquittal by reason of momentary insanity, a “brain storm”; the prosecution, again, will try to prove that Harry K. Thaw was in full and complete possession of his faculties when he murdered Stanford White at Madison Square Gardens, that it was a premeditated act of revenge. Will argue that in a civilized society, you can’t just kill a man because he happens to be a voluptuary.

And bla-bla-bla.

The Vice-president of W.R. Grace, a decorator, a dry goods merchant…

The reporters jot it all down–names, ages, addresses, the occasional quote–and whisper like schoolboys among themselves. Pass around sticks of chewing gum. Most of the sketchmen are working on drawings of Evelyn. The only female in court.

By order of the judge, no women, except those involved in the case, and distaff members of the press (today there aren’t any), are being allowed to attend the trial. Because of the delicate, indecent nature of much of the expected testimony.

The judge has also directed that the case is to be heard six days a week, in three daily sessions–from ten until one, from two until four, from six until eight. In the interest of expediency. And that the jurors (once they’re selected) will be quartered for the duration at a fireproof hotel in Times Square.

Which has caused almost every talesman so far to beg off serving. Including this latest prospect, a commercial loan officer. He can’t be away from his job for several weeks, he says. His family depends on his income. He has five small children. His institution will not pay him if he doesn’t come to work.

Acceptable to the prosecution, says Prosecutor Jerome, all nasally with congestion.

And the defense, says Littleton.

Sipping his coffee, Glackens turns from news of the Thaw trial to allegations against certain members of the Metropolitan Police; apparently there have been some recent bluff raids–cops storming into a coffee house or a saloon with revolvers drawn, then lining up customers and searching them for evidence of gambling. Impounding cash to be used as evidence. Then, of course, never pressing the cases.

An old story.

It used to happen a lot in Philadelphia, when Glackens was there.

Probably still does.

A suffragette rally at Madison Square. (If Edith were home, no doubt she would’ve attended.) Pianolas on sale for $125. Four of the largest Fifth Avenue jewelers and diamond dealers are being placed in the hands of trustees for liquidation. A banquet for Mark Twain at the Lotos Club. Innocent Oysters Abroad, Roughing It Soup, Fish Huckleberry Finn, Joan of Arc Fillet of Beef. Halfway through the meal, the guest of honor, dressed in his famous white suit, decided to take a nap. As he waved from the doorway, the guests cheered. He was then escorted to a bedroom on an upper floor. The banquet continued with Hadleyburg Salad and Gilded Age Duck…

Meat-eating suits some people. Others do better on well-cooked meals. For real power of body and mind–for a clear brain and a steady, enduring nervous system, there is No Food for Man that equals Grape-Nuts.

Miss Margaret McNamee, ticket agent at Lorimer Street station of the Broadway elevated line in Williamsburg, severely beat an annoyer and had him arrested.

While Glackens is reading about the alleged flirtation and the sound thrashing, his doorbell rings.

Going downstairs, he discovers a beggar on the stoop. A grizzled man, about fifty, in only a flannel shirt, no overcoat–a pair of dungarees, and worn-out-looking shoes. His face is chapped red. He’s bareheaded, his black hair patchy and thin. Could you spare something to eat, sir? Or some change?

Who told you to come here? Glackens says, more sharply than he intended.

A gentleman over in the square suggested that I call.

Well, says Glackens, I’d appreciate it then if you’d go straight back over there and tell the gentleman there’s nobody at his address with a handout.

Says the beggar, Would that be worth a dime to you, sir? And slowly grins.

As does Glackens. Wait here, he says, then runs upstairs and gets three nickels from a candy bowl in the hall. Comes back down shaking his head. Beggars! It’s almost preternatural how they always pick his house; and on a crowded street, how they always pick him. Pick him out as if he glowed, then surround him, follow him, pester him. What a nuisance and a cross.

Thank you, sir. And God bless.

You remember to tell that gentleman, now.

I will, sir. I surely will.

So that he won’t be tempted again by the coffee pot and the newspaper, Glackens continues past the kitchen and goes directly into his studio. The windows, facing north, are uncovered and spotless–the cleaning lady washed them yesterday with vinegar. His easel stands in the middle of a rumpled canvas tarpaulin. A clothes tree is hung with dressing gowns and mismatched costumes: a Chinese blouse, Spanish pantaloons, a Bowery bundle’s feathered hat. The odor of paint and linseed oil. A few ink caricatures by Luks and Sloan are pinned to the wall, as are several cheap reproductions of paintings by Renoir, whose work has turned Glackens away from the dark palette he used for so long, at Henri’s direction, to full color, and influenced his choice of subject matter. While he once painted crowded parks and beaches and figures in motion (a tightrope walker at Hammerstein’s Roof Garden), he’s more apt lately to paint small groups of people at quiet leisure, in living rooms and restaurants.

Or the dressmaker’s.

Shopper’s at the dressmaker’s.

And now that he’s looking at the troublesome picture again, he thinks he may’ve been mistaken about Mrs. Shinn’s face. Was mistaken. It doesn’t need to be fixed, not at all: the likeness is quite good, and the expression (distracted, almost melancholy) is precisely what he’s been after. It’s Flossie, all right.

Stroking his chin, he moves closer to the easel.

Staring at the profile of his wife, till:

It’s Edith’s expression that’s wrong! She seems almost…sour; there needs to be amusement in her face, some pleasure.  Her intelligence, her authority, the graceful way that she carries herself: all there; he’s captured, and rendered, all that. Now, if he can just–slightly–correct the set of her mouth….

Once, early in their courtship, Edith said, If you ever call me Miss Dimock again, I shall kiss you in public.

And Glackens never did.

Because she would’ve.

He steps back from the painting and abruptly decides that Edith’s expression is satisfactory–often she is sour at shopping, as a kind of strategy. Clever woman.

It’s not Edith’s face that’s the problem–why didn’t he see this before? When it’s so obvious! The problem is Marion Travis’s head! It’s too–

It’s not–

It’s–all wrong!

But he can fix it.

Though it might be simpler just to paint it out and do it over completely.

Or. He could paint Mrs. Travis out. Period.

Just–remove her.

And then? Then what happens? A big hole happens–that’s what.

Is it too early for lunch?


Prosecutor Jerome is questioning yet another talesman–a young motorman on the Second Avenue Line, asking if there is any good reason why he might be unable to render a fair and impartial verdict in this case.

The motorman replies, Indeed there is, sir. I just had my pocket picked on the way in here. I’m prejudiced against this whole place! I’m sorry to say.

Harry K. Thaw looks up and grins, then goes back to folding a sheet of the Times into a tricorn hat.


Glackens is losing his mind! If this keeps up, he’ll be gibbering by the weekend and in a padded ward before the Macbeth show opens. Look what he’s done, Glackens the madman: not only painted out Mrs. Travis’s head, but Mrs. Shinn’s as well. Explain. He can’t! He just…did it–and now here he is, breathing raggedly through his nose and staring at the ruined picture with a stupefied expression on his face: bystander at a grisly accident.

And there’s the doorbell again.

Another tramp, of course. Who’s heard about the easy touch at Number 3.

Well, let him ring.

Glackens is busy.

Scraping his palette. Cleaning his brushes.

But the bell keeps ringing.

Finally (but this is the last time, dammit, the very last time), he scoops up several coins, then bellows from the landing, Hold your potatoes, I’ll be there!

You’d think it was–was Halloween.

When he flings open the front door, he’s astounded to find John Sloan outside with his box camera and tripod and several glass photographic plates.

I thought for a moment you’d forgot I was coming.

No! says Glackens. Not at all! Come in, come in.  Come in!

This shouldn’t take long, says Sloan, going up the stairs.

Oh, take as long as you need, says Glackens. As long as you need. And when you’re finished, I’ll make us lunch.

Nothing like food and drink to kill a few hours. Turn a man’s mind from his troubles. Keep him from jumping off Brooklyn Bridge. There’s a little cheese in the ice box; a bowl of sauerkraut, a tomato–there might even be an onion languishing, he’s not sure. But he’s got two kinds of bread. And a jug of red wine. Thank God.


When the Thaw trial is recessed at one, the defendant is returned to his cell. For Little Neck clams and fillet de boeuf, and a bottle of Scotch whisky, catered by Delmonico’s.

Evelyn goes for pastry and coffee at Fleischmann’s Vienna Bakery.

Continue to read CHAPTER TWELVE →