The Ashcan School, also called the Ash Can School, is defined as a realist artistic movement that came into prominence in the United States during the early twentieth century, best known for works portraying scenes of daily life in New York's poorer neighborhoods. The movement is most associated with a group known as The Eight, whose members included five painters associated with the Ashcan school: William Glackens (1870-1938), Robert Henri (1865-1929), George Luks (1867-1933), Everett Shinn (1876-1953) and John French Sloan (1871-1951), along with Arthur B. Davies (1862-1928), Ernest Lawson (1873-1939) and Maurice Prendergast (1859-1924).
As noted, the Ashcan School was not an organized group. The first known use of the "ash can" terminology in describing the movement was by Art Young, in 1916, but the term was applied later to a group of artists, including Henri, Glackens, Edward Hopper (a student of Henri), Shinn, Sloan, Luks, George Bellows (another student of Henri), Mabel Dwight, and others such as photographer Jacob Riis, who portrayed urban subject matter, also primarily of New York's working class neighborhoods. (Hopper's inclusion in the group [which he forswore] is ironic: his depictions of city streets are almost entirely free of the usual minutiae, with not a single incidental ashcan in sight.)
The artists of the Ashcan School rebelled against the genteel American Impressionism that represented the vanguard of American art at the time. Their works, generally dark in tone, captured the spontaneous moments of life and often depicted such subjects as prostitutes, drunks, butchered pigs, overflowing tenements with laundry hanging on lines, boxing matches, and wrestlers. It was their frequent, although not total, focus upon poverty and the daily realities of urban life that prompted American critics to consider them the fringe of modern art.