Born in Philadelphia in 1870, William Glackens began his career as a newspaper illustrator. After an initial meeting with artist Robert Henri in 1891, Glackens was inspired to pursue a career as a painter. He studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and, in 1896, moved to New York City, where he co-founded the Ashcan School movement, although his work bordered on Impressionism rather than Social Realism. He later belonged to a group of artists dubbed by the press "the Eight Independent Painters," or "the Eight," who chose to exhibit their works without pre-approval from the juries of the existing art establishment.

From 1912 onward, Glackens worked as an art consultant for Dr. Arthur C. Barnes and travelled across Europe while building his employer's collection. During his trips to Europe, he was particularly impressed by the work of Édouard Manet, with whom his paintings have often been compared. It has often been said that his later technique, comprised of choppy brushwork and strokes of paint in brilliant hues, may have been inspired by the work of the Impressionists Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Glackens became the first president of the Society of Independent Artists in 1917. He died in 1938.

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