Luks's work reflected the restless temperament of the man himself. Born in a poor mining district in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the squalor of city life never seemed to appall him, nor did he sentimentalize it. A one-time champion amateur boxer known as Lusty Luks, he attacked the canvas or paper with as much forcefulness as he lived; his scenes of everyday life are realistic and unapologetic.
In the early 1880s Luks studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts under Thomas Anshutz, heir to the mantle of Eakins. From there Luks went to the Düsseldorf Academy for more training and then branched out on his own in London and Paris. In all, he stayed away ten years, and when he returned to the States he took a job as an artist-reporter for the Philadelphia Press, where he met John Sloan, Everett Shinn, and William Glackens. In 1896 Luks was sent by the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin to cover the Spanish-American conflict in Cuba.
In 1897 Luks moved to New York permanently where he continued to address issues of social concern. Subway fits into this category, with the well-to-do young matron, dressed up in brightly colored fur and muff, passing by the workers, squeezed in and dressed in dingy clothes.