An American Journey: The Art of John Sloan – A Review

by artfuldiner on January 3, 2018

in Artful Diner Review, Opinion, Special Events

Sloan, John FrenchAn American Journey: The Art of John Sloan, now on view at the Delaware Art Museum, includes nearly 100 drawings, prints, and paintings produced between 1890 and 1946, and explores the artist’s views of Philadelphia, New York, Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

John French Sloan (August 2, 1871 – September 7, 1951) was born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Philadelphia, where he lived and worked until 1904, when he moved to New York City. In Philadelphia, he attended the prestigious Central High School – where his classmates included artist William Glackens and Albert C. Barnes – and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, studying under renowned realist Thomas Anshutz.

Sloan was one of the founders of the Ashcan School of American art (also known as the “Ash Can” School), an artistic movement in the United States that is best known for works portraying scenes of daily life in New York, often in the city’s poorer neighborhoods. He was also a member of The Eight, which included his friends and fellow artists Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, Robert Henri, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, and Everett Shinn. What the group shared was a sense of frustration with academic art and the institutions that served it, particularly the National Academy of Design in New York City. When The Eight opened their exhibition at the Macbeth Galleries in 1908, the event was viewed as an act of artistic rebellion by the press and proved to be a watershed in the evolution of American art.

Sloan, John French - Spring RainSloan’s early paintings of Philadelphia – Washington Square, Walnut Street Theater, Schuylkill River – and New York City – Wet Night on the Bowery, Throbbing Fountain, Spring Rain (pictured) – many depicted at night and/or executed with a limited “dark palette” are visually striking and mesmerizingly atmospheric. Unfortunately, in the late 1920s, just as his city paintings began to sell and provide him with a comfortable living, much to the dismay of his dealer, Charles Kraushaar, Sloan changed his technique and abandoned his characteristic urban subject matter in favor of nudes and portraits. It was an eccentric choice – entirely typical of his independent spirit – and the resulting paintings never attained the popularity of his early Ashcan works.

Sloan’s personal life also had its eccentricities… In 1898, the socially awkward artist was introduced to Anna Maria (Dolly) Wall and the two immediately fell in love. And, despite the challenges posed by her alcoholism and sexual history, which included prostitution (the two had met in a brothel), they were married on August 5, 1901.

In 1943, Dolly Sloan died of coronary heart disease. Two years later, in 1945, Sloan married Helen Farr (February 24, 1911 – December 13, 2005), a former student forty years his junior with whom he had been romantically involved. Following her husband’s death in 1951, Helen Farr Sloan helped to organize his well-received posthumous retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She also organized the artist’s estate and turned it into a philanthropic instrument to serve local, regional, national, and international arts constituencies.

Sloan, Helen FarrBeginning in 1961, and continuing throughout her life, Helen Farr Sloan nurtured a special relationship with the Delaware Art Museum. Because of her generosity and scholarship, the Delaware Art Museum now holds the largest collection of art by John Sloan, as well as an extensive collection of archival materials. An American Journey: The Art of John Sloan, which will remain on display through January 28, 2018, draws from and celebrates this extraordinary collection.

Bon Appétit!


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