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 John French Sloan  (1871 - 1951)

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Lived/Active: New York/New Mexico/New Hampshire      Known for: social realist painting, illustration, teaching

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, John Sloan became one of the major early 20th- century figures in New York, pioneering the Social Realist movement with Robert Henri and his circle.   He was also an illustrator and early eastern painter in the Southwest.

Sloan moved with his family to Philadelphia where he attended Central High School and became a close friend of William Glackens.  He worked for a print dealer and as illustrator for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Press.  He also studied at the Pennsylvania Academy with Thomas Anshutz and met Robert Henri.

In 1904, he moved to New York and while continuing as an illustrator, became a part of Henri's circle of urban realists. He was an avid walker who continually strolled the streets for subject matter, especially exploring Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side. His work with great humanitarian bent flourished especially during this time because he was so committed emotionally to his subject matter.

He joined the Socialist Party in 1910 and espoused utopian ideas of equality but was never a political activist.  However, from 1912 to 1916, he was art editor of the party's monthly periodical The Masses, and his skillful illustrations elevated the quality of the publication.  The realities of World War I caused him, like so many, to become disenchanted with hard-line socialism.

He taught at the Art Students League, and his students included Reginald Marsh, Raphael Soyer, and Alexander Calder.

Opposing the traditional hold that the National Academy had over the art world in America, he exhibited as one of "The Eight" in 1908 at the Macbeth Gallery.  In 1913, he was much affected by the Armory Show exhibition of modernist painting, particularly the Post-Impressionist, Fauve, and Cubist works and after that year became experimenting with more radical painting styles.  He was also an avid etcher.

Influenced by his friend Henri, who had spent summers of 1916 and 1917 in New Mexico, Sloan and his wife Dolly first visited Santa Fe in 1919.   From that time, he made several painting trips to the Southwest and was active in the Santa Fe colony and in getting other eastern artists to head West.   Unlike many of his contemporaries there, he refused to paint romanticized views of the Mexican and Indian culture.  He served as President of the Exposition of Indian Tribal Arts in the 1930s and lobbied the Society of Independent Artists to include work by Native Americans in their exhibitions.

In 1944, Sloan married Helen Farr, who had been one of his students, and after her husband's death in 1951, she devoted herself to turning his estate into a philanthropic instrument.  The largest benefactor was the Delaware Art Museum, which recieved more than 5000 works including painting representing every phase of his career and his archival papers.  With these acquisitions, the Museum became the leading repository for the study of Sloan.  In honor of the ongoing support by Helen Farr Sloan, museum representatives named its library the Helen Farr Sloan Library.

Sources include:
Lloyd Goodrich, John Sloan
Michael David Zelllman, 300 Years of American Art
"
Helen Farr Sloan, 95, Faithful Supporter of Delaware Art Museum", Antiques and The Arts Weekly, March 10, 2006.


Biography from Owen Gallery:
In 1874, John Sloan was born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, and in 1875, his family moved to Philadelphia, where he spent the next thirty years.

Sloan began his career as a newspaper illustrator for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Through Charles Grafly, Sloan soon met Robert Henri, who was then teaching courses at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  Sloan enrolled in a drawing class at the Academy taught by Thomas Anshutz, and eventually began renting Henri's studio at 806 Walnut Street, which became a meeting place of other young newspaper illustrators including William Glackens, George Luks, Everett Shinn, and of course, Sloan himself. These artists along with Henri are now termed the "Philadelphia Five."

By 1896-97, with the encouragement of Henri, Sloan began painting seriously, primarily portraits, aside from his commercial work, and soon began exhibiting his canvases.  By 1904, following the lead of the rest of the Philadelphia Five, Sloan moved to New York City with his wife Dolly, whom he married in 1901.

In 1908, Sloan was one of the participating artists in the landmark exhibition, The Eight, at the Macbeth Gallery in New York.  Although Sloan considered himself a professional artist, with his particular aptitude for drawing and print making, he continued to support himself as a commercial illustrator until 1916. (Sloan did not sell a painting until 1913 when Albert C. Barnes of Philadelphia purchased Nude in the Green Scarf.

In 1919, Sloan took his first trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico at the urging of Henri, who had visited the town on two separate occasions in 1916 and 1917.  In 1920, Sloan purchased a home in Santa Fe and through 1950, spent four months of every year, except one, in the Southwest.

After his first wife died in 1943, Sloan married pupil and longtime friend, Helen Farr, in 1944.  But seven years later, on September 7, 1951, Sloan died in Hanover, New Hampshire from post-operative complications.

Biography from Altermann Galleries & Auctioneers VI:
As a teenager, John Sloan worked for a dealer in Old-Master prints and copied all the illustrations in a dictionary.  He studied at Spring Garden Institute in Philadelphia and in 1892 at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts with Thomas Anshutz and Robert Henri whose studio was the social hub for his “black gang”---Sloan, William Glackens, George Luks, and Everett Shinn---the fellow artist-reporters on the Philadelphia Press.

Sloan sketched news events on the spot, making the record a photograph now provides. Henri encouraged Sloan to paint the sketches, with spontaneity.  Henri and Sloan worked so long on his paintings, that his name was the past tense of slow.  By 1898, Sloan was working for a New York City newspaper, and by 1904, all five were in New York City.

When the National Academy of Design slighted Henri in 1907, he with Sloan, Arthur Davies, Ernest Lawson, and Maurice Prendergast became part of The Eight in order to exhibit theire work at the Macbeth Gallery.   Sloan did not sell a painting at that exhibit.

As a practicing Socialist looking for social disparities, he ranged the city, particularly the areas of Coney Island, Union Square, and the Bowery to capture slices of life with economy and candor. 

He was the only member of The Eight who had not studied in Europe, but he taught at the Art Students League 1914-26 and 1935-37.  His painting philosophy is set forth in his book Gist of Art published in 1939.

In 1919, Randall Davey persuaded Sloan to forsake Gloucester, Massachusetts for a summer in Santa Fe.  There Sloan bought an adobe in 1920 for occupancy most of his remaining summers.  In New Mexico, Sloan was a lion, not a radical.  His work was warm, “but he could never seem to take more than a visiting spectator’s viewpoint when painting the Indian.”

Source:
Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West



Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia:
Much like other American artists who came to the forefront of the art scene with the advent of non-academic realistic style at the beginning of the twentieth century, John Sloan initiated his career in the arts through newspaper illustration.  Before honing his skills through illustration, he worked at a bookshop where he learned the etching process.  From there he served as an illustrator at the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Press, and even produced full-page, color puzzle drawings in the Art Nouveau style. 

Employment at the newspapers allowed time for instruction at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with Thomas Anshutz. Nevertheless, it was the camaraderie amongst the young Philadelphia illustrators, and their desire to better their work that elevated them as artists.  Sloan was one of the group that met weekly at the studio of Robert Henri to paint and receive criticism.(1)

By 1903, John Sloan was seeking a career breakthrough.  Since 1895 he had been employed as an artist by the Philadelphia Press, and had filled their Sunday newspaper editions with elegant Art Nouveau illustrations and pictorial puzzles. During the previous year, however, his close friend, the artist William Glackens, had asked Sloan and their Philadelphia colleague, George Luks, to collaborate on the etchings for a deluxe edition of the writings of the popular author Paul de Kock.  It was Sloan’s first major illustration commission outside of his work for the Press.  De Kock’s fictional histories of French life in the 1840s were filled with sex, wine and ambiguity, and Sloan responded enthusiastically to the challenge.  His etchings for de Kock were immediately recognized for their fresh, invigorating realism, compositional daring, and “clumsiness” – the critics’ term at the time for bold graphic realization, or “rude vigor” – and gained him a reputation as “among the most original draughtsmen in the country,” and a leading proponent of the “dash and virility of life.”(2)

Sloan moved to New York City in 1904, and he encountered the subject matter that would define his oeuvre—life on the city streets.  He continued working as an illustrator in New York, producing images for publications such as Harper’s and Scribner’s.  His surroundings in the city dominated his own art as Sloan continued to develop a realistic style through drawing, painting and etching.  He participated in the rebellious exhibition of The Eight in 1908, which immediately elevated the status of artists such as Sloan, because they broke with academic tradition through both technique and subject matter which critics deemed offensive.  Sloan also involved himself in the exhibition of the Independent Artists and served as president of the Society of Independent Artists from 1918 until his death. 

Sloan continued his involvement with liberal politics by joining the Socialist Party and joining the staff of The Masses, a socialist magazine, as art editor.  Eventually he would abandon both the party and the magazine over ideological debates. 

Sloan remained active in the New York art scene throughout his life. Like so many artists, he influenced students as an instructor at the Art Students League.  He continued to promote the spirit and the vitality of the city as a primary subject, but found that summer trips to Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, provided alternatives with new and interesting people and places to paint.  Sloan painted the female figure consistently, exploring a wide range of representational modes for the female body.(3)  He portrayed women in a myriad of activities, but it is the combination of feminine subject with portraiture that he explored frequently. Sloan’s reputation does not reflect his portraits, which are overshadowed by images of vital metropolitan life in the early twentieth century.  Yet portraits remain integral to his exploration of art, as he continued to strive for the most successful combination of paint application, color, harmony, and interpretation of subject.  The artist wrote, “Students find it hard to create a portrait, because they are so concerned with superficial likeness that they are afraid to use their imagination.  You must find something that strikes you about the person; put it down as your point of view.”(4)

Footnotes:
1. For biographical information, see Rowland Elzea, John Sloan’s Oil Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonné (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 1991). Other books on Sloan include: Bruce St. Johns, ed., John Sloan’s New York Scene (New York, Harper & Row, 1965) and David Scott, John Sloan (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1975).  For additional accounts of Sloan’s life and art, see Lloyd Goodrich, John Sloan (New York: Published for the Whitney Museum of American Art by the Macmillan Co., 1952); Van Wyck Brooks, John Sloan: A Painter’s Life (New York: Dutton, 1955); E. John Bullard, John Sloan and the Philadelphia Realists as Illustrators, 1890-1920 (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968); Bruce St. John, John Sloan (New York: Praeger, 1971); Rowland Elzea and Elizabeth Hawkes, John Sloan: Spectator of Life (Wilmington: Delaware Art Museum, 1988); and John Loughery, John Sloan: Painter and Rebel (New York: H. Holt, 1995). 2. Thanks to Bruce Chambers for these notes. Also, see New York Evening Sun, April 25, 1903, as quoted in David Scott, John Sloan (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1975): 70. 3. Karen Sherry, “Form and Meaning in John Sloan’s Representations of the Female Body” in The Gist of Drawing: Works on Paper by John Sloan (Wilmington: Delaware Art Museum, 1997). 4. John Sloan, Gist of Art (New York: Dover Publications, 1939), 107. Staff, Columbus Museum

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