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 Frank Joseph Van Sloun  (1879 - 1938)

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Lived/Active: California/Minnesota      Known for: historical mural, landscape, genre painting

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Ad Code: 3
Frank Joseph Van Sloun
from Auction House Records.
Spring Landscape
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A painter, muralist, etcher and educator, Frank Van Sloun, living in San Francisco, became especially noted for his murals and for being the principal West Coast exponent of Social Realism. Described as being a painter of "contemporary, raw, hearty figure pieces and urban scenes" (Gerdts 282), Van Sloun learned about Social Realism in New York City under the tutelage of Robert Henri and other members of the Ashcan School.

During his career, Van Sloun experimented with a variety of styles and mediums including Impressionism, Realism, Pointillism and pastel, oil, tempera, watercolor, gouache, monotypes and etchings. The artist was also highly respected for his teaching abilities, and is credited with bringing the credo "art for art's sake" of his mentor, Robert Henri, to the Bay Area where Van Sloun, like Henri in New York, encouraged students to follow their own inclinations and not copy-cat his methods and subjects.

Frank Van Sloun was born in 1879 in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he attended grammar and high schools and from an early age, showed obvious talent and dedication to both art and sports. He studied at the St. Paul School of Fine Arts, and one of his influential painting teachers there was Ebenezer Comins. After two years, succumbing to his love of sports, he signed on with the St. Paul professional baseball team. However, he quickly did another turn around, and at age 22, enrolled in art classes at the Art Students League in New York City. For four years, he studied with painter and teacher Robert Henri, who was promoting Social Realists subjects of of everyday people going about their ordinary, less-than-glamourous lives. He also studied at the Chase School of Art, established by William Merritt Chase.

In New York, Frank Van Sloun joined the Society of Independent Artists, a group rebelling against the conservative trends of the National Academy of Design. In 1910, he helped Henri and other modernist artists organize the first exhibition of the Society.

Between 1907 and 1908 Van Sloun spent six months in San Francisco, California, his first visit to that state, and by 1911, he had established a studio there. He taught drawing, illustration and composition at the California School of the Fine Arts in 1917, and exhibited his work at the San Francisco Art Association's Fifty-Fifth Annual Exhibition. In 1926, he joined the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley and maintained a home studio at 1617 California Street. He also maintained his ties with New York City, and spent the year of 1919 teaching at the Art Students League.

In 1914 Frank Van Sloun received his first mural commission, which was for the Mayor's office in the city of Oakland, California. The two-part mural decoration depicted the scene of a pioneer family. He continued painting on canvas, and in 1915 was awarded a bronze medal at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. His first solo exhibition was held the following year at the Helgesen Gallery in San Francisco.

He was an active contributor to the Bohemian Club of San Francisco and was elected to their board of directors in 1922. He painted many murals for the club, enhancing the walls and over-mantels of its interior. In 1926 he partnered with Maynard Dixon on a set of commissioned murals for the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco. The nine panels in "The Room of the Dons" showed the history of California and, an installation that took nine months to complete.

Van Sloun continued to paint murals for various California institutions including the California War Memorial Library building in Sacramento (1928); and the Greek inspired decorations for the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco (1936). He believed that his more minor works such as easel paintings, etchings and monotypes were just preparations for the larger mural paintings that would be on view to the public. He was more concerned with public approval for his murals than critical acclaim for his smaller works.

While preparing murals for the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939 -1940, Frank Van Sloun died on August 27, 1938.

Memberships in California included the San Francisco Art Association, the Carmel Art Association, Bohemian Club, Society of Mural Painters and the California Society of Etchers.

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"
William Gerdts, "Art Across America", Vol. III
Gordon T. McClelland and Jay T. Last, "California Watercolors 1850-1970"

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in St Paul, MN on Nov. 4, 1879. During Van Sloun's youth his interest was divided between sports and art. He studied for two years at the St Paul School of Fine Arts and, after signing with the St Paul team to play professional baseball, abruptly decided to go to NYC to pursue an art career. Arriving in 1900, he studied at the ASL under Robert Henri and the Chase School. While there, he allied himself with the Society of Independent Artists and helped organize their first exhibition in 1910. On his first visit to San Francisco in 1907-08 he spent six months and in 1911 settled there. He taught at the CSFA (1917), for one year at the ASL in NYC (1919), and in 1926 joined the faculty at UC Berkeley while maintaining a studio in his home in San Francisco at 1617 California Street. During the last decade of his life, he gained wide fame as an artist and an educator. He died in San Francisco on Aug. 27, 1938 while preparing murals for the GGIE. An adherent of the Ash Can School, Van Sloun's works were inspired by typical Americans in everyday life. During his career he used such varied styles as Impressionism, Pointillism, and Realism. His oeuvre includes oils, pastels, and tempera compositions as well as etchings and monotypes. Member: Internationale des Beaux Arts et des Lettres (1909); SFAA; Calif. Society of Etchers; Society of Mural Painters; Carmel AA; Bohemian Club. Exh: SFAA, 1908-38; PPIE, 1915 (bronze medal); Bohemian Club, 1922; Galerie Beaux Arts (SF), 1926; GGIE, 1939; CPLH, 1942 (solo); Triton Museum (Santa Clara), 1968 (solo); CHS, 1975 (solo). In: CSL; Mills College (Oakland); Canterbury Hotel (SF); Elks Club (SF); Bohemian Club (murals); CHS; State Library and Court Bldg (Sacramento); Mark Hopkins Hotel (SF), Room of the Dons (with Maynard Dixon); Oakland Museum.
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
California Art Research, 20 volumes; American Art Annual 1919-33; California Historical Society Quarterly, winter 1975; SF Chronicle, 8-28-1938 (obituary).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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Frank Van Sloun is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915

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