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ABOUT THE ARTIST John Sloan (1871-1951) was one of the first important American Realist painters of the early 20th century. Born in Lock Haven, Penn., Sloan moved to Philadelphia when he was five years old. After dropping out of high school, he taught himself the technique of etching and began supporting himself as a freelance artist.

In 1895, Sloan secured a job as an illustrator for The Philadelphia Press, where he became skilled at drafting quick sketches of street life. Sloan's colleagues included William Glackens, George Luks and Everett Shinn, men who not only worked together in the newsroom, but studied art together at the Pennsylvania Academy.

Their teacher, Robert Henri, encouraged them toward subject matter that depicted daily life and common experiences, and introduced his students to the work of Goya and Daumier. Sloan referred to Henri as his "father in art," and in 1904 followed his mentor to New York and found work as an illustrator. But he soon turned more seriously to painting.

Sloan began to absorb the pulse of Manhattan street life, especially the neighborhoods of the Lower East Side and the Bowery, which he called "a maze of living incident." During walks through the city, he would record his observations in a journal, many of which inspired his most successful works, such as Hairdresser's Window, painted in 1907.

In 1908 Sloan, along with Henri and Glackens, organized an independent art exhibit as a rebuke of The National Academy of Design's rejection of modernist paintings. They called the exhibit "Eight Independent Painters," which quickly gave the group a name: The Eight. (Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast and Everett Shinn rounded out the group.)

Later, this group of painters would become known as The Ashcan School, although it was mainly Sloan's subject matter that inspired the moniker. (George Bellows and a young Edward Hopper were also part of this group.) "As compared with contemporary European developments, their work was not revolutionary, but the 'vulgarity' of their subject matter was enough to provoke sharp criticism for a time, as least, until their offenses paled beside the public outrage aroused by the introduction of avant-garde modernism at the Armory Show of 1913." (Source: Brown, et al. American Art. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1979, p. 357.)

Although Sloan joined the Socialist Party in 1910, and two years later became art director for the left-wing periodical The Masses, his paintings never reached beyond observation to serious political commentary, such as was the case in the photography of Jacob Riis and the paintings of Social Realist, Ben Shahn. In contrast, Sloan's drawings depicting courtroom scenes and labor strikes reveal the artist's interest in and disdain for social injustice and the hardships of the working class.

Referred to as an "American Hogarth," Sloan's paintings can be characterized as a combination of illustration, caricature and theatricality depicted with a sketchy quality that is more related to his work as a newspaper illustrator than anything put forth by the Impressionists.

In a review of the book Two of the Eight (B.B. Perlman, editor), reviewer Michael J. Lewis notes, "What he [Sloan] knew of modern French painting came secondhand, filtered through Henri. Still, he had a sharp eye for the group composition--the legacy of his newspaper days--and his work always retained its prying voyeurism, as he prowled tenement rooftops, peering over fire escapes to find his unwitting subjects."

Sloan spent part of his time teaching at the Art Students League in New York City, and in 1939 authored a book titled The Gist of Art. Sloan was also active in Gloucester, Mass., and Santa Fe, N.M. He died in 1951, as The Whitney Museum of Art was in the process of planning a retrospective on his work.

ABOUT THE PAINTING After the 1913 Armory Show, John Sloan began to seriously examine color theory. In 1919, in search of new subject matter, he traveled to Santa Fe, N.M., and promptly became smitten with the environment, and in particular, the colors. In his book, The Gist of Art, he wrote, "I like the colors out there. The ground is not covered with green mold as it is elsewhere. The piton trees dot the surface of hills and mesas with exciting textures. When you see a green tree it is like a lettuce against the earth, a precious growing thing. Because the air is so clear you feel the reality of the things in the distance."

The following summer, Sloan purchased property there, where he and his wife spent nearly every summer for the rest of his life. This month's Clip & Save Art Print, Traveling Carnival, Santa Fe, was painted four years later, and represents a clear departure in tone, color and subject matter from the gritty work for which Sloan was known. A description of the painting found on the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Web site reads: "In this lively carnival scene, a crowded carousel spins in the foreground and a Ferris wheel brightens the nighttime sky. The warm, inviting light and distant midway tents attract a wide spectrum of Santa Fe society--black-garbed Spanish matrons, romantic cowboys, cloche-hatted flappers, and carefree children all enjoy the festive evening." (Source:

In Sloan's earlier paintings, his palette tended toward dark colors. In Traveling Carnival, Santa Fe, Sloan displays his newfound interest in color theory. Compositionally, the "black-garbed Spanish matrons" placed in the lower center of the frame mimic the distant trees, both of which serve as a counterbalance to the riotous color display. Setting his subject at night gave Sloan the opportunity to depict artificial light, emanating from the carousel and distant Ferris wheel, and its saturating effects on the carnival goer's clothing.

Ironically, the pleasant tone of paintings such as Traveling Carnival, Santa Fe brought Sloan derision from critics, accustomed to his gritty New York works produced as a member of The Eight and The Ashcan School.
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Title Annotation:Fun & Recreation in Art; painter John Sloan
Author:Carroll, Colleen
Publication:Arts & Activities
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2010
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