John French Sloan
John Sloan was born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, in 1871. As an American painter and etcher, and is considered to be one of the founders of the Ashcan school of American art. He is best known for his urban genre scenes and his ability to capture the essence of neighborhood life in New York City, often observed through his Chelsea studio window. His father was James Dixon Sloan, a man with artistic leanings and Henrietta Ireland Sloan, a schoolteacher from an affluent family. Sloan grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he lived and worked until 1904 when he moved to New York City. That is where he and his two sisters, Elizabeth and Marianna, were encouraged to draw and paint from an early age. In the fall of 1884, he enrolled at the prestigious Central High School in Philadelphia, where his classmates included William Glackens and Albert C. Barnes.
Sloan, at the age of sixteen, became responsible for the support of his parents and sisters, as, in the spring of 1888, his father experienced a mental breakdown that left him unable to work. He dropped out of school in order to work full-time as an assistant cashier at Porter and Coates, a bookstore and seller of fine prints. Since his duties were not as demanding, it allowed him many hours to read the books and examine the works in the store's print department. It was there that Sloan created his earliest surviving works, among which are pen-and-ink copies after Dürer and Rembrandt. He also began making etchings, which were sold in the store for a modest sum. In 1890, the offer of a higher salary persuaded Sloan to leave his position to work for A. Edward Newton, a former clerk for Porter and Coates who had opened his own stationery store. At Newton's, Sloan designed greeting cards and calendars and continued to work on his etchings. In that same year, he also attended a night drawing class at the Spring Garden Institute, which provided him his first formal art training.
He soon left Newton's business in search o having greater freedom as a freelance commercial artist, but as this endeavor produced him a little income, in 1892, he began working as an illustrator in the art department of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Later that same year, Sloan began taking evening classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under the guidance of the realist Thomas Anshutz, where among his fellow students was his old schoolmate William Glackens. Also that same year, Sloan met Robert Henri, a talented painter and charismatic advocate of artistic independence who became his mentor and closest friend. Henri encouraged Sloan in his graphic work and eventually convinced him to turn to painting. They shared a common artistic outlook and in the coming years promoted a new form of realism, known as the "Ashcan school" of American art.
In 1893, Sloan and Henri founded the Charcoal Club together, whose members would also include Glackens, George Luks, and Everett Shinn. Towards the end of 1895, Sloan decided to leave The Philadelphia Inquirer to work in the art department of The Philadelphia Press. As his schedule was less rigid, it allowed him to have more time to paint and Henri often sent Sloan reproductions of European artists, such as Manet, Hals, Goya, and Velázquez to offer encouragement. In 1898, Sloan was introduced to Anna Maria (Dolly) Wall, and the two fell immediately in love. They entered into a relationship and married on August 5, 1901.
By 1903, Sloan had produced almost sixty oil paintings but had yet to establish a name for himself in the art world. In April 1904, he and Dolly moved to New York City and found quarters in Greenwich Village where he painted some of his best-known works, including McSorley's Bar, Sixth Avenue Elevated at Third Street, and Wake of the Ferry. He became increasingly prolific, but he sold little, and he continued to rely on his earnings as a freelancer for The Philadelphia Press, for which he continued to draw weekly puzzles until 1910. By 1905, he was supplementing this income by drawing illustrations for books and for journals such as Collier's Weekly, Good Housekeeping, Harper's Weekly, The Saturday Evening Post, and Scribner's.
Sloan participated in the landmark 1908 exhibition at the Macbeth Galleries of a group that included four other artists from the Philadelphia Charcoal Club (Henri, Glackens, Luks, and Shinn) as well as three artists who worked in a less realistic, more impressionistic style, Maurice Prendergast, Ernest Lawson, and Arthur B. Davies. The group was afterward collectively known as "The Eight." The Macbeth Galleries exhibition was intended as a rebuke to the restrictive exhibition practices of the powerful, conservative National Academy of Design. Sloan organized a touring exhibition of the paintings from that show that traveled to several cities from Newark to Chicago and elicited considerable discussion in the press about less academic approaches to art and new definitions of acceptable subject matter.
Also in 1913, Sloan participated in the legendary Armory Show. He served as a member of the organizing committee and also exhibited two paintings and five etchings. For Sloan, exposure to the European modernist works on view in the Armory Show initiated a gradual move away from the realist urban themes he had been painting for the previous ten years. In 1914–15, during summers spent in Gloucester, Massachusetts, he painted landscapes en plein air in a new, more fluid and colorful style influenced by Van Gogh and the Fauves.
Beginning in 1914, Sloan taught at the Art Students League for eighteen years. Sloan also taught briefly at the George Luks Art School. And for thirty years starting in the summer of 1918, he spent four months each summer in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he was inspired with the desert, but still, the majority of his works were completed in New York. In 1943, Dolly Sloan died of coronary heart disease. The next year, Sloan married Helen Farr, a former student with whom he had been romantically involved for a time in the 1930s. John Sloan died on September 7, 1951, in Hanover, New Hampshire. The following January the Whitney Museum of American Art presented a well-received retrospective of his career. Helen Farr Sloan, who became a noted philanthropist in her later years, oversaw the distribution of his unsold works to major museums throughout the country.