American painter John Sloan (1871-1951) was a pioneer realist. He specialized in city street scenes, New Mexican subjects, and the nude.
Born in Lock Haven, Pa., on Aug. 2, 1871, John Sloan was taken to Philadelphia as a child. After he finished high school, he worked for booksellers and dry-goods dealers. He studied briefly under Thomas Anshutz at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and in 1892 was employed by the Philadelphia Inquirer as a newspaper artist. Robert Henri encouraged him as a painter, and he was influenced by Japanese prints. In 1895 he moved to the Philadelphia Press, for which he drew full-page color pictures until 1902. His early paintings were street scenes, somber in color, vivid and direct in execution. These were first exhibited in 1900 in Chicago and Pittsburgh, and he was included in a New York group show in 1901.
Sloan married in 1901 and in 1904 moved to New York. For many years he supported himself as a magazine illustrator and, after 1906, as a teacher. A series of 10 etchings of city life in 1905-1906, rich in content, often with undercurrents of humor or irony, found no purchasers. Though his work was seen in these years in the Carnegie International Exhibition and the National Academy of Design, more often than not his pungent and unidealized urban scenes were rejected by academic critics. It was in part his rejection by the academy in 1907 that caused Henri to withdraw from that organization. Sloan was one of the group of painters called "The Eight," whose exhibition at the Macbeth Gallery in 1908 called attention to the radical subject matter and vigorous execution of five of the painters—Henri, Sloan, William Glackens, George Luks, and Everett Shinn.
Sloan and his wife joined the Socialist party in 1910, and he became art editor of its magazine, The Masses, to which he contributed some of his most compelling drawings. In 1910 and again in 1913 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the New York State Assembly. He withdrew from the party in 1914 but remained on the staff of The Masses for 2 more years. He sold his first painting in 1913 to Dr. Albert C. Barnes. He was well represented that same year in the celebrated Armory Show but was too completely a representational artist to have much sympathy for the new European movements exhibited there.
Sloan was an active teacher at the Art Students League and served as its president in 1931. He was president of the Society of Independent Artists from 1918 until his death; this organization staged large, no-jury, no-prize shows from 1917 until 1944.
From 1914 to 1918 Sloan spent the summers in Gloucester, Mass., where he painted landscapes as well as people. He traveled to the Southwest for the first time in 1919, and for the rest of his life spent long periods in Santa Fe, N. Mex., where he built a house in 1940. The life of the Indians, the ceremonial activities of the Spanish inhabitants, and the dramatic desert landscape provided powerful new subjects. In 1931 he was active in organizing a large exhibition of Indian tribal arts.
After about 1930 Sloan painted no more city scenes but became increasingly concerned with studies of the nude. The late paintings are monumental and technically innovative. In contrast to the direct execution of his earlier work, these are carefully constructed with monochrome underpainting, upon which an elaborate surface of bold cross-hatchings in color gives startling relief.
The power of Sloan's personality is well conveyed in Gist of Art (1939), a compilation of statements made to his students which were recorded by Helen Farr, who became his second wife, in 1944. Sloan died on Sept. 7, 1951, in Hanover, N.H.
Further Reading on John Sloan
Sloan's Gist of Art (1939) is an eloquent statement of his attitudes and methods, with interesting comments on his own works. Sloan's New York Scene: From Diaries, Notes and Correspondence, 1906-1913, edited by Bruce St. John and introduced by Helen Farr Sloan (1965), describes Sloan and his world. Lloyd Goodrich, John Sloan (1952), published in connection with an exhibition at the Whitney Museum, is the best critical study. Van Wyck Brooks, John Sloan: A Painter's Life, is a sympathetic personal account. Guy Pène du Bois, John Sloan (no date), is a brief but useful picture book. There are interesting personal sidelights in Bennard B. Perlman, The Immortal Eight (1962).
Additional Biography Sources
Loughery, John, John Sloan: painter and rebel, New York: H. Holt, 1995.
Scott, David W., John Sloan, New York: Watson-Guptill, 1975.