A few thoughts from a visitor

Sloan describes (in his diary of 1906) Lower East Side streets fill of healthy, happy children.

He signed the women’s page – from his New York City Life series – later on.

A visitor’s interpretation of John Sloan’s ‘New York City Life’ prints on display in the Barber’s current exhibition. Author wishes to remain anonymous. If you would like to share a comment or viewpoint of your own, please do get in touch.

Women

Women are a strong and recurring presence in New York City Life. They feature in every print and take on different roles depending on the scene. Women are protagonists in seven of the prints, dominating the scene and attracting the viewers’ attention even if there are male figures surrounding or accompanying them. This is evident in Fifth Avenue Critics and The Little Bride where male figures seem secondary to their female companions, going against the grain of the male-dominated society of the early 1900s.

Fifth Avenue Critics
‘Fifth Avenue Critics’ by John Sloan, 1905-6, etching. The Henry Barber Trust, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham. © Delaware Art Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS) NY

Sloan was surrounded by strong women, including his mother and sisters and especially his wife Dolly (1876-1943), who was a vocal and visible suffragist and prominent member of the New York Socialist Party’s Women’s Committee. He would come to admire powerful women including the pioneering dancer Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) and the anarchist leader Emma Goldman (1869-1940), and to make cartoons for The Masses magazine that expressed the proto-feminist issues of the era.

man wife and child
‘Man, Wife, and Child’ by John Sloan, 1905-6, etching. The Henry Barber Trust, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham. © Delaware Art Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS) NY

Sloan’s admiration for and pictorial emphasis on women is also evident in the etchings where they do not dominate. In Connoisseurs of Prints women are hard to distinguish from the gallery-going crowd but can be seen taking active roles in conversations and connoisseurship and so challenging male domination of the public sphere. Roofs, Summer Night presents another public space in which men and women sleep, talk and gaze at one another on seemingly equal terms, while in the modest domestic interior of Man, Wife, and Child Sloan celebrates the intimate dance of a couple who appear in step with one another and evenly matched.

 

Amanda Griggio (MA by Research in English Literature)