Social Circle

I get the overall impression that Sloan was intrigued by the lives and goings-on of people outside of his social circle.

There is a feeling of great empathy and lots of humour.

I love it!

Visitor contribution, by Russ B. 

If you would like to share a comment or viewpoint of your own, please do get in touch.

Advertisements

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)

Class

Sloan explores the social issues of importance within the 19th / 20th century of class, power, struggle and lifestyles. Through etchings and foreboding lines, shapes and form, Sloan exemplifies the social differences and draws from humorous origins to criticise or contrast the present day’s political correctness.

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.

Texture

Sloan’s etchings characteristically emphasise the visual texture of city life. Across the portfolio he uses the etched line, and the visual textures it creates, to emphasise the difference between the lived, affectual, experience of the city, and its existence as a physical mass.

man wife 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

In Man, Wife, and Child, the thick, dark outlines of the husband and wife suggest the intense energy and movement of their embrace. Behind them, the dark tenement room lies in dim shadow, the dense cross-hatching heavily suggesting the indistinct, oppressive presence of the city, and juxtaposing the vitality of its inhabitants. Similarly, in The Little Bride, the bride, depicted through light, curling strokes, embodies a fleeting movement mirrored in the confetti thrown behind her. In this way, her figure contrasts the driving linearity of the cross-hatched steps down which she descends, emerging from the rough solidity of the engraved city as a figure of human optimism.

bride
‘The Little Bride (New York City Life Series)’ 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

A similar contrast is observable in Roofs, Summer Nights. The gentle languorous curves of the sleepers’ bodies appear in blank, illuminated opposition to the rough heavily etched darkness which surrounds and engulfs them. Through these oppositions, through etched line and texture, Sloan creates and sustains a profound sense of shared human isolation in the city.

summer roofs
‘Roofs, Summer Night (New York City Life Series)’ 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

William Bateman (MA English Literature and Culture)

‘Best expressed in words’?

American artist and illustrator John Sloan (1871 – 1951) is known for his depictions of gritty everyday urban life in New York in the early 20th century. He moved from Philadelphia to New York in 1904 to pursue his career as a commercial illustrator and his calling as an observer of city life in paint, pen and print. Sloan came to be regarded as a central figure in the ‘Ashcan School’ and was noted for his painterly style and dark palette. In 1910 he joined the Socialist Party, and two years later became the art director for the radical publication The Masses; he remained committed to left-wing causes throughout his life.

slaon monkey man
‘Man Monkey (New York City Life Series)’ by John Sloan, 1905, etching. The Henry Barber Trust, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham. © Delaware Art Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS) NY

In his 1906 diary John Sloan (1871-1951) records a conversation about his portfolio of ten New York City Life (1905-6) etchings with the art critic and collector Russell Sturgis (1836-1909). While at the time Sloan ‘disagreed’, in later years he came around to Sturgis’s provocative suggestion ‘that many of the set of ten plates on N.Y. life could be best expressed in words’. This comment perhaps struck a chord with Sloan because it encourages reflection on the questions of reading and viewing raised by the prints. Was Sturgis right? Are the etchings in a sense ‘literary’ works, akin to illustrations for some unwritten city novel? And if so is this a bad thing? Or, do they have distinctly visual aesthetic qualities that could not be ‘expressed in words’?

To see more images of Sloan’s New York City Life prints, please click here.