John French Sloan Biography | Oil Paintings

8-2-1871 Lock Haven, PA USA - 9-7-1951 Hanover, New Hanpshire USA

Sloan, John French

John French Sloan had an interest in art at an early age and produced drawings when he was twelve. He taught himself etching in the late 1880s. He was good enough that by 1892 he began working as an illustrator in the art department of The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper and in the evening take classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts with the realist Thomas Anshutz. At the Academy, John French Sloan met Robert Henri, who had just returned from France, a talented painter and charismatic advocate of artistic independence who became his mentor and closest friend. Henri encouraged Sloan in his graphic work and convinced him to start painting since they shared a common aesthetic viewpoint. In the coming years, they promoted a new form of realism painting, known as the Ashcan School of American art.

Sloan left The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1895 to work at The Philadelphia Press, where he had a less rigorous schedule that allowed him more time to paint. Working at that newspaper, he met William Glackens, George Luks, and Everett Shinn. These men would have weekly meetings at the studio of Robert Henri. Henri, who was much older, encouraged him and often sent John French Sloan reproductions of artists, such as Édouard Manet, Frans Hals the Elder, Francisco Jose de Goya, and Diego Velazquez, for him to study and for drawing practice.

At the turn of the century, under Henri's influence, Sloan was beginning to take painting more seriously, producing portraits and scenes of life in and around his Philadelphia neighborhood.

By 1903, John French Sloan had already produced sixty oil paintings but was still unknown in the in the art world. In 1904, he and his wife Dolly, an alcoholic and ex-prostitute, moved to Greenwich Village in New York City, 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 an increasingly productive painter, but his art was not selling well, so he continued to rely on his job as a freelance artist for The Philadelphia Press.

Finding that their gritty, urban paintings were frequently rejected by exhibition juries, Henri and his friends, began to organize their own exhibitions. In 1908, the original Ashcan artists John French Sloan, Robert Henri, Everett Shinn, William Glackens, and George Luks, along with three other friends who painted in a different style, Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson, and Maurice Prendergast received an enormous amount of press attention when they exhibited together at the Macbeth Galleries. Portrayed as a protest against the conservatism of the National Academy of Design, American Impressionism, and Academic Realism, the show was a huge success attracting publicity, visitors, and many sales. The group became known as The Eight and the exhibition toured around the country. Unfortunately, none of Sloan’s work sold.

In 1913, Sloan participated in the legendary New York Armory Show and that same year, the important art collector Albert C. Barnes purchased one of Sloan's paintings, this being Sloan's fourth sale of a painting, ever. The following year, Sloan started teaching at the Art Students League, where for the next eighteen years he was a charismatic but eccentric art teacher.

Every summer until 1918 Sloan had spent in Gloucester, Massachusetts, then for the next thirty years, he spent four months each summer in the desert landscape of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

John French Sloan tended to observe city dwellers, shop girls, prostitutes, cleaning women and hairdressers interacting in an intimate setting. Like Edward Hopper, Sloan also used the perspective of the window in his painting, as a frame of reference, but also to observe his subject undetected.

In the late 1920s, just as the market for his city paintings was finally reaching a point at which he might have made a comfortable living, John French Sloan changed his technique and abandoned his characteristic urban subject matter in favor of nudes and portraits. This independence was entirely typical of him, to the dismay of his art dealer.

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Art Movement: Ashcan School.
Artists Influencing John French Sloan: Thomas Anshutz, Robert Henri.
Painters John French Sloan Influenced: Peggy Bacon, Aaron Bohrod, Alexander Calder, Reginald Marsh, Barnett Newman and Norman Raeben.
Artist Biography compiled by Albert L. Mansour at The World's Artist, with text adapted from Wikipedia.

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