Editor's note: The following essay was rekeyed and reprinted, with certain new text added at the request of the author, on September 19, 2002 in Resource Library Magazine with permission of Brauer Museum of Art, Valparaiso University and Richard H. W. Brauer. The essay was previously included in pages 1 -24 of a 32 page illustrated exhibition catalogue for the exhibition In Quest of Beauty: Nineteenth-Century America as seen in The Art and Life of Junius R. Sloan, 1827-1900, held November 10 through January 6, 2000 at Brauer Museum of Art. Images accompanying the text in the exhibition catalogue were not reproduced with this reprinting. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or if you have interest in obtaining a copy of the exhibition catalogue, please contact Brauer Museum of Art through either this phone number or web address:


In Quest of Beauty: Nineteenth-Century America as seen in The Art and Life of Junius R. Sloan, 1827-1900

by Richard H. W. Brauer



In Quest of Beauty presents the story of Junius Sloan (1827-1900), a self-taught Great Lakes Region artist, whose unrivalled prairie paintings of 1866 are thought to be the earliest depictions of life on the settled Illinois prairie. Sloan began his career as an itinerant portraitist and became the first resident portraitist painting the prosperous citizens of the prairie city of Princeton, Illinois. He moved to Chicago in 1864 as one of its early resident landscapists. Sloan was a regular participant in Chicago's important exhibitions, and in the 1870s, he attained prominence among Chicago's older painters by being elected Academician and vice president of the Chicago Academy of Design.

Sloan was among the nineteenth-century American landscape painters who celebrated the American homeland as Edenic, an unspoiled paradise reflecting its Creator. He painted closely-observed scenes either in oil or watercolor, of traditional untouched Hudson River country landscapes in the Hudson River School style. He also painted serene views of the pastoral Midwest. All he painted worshipfully, as though in the presence of the harmonious beauty of Divine order.

Sloan's story is exhibited through paintings, drawings, photographs, letters, and other materials taken mostly from the Sloan collection-of-record at the Brauer Museum of Art. These, as well as references to the Spencer papers, Newberry Library, provide a window into Sloan's art, life, and times: i.e. into a realistic art in devout awe of harmonious nature; into a life among westward-moving, self-reliant Yankees who wanted to be memorialized in painted or photographic portraits; and into the late nineteenth-century postbellum times which increasingly offered business education for both men and women.

This essay touches on Sloan's growing up as an artist, his life as a portraitist and genre painter, and his life as a landscapist. It concludes with an epilogue.

Growing Up as an Artist, 1827-1856


Nature -- the book from which I study is spread out before me in all places and is always open.
Junius, farming for his parents, to Robert Spencer, June (, 1851
(Spencer Papers, Newberry Library).

Junius Ralston Sloan was born on March 10, 1827, in Kingsville, Ashtabula County, Ohio, near the shores of Lake Erie. He grew up with his seven siblings there and ten miles away in West Springfield, Pennsylvania, on the Sloan family farm. His mother was a milliner, who was descended from Mayflower passengers, and his father was a blacksmith/farmer, who was descended from a Scot in Wolfe's army in Canada, and who settled in New England. From childhood on, Junius delighted in drawing and painting the beauties of nature.

Without much guidance, Junius struggled on his own to develop his talent. He learned by doing. When he became twenty-one, he left home to travel from Ohio to Vermont as an itinerant "head-hunter," painting portraits at two to ten dollars a head. His son described him at this time as "six-foot tall but slight." Between travels he farmed for his father, first in West Springfield, and then at Wethersfield (which became Kewanee when the railroad came through in 1854) on the northwestern Illinois prairie. All the while he studied the book of nature. "Nature," he said later, "was my teacher."

Junius received encouragement from Platt R. Spencer (Fig. 4), his Geneva, Ohio, penman/farmer neighbor, who in the 1840s and 1850s was successfully developing and teaching his own system of legible business penmanship. By the 1860s and 1870s this system had become the standard calligraphy of American business and education. As Junius was inspired by nature, Platt, also "without masters," was inspired by the rhythms of moving wind and water, and the ovals of seeds and smoothed stones to analyze and simplify the writing of letter forms into a teachable system called Spencerian. Spencer's son Robert became Junius' good friend and correspondent, and his daughter Sara, Junius' wife. At mid-century, the Midwest had no art academies. Instead, Junius sought and received mentoring (i..e, informal instruction, advice, and encouragement) from Moses Billings (Fig. 5), a portraitist of Erie, Pennsylvania, and from free-black Robert Duncanson, a landscape painter of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Life as a Resident Portraitist and Genre Painter, 1856-1863


I have but just opened here, and the prospect seems Tolerably favorable inasmuch as there is wealth, taste, and a lack of pictures. . .
Junius Sloan, Princeton, Illinois, to P. R. Spencer, May 18, 1856
(Spencer Papers, Newberry Library).

Likenesses are among our dearest possessions. In the mid-nineteenth century, oil portraits and, increasingly, photographic portraits were widely prized by business, professional and civic leaders in the villages and cities of America. Scholar William Gerdts concludes that these are portraits of the "natural aristocracy in a democracy."[1]

In May of 1856, at age twenty-nine, Junius Sloan offered his services as the first resident: portraitist to the 2,500 people in the Bureau County seat of Princeton, founded on the northwestern prairie of Illinois in the early 1830s by New Englanders. There, for eighteen months, Sloan experienced what friend Robert Spencer called the "Smile of Fortune," and he made lasting friendships.

Sloan painted -- in the style of his mentor, Moses Billings -- crisp, detailed likenesses of some of Princeton's young professionals, farmers, and businessmen (Fig. 6). These paintings were priced at twenty-five dollars. Many are still treasured by descendants. His subjects included brothers of nature poet William Cullen Bryant.

His career as portraitist established by 1857, Sloan, at: age thirty moved to New York City with Princeton painter Julian Bryant (nephew of William Cullen Bryant) and occupied the New York City Appleton Building studio of leading portraitist, Daniel Huntington, for five months when Huntington was away. It was here that Sloan painted his self-portrait, not crisp, in control, but gentle, responsive, a brushy departure from his commercial style (Fig. 3). On June 30, 1858, Junius wed Sara, daughter of Platt R. and Persis Duty Spencer in Geneva, Ohio. At first, Junius and Sara settled in Kewanee, Illinois; he as a portraitist, she as a teacher of penmanship. There he painted the Portrait of Drusilla Sloan (his mother), now in the collection of the Essex Historical Society. From December, 1859, through May, 1860, they were with her parents in Oberlin, Ohio, where he painted portraits of Platt and Persis. In March, Sara and Junius traveled to Hiram, Ohio, where Sara taught "Writing Classes."

Having long preferred landscape painting to portraiture, in 1857 Sloan purchased British critic John Ruskin's new book, The Elements of Drawing, which included instructions for depicting nature "truthfully," with closely observed details. Again, learning by doing, Sloan took time our from portraiture in the summer and fall of 1860 to paint landscapes. He, Sara, and her student-artist brother Lyman went to live with her relatives in the Catskill Mountains, and then Sara and Junius went to New York City for two months. There in the Hudson River Valley, the center of antebellum American landscape painting -- but towards the end of its development -- Junius Sloan began his career of painting landscape and genre subjects.

During the 1860-1861 years, Sloan was particularly influenced by Ruskin and he produced highly detailed oil landscapes (Fig. 7) and pencil and ink figure drawings (Figs. 8 and 9). His faithful factuality culminated six years later in The Knitting Lesson (Fig. 10), a unique document, objectively recording the modest sitting room of a Civil War-era farm home on the Illinois prairie with a glowing brick hearth; a gold-edged, leather-bound Bible on a tasseled white cloth on a fine stand in the light of a hidden window; and many other telling details. In this setting, Sloan shows his invalid mother, Drusilla, wearing an indoor dust bonnet and a shawl for warmth on a cold day, while passing on knitting skills to her granddaughter, Cara.

In 1861, Junius' efforts to become a landscapist were interrupted. Sara needed to care for Persis, her terminally ill mother in Geneva, Ohio. There Sara gave birth in August to Spencer, their firstborn. During the next two years in nearby Erie, Pennsylvania, Sloan painted twenty-six oil on canvas portraits and sixteen photo-colored portraits on paper. His uncle Frank Sloan, of Sloan, Booth, & M'Creary Grocers, helped Junius, as he had in the 1840s and 1850s, with room, board, and studio space, as well as with contacts for commissions. These were Civil War years. Although he was not in the Union army, Sloan received personal news of the war from his enlisted brother Henry and brother-in-law Lyman. (Some of Henry's letters are in the exhibit.) In the meantime, Sloan improved his finances, attended art exhibits in Buffalo, New York, and continued to make plans for a career as a landscapist.


Life as a Landscapist, 1864-1900


The sketching season is near at hand and during it I shall wander somewhat in quest of beauty.
Junius Sloan, in Hyde Park, New York, to admiring collector, William M. Wood, M.D., Washington, D. C., May 5, 1870
(Spencer Papers, Newberry Library).

Finally, in 1864, at age thirty-seven, Junius, Sara, and their little son Spencer came to Chicago, "the Empire City of the West," which "roars with business," to pursue a career as a landscapist. He took third floor studio apartment #52 in the Crosby Opera House, the cultural center of pre-fire Chicago. Here Sloan earned prominence among the early resident Chicago landscape artists, being well represented in the Chicago 1867 Crosby Opera House Exhibit and Lottery. This was a nationally advertised event, with sales offices in New York City as well as in Chicago.

In the summer and fall of 1865, Sloan took a sketching trip to the Spencer homestead in Ohio. From there he traveled east to Staten Island, the Catskill Mountains, and Lake George. At the Spencer homestead in July and early August, Sloan painted carefully detailed tree studies such as On the Geneva Farm (Fig. 11) resembling his detailed Catskill scenes of 1860 (Fig. 7). Through close observation, Sloan revealed particular tree branching, leafage groupings, wild flowers and grasses, all in relatively shallow, flat, frontal space. In these focused, crystalline works Sloan presented nature in a timeless, arrested state of being. Then a few months later, in the east, perhaps in response both to the requirements of quick, field oil sketching and also to dissatisfaction with the previous "airless" paintings (as son Percy later called them), Sloan seems abruptly to have changed his style in order to add Ruskin's "general truths of tone, atmosphere, and space." Sloan's new style oil sketch, A Showery Afternoon on Lake George (Fig. 12), produced in the fall, presents nature as being in a state of flux.

The following summer and fall, Sloan sketched and painted at his father Seymour Sloan's prairie farm near Kewanee, Illinois. It was almost his last chance to do so. In November, 1862 Seymour would retire, first to live twenty years at Prospect and Chestnut Streets in Kewanee, then four years in Redlands, California.

Seymour arrived in Kewanee by 1853, as the frontier on the northwestern Illinois prairie was passing, and before the railroad town Kewanee was founded in 1854. He farmed the land for fourteen years; the first four years he had 558 acres, and for the next five years 212 acres. By 1866 he had sold all but 40 acres. His farm was diverse, apparently to supply both family needs and the commercial market at minimal risks. Teenage son Henry, working on the farm in the late 1850s, wrote detailed letters to Junius about wormy sweet potatoes and cabbage, planting currants, having plenty of watermelons, being annoyed by pesky roosters, selling pigs "on the hoof," going to the "timber" to cut and then install fence posts, threshing wheat in a caravan, rejoicing that Seymour was buying a mower and reaper, and using a planter to plant corn. The cows provided milk and meat. But Seymour's main commercial product on this corn belt farm was probably field corn. Three Junius Sloan paintings which give evidence of this crop are Sunrise on the Prairie, showing a field of corn shocks, Husking Corn, and The Farm of Seymour Sloan (Fig. 1), with its central golden field.

Sloan used his new style -- combining truth to detail and truth to atmospheric effects -- to create the group of prairie paintings now in the Brauer Museum of Art. No other paintings having Sloan's professional sophistication, record the appearances of this early stage in the cultivation of the northwestern Illinois prairie (the old Military Bounty Tract). Sloan's prairie paintings seem to be unprecedented.

Included in the collection are eight small prairie sky studies capturing passing moments of sunset and sunrise. Without a high vantage point on the land from which to view the prairie, one finds the sky and its changing clouds and dramatic colors dominating the slivered profile of dark land below. The image of the gloriously free, mysteriously changing heavens must have delighted Sloan enormously, for he painted them throughout his life. In 1853 he wrote:

The rising sun is heralded by colors most gorgeous and pleasing. The watching and expectant clouds, which are about his coming path, say with tones of every hue to one another "He comes, " and they shout down to us in orange and crimson "He comes." The birds hear them, and while sleep yet presses upon our slumberous eyelids, they with gladness sing back in tones most musical "He comes."

By comparison, The Farm of Seymour Sloan 1866 (Fig. 1), presents bright, mid-day color and cloud animation as a developed medium-sized composition. Here Junius placed the Sloan homestead off-center in an island-like grove at mid-distance. No path leads to it. Instead, the grove seems to sit on a golden corn field above a green pasture, with grazing cows and two cabins. Echoing the grove silhouette is a flat plane of wild flowers asserting the foreground. An earthen path slants gently from left to right. Other than that, the extremely flat surrounding prairie seems directionless, and barely differentiated. It is the sky that dominates, having the greater area and the greater contrast, with its fleecy alto-cumulus clouds marching insistently overhead from the near-distance to the seemingly limitless far-distance. Sloan here presents life in a prairie garden of unsurpassing possibilities.

Cool Morning on the Prairie, 1866 (Fig. 2), the only exhibition-sized prairie painting in the collection, is Sloan's most ambitious genre-landscape. It was perhaps inspired by leading genre-landscapist Jerome Thompson, whom Sloan met in the New York City Appleton building in 1858, and with whom he maintained friendly contact. Here Sloan pictures his niece, Cara -- the girl also in The Knitting Lesson -- at milking time, walking the cattle though the damp morning mist of the fenced-in pasture. She is warmed by her mother's shawl, the same shawl pictured in The Knitting Lesson (Fig. 10). Sloan's attention to the general tonal atmosphere of haze helps evoke a sense of chill, of distance from home, and of isolation. Though Sloan invents no high vantage point from which to view the scene for depth, he still manages to create an effect of deep space by placing the cows and the fence at an acute diagonal, starting very large in the foreground and drastically diminishing size and sharpness, as forms retreat into the distance. Sloan also immediately establishes the sense of the low, horizontal prairie by using a canvas twice as long as high, and by painting the sky twice the height of the land. These unprecedented prairie paintings may become Sloan's most memorable achievement. Joni L. Kinsey, curator of the exhibition Plain Pictures, Images of the American Prairie and author of its catalogue, wrote, that Junius Sloan has "contributed to Americans' ability to envision the... grassland region as a pastoral garden."[2] Scholar William Gerdts includes Cool Morning on the Prairie as one of three images in his introduction to his section "The Near Midwest," in his Art Across America.[3]

Encouraged by the reception of his art in Chicago, Sloan left in 1867, with his family for a six-year self-training pilgrimage in the traditional heart of American landscape painting. From July, 1867 to October, 1868 he worked in the Catskill Mountains and painted Bridge over Kaaterskill Creek, Palenville, N.Y. (Fig. 13) and made a sketch for Kaaterskill Lakes (Fig. 14). As soon as he arrived he took a productive sketching trip to Lake George (August 22 - September 11, 1867). From the Catskills Sloan moved to the Hudson River countryside at Yonkers (November, 1868 - April, 1869), and Hyde Park (May, 1869 - June, 1871) where he painted The Hudson from the Langdon Place (Fig. 15). Before leaving for New York City, Sloan sketched four months (July - October, 1871) in Vermont's Connecticut River Valley, Lake Memphremagog, and Winooski River Valley and Camel's Hump Mountain. A sketch made at that time formed the basis in 1878 of On the Winooski River (Fig. 21). From November, 1871 to Spring, 1873, Sloan and his family lived in New York City to take advantage of its exhibition possibilities and other professional opportunities.

In 1868, Sloan's Chicago dealer, R. E. Moore, sold Sloan's exhibition-sized Ticonderoga: for $229 to the Chicago
manufacturer of the Pioneer Palace Railway sleeping car, George M. Pullman and he sold View of Lake George for $300 to Chicago hardware merchant and city treasurer, C. R. Larabee, formerly of Ticonderoga, New York. (View of Lake George is now in the collection of the Chicago Historical Society.) Sloan based both paintings on sketches made on his trip to Lake George in 1862 Other Sloan paintings held by Moore were presumably lost in the great Chicago fire of October 8-10, 1871. At that time, however, most of Sloan's paintings were safely in his studio in the East. In 1871, Sloan consigned paintings to a dealer in Washington, D.C. and one in New York City. Sloan exhibited The Hudson River near Staatsburg in 1871 at the National Academy of Design, and in 1872 that painting and his East River near Hell Gate at the the Brooklyn Art Association. He also participated in an auction sale exhibit in New York City in the spring of 1873.

However, in 1872, Sloan became ill and had a slight stroke. His confidence seemed shaken. Despite Sara's urgings, he did not apply for membership in the National Academy of Design; perhaps, as son Percy later suggested, he was embarrassed by his lack of formal or European training and was afraid of being rejected.

During the financial depression of 1873, at forty-six, Sloan, with Sara and their young sons Spencer and Percy, returned to Chicago, his home base for the twenty-seven remaining years of his career. There he received his greatest professional recognition: his paintings were frequently included in exhibitions of the Interstate Industrial Exposition, the Chicago Academy of Design, and the Art Institute of Chicago, among others. In June, 1876, Sloan was elected Associate Academician, and that October, Academician in the Chicago Academy of Design, the forerunner to the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1873, the Academy elected Sloan its vice president at its twelfth annual meeting, a meeting that precipitated the break with the supporters of the soon-to-be-formed Art Institute. Sloan remained vice president through 1881, taught a landscape painting class for the Academy in 1880, and then held the following Academy offices: trustee 1880-1881, Councilman 1882-1892, and treasurer 1890-1891. By 1831, he also held membership in the Chicago Society of Artists.

The 1870s were difficult years financially. The market for American art, and in particular for antebellum style landscapes, was fast declining. Sloan took private students and occasionally taught art in private academies, as did many other professional artists. He was Director of Art at Misses Grant's Seminary in 1879-1880. Son Percy recalled that Sara used her $2000 inheritance to help meet living expenses. In the mid-70s, according to son Percy, at times she became the principal breadwinner teaching penmanship in the Chicago Atheneum and other schools, and as a private teacher and penwoman for hire. It was through her that Sloan received his occasional school teaching appointments. By the 1880s, the economy generally had improved, and in 1881 Junius and his family moved into a house provided by father Seymour Sloan, ending their almost yearly change of addresses.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, during the sketching seasons (usually late summer through early fall), Sloan sought and painted examples of pastoral beauty primarily along the shores of Lakes Erie and Michigan (Figs. 16 and 24), and among the prairies, pastures, woodlands, and meandering streams of Chicago's Midwest and occasionally beyond. Painting in his studio between sketching seasons, Sloan worked from his sketches, from memories and from earlier sketches of Hudson River subjects, and sometimes purely on studio inventions.

During the 1874 sketching season, Sloan stayed with his parents in Kewanee, and in the 1875 season he, Sara, and the boys stayed at the Milwaukee lake-front home of brother-in-law Robert Spencer. That season was a very productive time for Sloan. The Brauer Museum has twenty of his Milwaukee paintings, including Sloan's only known still life (Fig. 17). Sloan's belief in the "Gospel of Beauty" continued, as seen in these notations on a pencil sketch of Milwaukee Bay: Pink Light faint bluish gray barred with orange light / water is leaden with reflections broken / Echoing multitudinously the lights and colors / of the sky like the broken mirror of the / human soul distorted but catching somewhat of the light and love / of divinity.

Sloan often included sketching with paying students during his annual quest for beauty. It appears that such was the case when he went to General Ducat's place at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (1878 and again in 1892); Middlebury, Vermont (1879); Rochester, Minnesota (1880); and Princeton, Illinois (1883). On the way to Middlebury, Sloan stopped to paint a townscape of Bedford, Pennsylvania, for its native son, George W. Syon, living in Chicago. Later in the 1880s and 1890s, such trips to students would take him three times to Baraboo, Wisconsin, and once to Abington, Connecticut. Sloan's final trip was to see his sisters, Mary and Laura, in Redlands, California.

The American watercolor movement was widely accepted by painters and patrons in the 1870s and 1880s. In 1881, Sloan switched, apparently through self-training, from working primarily on canvas with oil and varnish to painting on paper with watercolor (Fig. 18). He painted watercolor landscapes both for exhibition and for the enrichment of modest domestic dwellings. Sometimes Sloan would create large watercolor versions (Fig. 19) of his much earlier oils of Hudson River subjects, replicating something of the precision of oils (Fig. 7). More often he would paint freely, directly from his subjects, bringing, at his best, a fresh sensitivity to his idyllic pastoral views.

Sloan usually painted nature's quiet, pastoral aspects factually, providing at times historic records of his subjects. Some of his most crystalline, revealing nature studies are those created from 1860 to 1865. Thereafter he created more atmospheric general effects, achieving rare images of life on the Illinois prairie in the third quarter of the century. Sloan's Hudson River area scenes and pastoral views, as well as his attentive drawings of figures and trees, allow viewers to experience something of a life and a time that was in devout awe of the harmonious beauty of nature in the American landscape.




Junius Sloan . . . can be seen as a symbolic personnage, standing for art and artists in closest association with the ordinary culture of the time.

J. Carson Webster, from his 1983 unpublished "Introduction" to a proposed reprinting of his monograph "Junius R. Sloan: Self-Taught Artist."[5]


Sloan's circle believed in "the noble and divine mission of preaching the glorious gospel of the grand and beautiful." (Robert Spencer to Junius, February 20, 1854). They believed with Emerson that beauty in landscape art is ultimately a reflection of Divinity. Sloan's "voice in art" was that of the Hudson River School, with its detailed, panoramic, Edenic pastoral and wilderness views (Fig. 20). After the Civil War, Sloan continued this style, as many in his generation did, even when superceded by such European imports as the Barbizon style and Impressionism.

Percy Sloan wrote an appreciation in an undated Sloan Archives document titled "Junius R. Sloan -- Artist" of his father's landscape painting that sums up, I believe, qualities Junius sought in his landscapes: "A close and thoughtful observer, his [Junius'] knowledge of tree structure and foliage, of skies and cloud formations, of placid waters, of light and shade, of the effects of distance became profound, hence his trees have real character, their foliage texture and softness; the clouds are filmy and float; the quiet waters are liquid and mirror the o'er hanging verdure; and 'atmosphere' and 'depth' are always pleasingly evident in his pictures."

On Winooski River, Vermont (Fig. 21), is an excellent example of Sloan's mature style. Based on pencil sketches made in 1871, Sloan created this serenely harmonious, airy panorama of untouched nature in his Chicago studio in 1878. The scene is easily entered by the imagination at the left on a grassy shore before tall, back-lit golden trees. Past these sentinels, the meandering path of water leads to a middle-distant meadow with two grazing cows. From there the lighter autumnal colors of the rocky foothills beckon, smoothly blending into the far distant, cool, mountain peaks which, in turn, softly touch and sink into the hazy sky. Higher, and brighter yet, the haze leads one to the sky foreground in a light-filled cloud bank. Sloan's biographer J. Carson Webster writes, "the chief content of the picture becomes the general character of this slightly misty, peaceful valley, rather than a catalogue of its parts." The watercolor Landscape (Baraboo, Wis.), 1830 (Fig. 18), achieves a similar balance of sparkling general effect and truth of detail. However, in this and other watercolors of these later years, Sloan seems to reflect some of the late nineteenth-century landscape tendency to flatten the sense of space, by placing the main features of the picture in the middle distance rather than in the foreground.

In other ways Sloan did keep up with the times. He embraced photography (called the "Mirror with a Memory") and its evolving variations for both his landscape and portrait work. In 1848, in Camden, New York, he had a 2-3/4" x 2-1/2" oval daguerreotype taken of himself. By 1856, when portraying restless little children, Junius had smaller 'types (daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes) taken of them to aid his memory. These 'types were probably the cheaper ambrotype images on glass that look positive when backed by black paper, or after 1860, tintypes which are images on black enameled iron. In 1860 in the village of Catskill, New York, Junius learned the process of photo-coloring 8 x 10 inch salted paper prints (Fig. 22). These are oil-colored contact prints made from glass negatives. Sloan charged ten dollars for such "machine" likenesses as Portrait of Sara L. Spencer Sloan (Fig. 23). He painted about sixteen of them as resident portraitist in Erie, Pennsylvania, 1861-1863. Large prints on paper could also be pencil-marked to assess facial proportions and to create posthumous portrait of little sister-in-law Emma and of business-school executive H. D. Stratton. Sloan's family photographs included cased ambrotypes, embossed, matted "gem" tintypes, and uncut multiple tintypes made from cameras with many lenses. Included also are examples of the then popular, board-mounted carte-de-visite size, and larger cabinet-size albumen and gelatine paper prints. Noteworthy is Alexander Hesler's 1892 cabinet-size portrait of Sloan. The "snapshot" attitude is reflected in a c. 1866 farmyard photograph with a cow in the foreground which is out of focus, and a 1893 photograph of Junius and Sara in the sitting room of their home.

But Sloan's modernity did not compare with that of Sara's siblings, the Spencers, whose "Education for Real Life" [4] business colleges prepared men and women for work in burgeoning new bureaucracies and skyscraper offices. The Treasury Department sent Civil War widows to the Washington, D. C., Spencer Business College for training to work in Treasury Department offices. Sloan's wife Sara, as well as her lawyer sister Ellen and her educator sister-in-law Sarah from Washington, D.C., all became women's rights advocates.

Sloan's story is also the story of his circle of eastern Yankee family and friends. They too heeded Horace Greeley's call to "Go west Young Man." Junius' father Seymour Sloan migrated from his birthplace of Cooperstown, New York, to Redlands, California, where he died at ninety-one. Junius died there August 15, 1900, at seventy-three.

Like Sloan, his circle of family and friends also achieved careers through mentoring, apprenticeships, or self-education, rather than through formal schooling. His father-in-law Platt R. Spencer had minimal common school education, but he developed the Spencerian system of business penmanship which "taught America to write." Such independent initiative was admired. Of his friend Spencer, future President James A. Garfield wrote, "Like all men who are well made, he was self-made."

In 1983, Junius Sloan's biographer, art historian J. Carson Webster, wrote: "Junius Sloan still appears to me as a prime example of the artist in America in the nineteenth century, not the major artist, but the more frequent minor artist, whose number and perseverance reveal, as the major artist cannot, the extent and strength of the impulse to fine art in that materialistic century. He can be seen as a symbolic personnage, standing for art and artists in closest association with the ordinary culture of the time."[5]


Just west of Chicago in Forest Home Cemetery stands a rough, red-granite

"menhir," six feet tall, the tombstone of painter Junius Ralston Sloan and

his wife, penwoman Sara L. Spencer Sloan. In summer, a mantle of

thick ivy obscures the imbedded bronze plaque on which can be

found in raised letters this epitaph:






1. William H, Gerdts, "Natural Aristocrats in a Democracy," in American Portraiture in the Grand Manner: 1720-1920. Catalogue by Michael Quick. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1981, p. 27.

2. Joni L. Kinsey, Plain Pictures, Images of the American Prairie. Washington and London: Smithsonian Press, 1996, p. 80,

3. William Gerdts. "The Near Midwest." Art Across America, Two Centuries of Regional Paintings, 1710-1920, vol 2. New York: Abbeville Press, 1990, p. 176.

4. Spencerian Business College announcement, 1893, Washington, D.C., p. 3.

5. Carson Webster, in his 1983 unpublished "introduction" to a proposed reprinting of his monograph "Junius R. Sloan: Self-Taught Artist", Art In America, Volume 40, 1952.




Art historian Eugenia R. Whittredge wrote that at mid-century, "Patrons... bought liberally of American landscape painters," and that "the third quarter of the century was the golden age for American painters, as sales prices testify." On view in the adjacent nineteenth-century gallery are Brauer Museum pre-Civil War, antebellum paintings Mountain Landscape, c. 1849), by Frcderic E. Church; Classical Composition, 1850, by Asher B. Durand; and Autumnal River Landscape, c. 1853, by John E Kensett. These paintings celebrate views of the land as a reflection of divinity and as an ideal of harmony for the American homeland. To mark this mid-century Civil-War era, In Quest of Beauty includes the Museum's plaster-cast group Council of War, 1868, by John Rogers.

To mark the last quarter of the nineteenth century,In Quest of Beauty includes Waageb's bronze L'Angelus, based on Frenchman Jean E Millet's painting of peasants at prayer. On view in the adjacent nineteenth-century gallery are Brauer Museum postbellum paintings. Included are The Amateurs, 1882-83, by the then dean of American expatriot painters in Paris, T. Alexander Harrison; Le gôuter, by American expatriate painter in France, Elizabeth Nourse; and A Day on the Moors, c. 1893, by American expatriate painter in England, Carleton Wiggins. These paintings look nostalgically to Europe's pre-urban, old-world simplicities.


About the author

Dr. Richard H. W. Brauer is retired director of the Brauer Museum of Art. Professor Brauer has devoted years of research to Junius Sloan and his scholarship has given Sloan a lasting legacy.


rev. 9/24/02

Resource Library editor's note:

Readers may also enjoy In Quest of Beauty: The Life and Times of Junius R. Sloan, 1827-1900, a virtual exhibit on the Brauer Museum of Art website. Accessed January, 2016

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Brauer Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

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