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Seeing the City: Sloan's New York

October 20, 2007 - January 20, 2008


The Delaware Art Museum presents Seeing the City: Sloan's New York, a traveling exhibition focusing on John Sloan's images of New York City in paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs to present an in-depth view of the artist's years in the city and the city's effect on his art. Far from glamorizing the emerging vertical vistas of sky-scrapers, Sloan focused instead on people, public spaces, street life, elevated trains, and the pedestrian experience. The Delaware Art Museum organized this exhibition, drawing on the abundance of material in its own art and archival collections supplemented by loans from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, The Phillips Collection, and various other public and private collections. Seeing the City will be on display at the Delaware Art Museum from October 20, 2007, through January 20, 2008, before traveling to three other institutions.

"The wealth of materials held at the Delaware Art Museum on and about John Sloan made the creation of this exhibition by us a natural," said Joyce K. Schiller, Curator at the Delaware Art Museum.

By bringing together numerous images in all media from 1904 through the 1930s, Seeing the City is the first major traveling exhibition to focus on Sloan's depictions of New York and the first since the 1970s to present significant new scholarship on the artist. This exhibition is also the first to isolate Sloan's vision from that of his "Ashcan School" colleagues in order to explore his individual contribution. As Sloan moved through the vast and rapidly changing metropolis, he made sense of it by describing-in his diaries, letters, and pictures-the streets, squares, gathering places, and city dwellers he encountered. He created a "pedestrian aesthetic," helping to define New York City in the popular imagination and creating what one critic called the "slang" of the city.

Seeing the City maps Sloan's New York, locating and explicating the subjects he pictured. The exhibition follows Sloan as he explores parks, streets, and rooftops, examining the personal and cultural meanings of the sites he chose to depict again and again. Through wall text, label copy, an interactive kiosk, a robust website, and a catalog, Seeing the City: Sloan's New York looks at Sloan from new perspectives and hopefully will inspire new scholarship on the artist and his circle of friends.


(above: John Sloan (1871-1951), Self-Portrait in Gray Shirt. 1912, oil on canvas, Delaware Art Museum, Gift of Helen Farr Sloan, 1980)


John Sloan

From 1892 until 1904, John Sloan (1871-1951) worked as an artist at Philadelphia newspapers and contributed illustrations to magazines. In 1904, Sloan moved to New York City, determined to pursue a career as a painter. After the 1908 exhibition of The Eight, some of the group's artists were derogatorily called the Ashcan School for their depiction of the less savory areas of the city. Sloan's paintings of New York centered on his favorite subject: the "drab, shabby, happy, sad, and human life" of a city and its people. While Sloan remains best known for the New York scenes he painted during his first 10 years there, he was also an able landscapist and portraitist, as well as a prolific printmaker.


Helen Farr Sloan

Helen Farr Sloan (1911-2005) first met John Sloan when she enrolled in the New York Art Students League. He became her lifelong friend and mentor, and they married in 1944. After John Sloan's death, Helen Farr Sloan managed his estate and turned it into a philanthropic instrument to serve local, regional, national, and international arts constituencies. She first visited Wilmington, Delaware, in 1960 to help organize The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Exhibition of Independent Artists in 1910; the original show had been organized by her husband. Over the course of more than four decades, Mrs. Sloan donated thousands of paintings, prints, and drawings as well as manuscript materials to the Delaware Art Museum. This is the largest gift made to the Museum since the founding gifts of the Howard Pyle collection and the Pre-Raphaelite collection. The Museum has named two prominent spaces in honor of her generous gifts: the Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives and the Helen Farr Sloan Galleries. Recently, the Delaware Art Museum received the largest cash bequest in its history, as the Revocable Trust of Helen Farr Sloan distributed $6,850,000 to the Museum.



The Delaware Art Museum has produced a 208-page catalog, dedicated to the memory of Helen Farr Sloan and fully illustrated with objects in the exhibition, as well as supporting material to accompany the exhibition. The catalog, titled John Sloan's New York, opens with a director's preface, describing the Delaware Art Museum's relationship with Helen Farr Sloan, and an introduction, followed by five scholarly essays and a chronology of Sloan's time in New York. The catalog is published by the Delaware Art Museum and Yale University Press, and is available at the Delaware Art Museum Store.

The essays examine Sloan's production from new perspectives, providing a more thorough understanding of the artist and the Ashcan School. Dr. Joyce K. Schiller and Heather Campbell Coyle analyze Sloan's notations of the city in his paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs. Dr. Molly Hutton's contribution posits that Sloan's engagement with the city streets-through walking, painting, and descriptive writing in his diary-functioned as a way to make sense out of his status as newcomer to the city. Dr. Susan Fillin-Yeh focuses on the liminal, threshold spaces-shop windows and sidewalks-where Sloan staged so many of the compelling human dramas he painted. Dr. Katherine Manthorne explores the connections between Sloan's view of the New York City streets and the moving pictures of the same streets created by cinematographer D. W. Griffith and examines the painter's relationship with John Butler Yeats. The final piece in the catalog, Dr. Alexis Boylan's essay, sheds new light on Sloan's identity as a part of the Ashcan School and his relationship to Robert Henri.


(above: John Sloan (1871-1951), Three A.M., 1909, oil on canvas, 32 x 26 1/4 inches. Phildelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Cyrus McCormick, 1946, #46-10.1)



The Delaware Art Museum has produced an interactive website for Seeing the City: Sloan's New York, located at www.johnsloansnewyork.org, as well as a touch screen kiosk for the exhibition. The website and kiosk were developed by the exhibition curators and Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures.


(above: John Sloan (1871-1951), Jefferson Market, 1917, 1922, oil on canvas, 32 x 26 1/8 inches. Courtesy the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Henry D. Gilpin Fund (1944.10))


Wall text for the exhibition

When John Sloan moved to New York City in 1904, he was one of approximately 100,000 people arriving in the city that year. Settling in Lower Manhattan, Sloan joined numerous artists and writers living between Third and 30th Streets, including several friends from Philadelphia. Sloan remained anchored in New York for the rest of his life, and as his relationship with the city changed, so did his pictures.
While working as a newspaper illustrator in Philadelphia, Sloan had begun to paint scenes of urban life near his studio on Walnut Street. Shortly after his arrival in New York, Sloan settled in Chelsea, a retail and commercial center, and began to document his new neighborhood. He learned his way around by walking, and his pictures reflect his experience. In paintings and etchings, Sloan recorded the streets, shops, elevated trains, and public parks from the pedestrian's street-level viewpoint. Other works document the view out his rear window of his neighbors in their apartments.
Sloan's visions of ordinary people on the streets and in their homes did not always prove popular with genteel factions of the art establishment, and his works were often rejected from juried exhibitions. His friends from Philadelphia-Robert Henri, William Glackens, George Luks, and Everett Shinn-shared his interests and his fate with the juries. In 1908 they organized a protest exhibition, with three other artists, at Macbeth Galleries. The show earned them sensational publicity and a nickname, The Eight. In the wake of The Eight show, Sloan became a public figure in the New York art world, helping to organize important exhibitions, including the 1911 Exhibition of Independent Artists and the 1913 Armory Show, and serving as president of the Society of Independent Artists.
In 1912, Sloan relocated to Greenwich Village, the city's most bohemian and artistic quarter. Living in the Village and working on the editorial board of the socialist periodical, The Masses, he joined the heart of the city's liberal, intellectual community. In 1916, he became an instructor at the Art Students League, one of the city's leading art schools.
Sloan's Greenwich Village studios and apartments provided a new view of the city -- from above -- and he painted more rooftop scenes and panoramic vistas. His final studio in the Village stood on Washington Square South, and Sloan chronicled the changing city, as glimpsed from his window and on the streets nearby. Sloan's late city pictures seem tinged with nostalgia, and by the thirties, he rarely painted New York. In 1935 Sloan returned to Chelsea, living the rest of his life only a block from his first apartment on West 23rd Street.
In 1904 Sloan settled in a large apartment that fronted on West 23rd Street, a busy commercial thoroughfare in the heart of Chelsea. At $50 per month, his rent was high, but he appreciated the bustling activity of his neighborhood's streets and parks, which became the subject of many of his early works. Chelsea was also home to many of the publishers to whom Sloan sold illustrations to earn his living.
Sloan transformed his experiences in Chelsea into the New York City Life series of etchings. The first ten prints were made in 1905 and 1906 and they reveal the artist's delight with the city he was coming to know. The series is divided between private moments glimpsed through windows and images of public life on the streets and in the galleries. Full of ironic juxtapositions and meaningful glances, Sloan's etchings provide a humorous view of New York. Sloan returned to his City Life set in 1910, making three more etchings, and he revisited the themes developed in the series for years.
Sloan's first New York painting featured an icebound ferry slip, and he returned to the subject repeatedly during his first few years in the city. Sloan's familiarity with Manhattan's piers resulted, in part, from his wife Dolly's frequent trips to Philadelphia. The ferry that took passengers across to New Jersey docked at the 23rd Street Pier on the Hudson River. Just past the Jersey docks, passengers picked up the Pennsylvania Railroad train to Philadelphia.
Chelsea was already a famous shopping district by the turn of the century. With the addition of electric lighting in the 1880s, brighter safer streets lured women and couples out in the evenings, and window shopping became a popular urban pastime. Partial to evening walks himself, Sloan chronicled strollers admiring the window displays in his neighborhood. He lived only a half-block from Sixth Avenue, home to many small, inexpensive shops and storefront theaters frequented by the working classes.
New York City's parks anchored many of their neighborhoods' activities. In Chelsea, Madison Square and Union Square offered shade trees in the summer and lively fountains to cool the air. The prevailing wisdom held that parks relieved crowding, alleviated class tension, served as a socializing mechanism for the middle and lower classes, and assisted in the reform of public culture. In addition to providing healthy, green gathering places for the community, parks became hubs of city navigation and were often used as centers for civic action. In Sloan's art, parks became places to see and be seen, animated by the exchange of glances between sexes and classes.
From his rear window, Sloan spied domestic dramas played out in his neighbors' apartments and on their rooftops. A handful of his paintings and etchings draw on these glimpses into private spaces, glimpses facilitated by the closely set buildings and open windows of Lower Manhattan. These voyeuristic pictures were among his most controversial works, rejected from exhibitions and condemned by the critics.
Turn-of-the-century New York was traversed by the raised tracks of its steam-powered elevated train system. In Sloan's pictures, the elevated tracks are always a diagonal line, expressing the speed of the trains. The El carried more passengers than any other railroad in the world and relieved street congestion in the country's fastest growing city. However, the dirt, noise and darkness the El brought transformed the streets below. The decline of the Bowery into seediness, for example, was associated with the presence of the elevated trains.
As he got to know the city, Sloan sometimes found his subject matter farther from home. By 1909, he was wandering more broadly around Manhattan, often in the company of his friend, John Butler Yeats, who had arrived in New York, from Ireland, in December 1907. Yeats accompanied Sloan to see the Coburn Players perform Shakespeare on Columbia Green and rambled with him around Greenwich Village, where Sloan searched for a place to live and "soaked in something to paint"-a movie theater at Bleecker and Carmine Streets. Sloan joined another friend, Joe Laub, to make oil sketches in Central Park. No longer a newcomer, Sloan had become a New Yorker, and he began to depict landmarks in the larger city.
In 1910 John and Dolly Sloan joined the Socialist party. Sloan's political sympathies compelled him to create one of his most moving illustrations commemorating the disastrous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of March 1911. Between 1912 and 1916 Sloan served on the editorial board of The Masses, a monthly Socialist journal. The Masses was not a doctrinaire political publication and declared itself "hospitable to free and spirited expressions of every kind." In The Masses, the pictures were not subordinate to text but stood on their own as an independent aspect of the publication. At the same time, Sloan produced illustrations of city subjects for popular periodicals, and some of these related to his paintings and etchings.
Throughout his years in New York, Sloan recorded life on the city's rooftops. Especially in the summer, New Yorkers used their roofs as an extension of their homes-for sleeping, hanging out laundry, and drying their hair. Sloan's studios on the eighth and eleventh floors of the Varitype building-one of the taller structures in Greenwich Village-provided excellent views of the neighboring rooftops.
In 1912 Sloan moved first his studio and then his home down Sixth Avenue to Greenwich Village, which was becoming recognized as a haven for creative types. Sloan found a community in the Village, and many of his paintings and etchings document that community's leaders, like restaurateur Romany Marie Marchand and playwright Eugene O'Neill, and landmarks, like Jefferson Market. Filled with artists, writers, and political radicals, in the teens Greenwich Village appeared to exist apart from the bustling capitalist center that was Manhattan. Sloan celebrated his neighborhood's singularity, joining friends, including Marcel Duchamp, atop Washington Square Arch to sign a declaration of independence for the Greenwich Republic in 1917.
By the late teens, Greenwich Village was changing, as Sixth and Seventh Avenues were extended and subways replaced the elevated railroads, making the neighborhood more accessible to the rest of the city. Acutely aware of these changes, Sloan memorialized the small shops and eateries that would soon fall victim to development and recorded the turn of the Sixth Avenue El at Third Street. Especially in his paintings, Sloan began to view the city from a greater distance, and by the twenties his pictures became records of the urban fabric, rather than evocations of specific encounters. Living at 88 Washington Place from 1915 to 1927, Sloan painted the views up and down Sixth Avenue that his location provided. As the landscape changed, these paintings quickly became historical documents.
By the 1920s Sloan's focus had shifted from the city to the figure, though the view out his window inspired occasional paintings. Forced to move when his apartment building on Washington Place was marked for demolition to accommodate the construction of the Sixth Avenue subway, Sloan produced a spate of photographs documenting the changing landscape. From his next apartment, on Washington Square South, Sloan recorded the construction of One Fifth Avenue, an Art Deco skyscraper across the park. The large window in his studio provided a view of the park that can be glimpsed in his figure paintings from the 1930s. At the Hotel Chelsea from 1935 until his death in 1951, Sloan revisited subjects and themes, like Tammany Hall and life on the rooftops, from his earlier work.

(above: John Sloan (1871-1951), The City from Greenwich Village, 1922, oil on canvas, 26 x 33 1/4 inches. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Gift of Helen Farr Sloan 1970.11. Image © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington)


Object labels for the exhibition

Please click here


Exhibition Venues

Delaware Art Museum - October 20, 2007 - January 20, 2008
Westmoreland Museum of American Art - February 10, 2008 - April 27, 2008
Smart Museum of Art at the Univ. of Chicago - May 22, 2008 - September 14, 2008
Reynolda House, Museum of American Art - October 4, 2008 - January 4, 2009


Exhibition-Related Events

Art in New York Before and During Sloan's Tenure (Art History Course)
Choose Session 1 or Session 2:
Session 1: Tuesdays, October 23 & 30, November 6 & 13 / 10:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.
Session 2: Saturdays, January 12 & 19 / 10:00 a.m. - noon
Registration: 302-351-8551 or bjohnson@delart.org
Joyce K. Schiller, Curator of American Art
Heather Campbell Coyle, Associate Curator of American Art
This course, led by the curators who organized Seeing the City: Sloan's New York, will examine the New York art scene at the time of John Sloan's arrival as well as the scene's development over the years he lived in the city.


Sloan Lecture Series

Free to University of Delaware students with college I.D.
Registration: 302-351-8509 or cwaring@delart.org
John Sloan and the Politics of Urban Modernity
Dr. Thomas Bender, Professor of History, New York University
Thursday, October 25, 2007 / 6:00 p.m.
Dr. Bender will discuss two groups of Modernists who utilized New York City as the object of their aesthetic revolution: John Sloan and The Eight and Alfred Stieglitz and his circle.
Exploring Old Wilmington
Dr. W. Barksdale Maynard, Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University and
Princeton University
Saturday, November 10, 2007 / 1:00 p.m.
Dr. Maynard will focus on Wilmington's architecture around 1900 to show how our modern urban environment is a complex series of historical layers, revealing a fascinating Wilmington now forgotten.
The Ashcan Artists' Urban Vision
Dr. Rebecca Zurier, Associate Professor of the History of Art,
University of Michigan
Friday, November 30, 2007 / 6:00 p.m.
This talk will explore the idea of "urban visuality," or seeing and being seen in the metropolis, which formed the inspiration and distinctive subject matter for the Ashcan School.
Seeing Our City: Wilmington
Exhibition: October 30, 2007 - December 6, 2007
Opening Reception: Friday, November 2 / 5:00 p.m.
Student Artist Panel Discussion: Sunday, November 18 / 1:00 p.m.
Gilliam Lobby Exhibition Space in the Bank of America Education Wing
Illustration students from the Delaware College of Art and Design (DCAD) will display drawings and paintings of Wilmington as part of this joint project from DCAD, the City of Wilmington's Office of Cultural Affairs, and the Delaware Art Museum.
New York City Film Series
Screening at Theatre N, 1007 N. Orange St., Wilmington, DE 19801
Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m.
October 24, 2007: Ghost
November 14, 2007: Rear Window
December 12, 2007: On the Waterfront
January 9, 2008: Manhattan
Films set in New York City, individually introduced by Joyce K. Schiller, Curator, Delaware Art Museum.
Make & Take Workshops
First Sunday of the month, 1:00 p.m. ­ 3:00 p.m.
November 4: Map Making
December 2: City Snow Globes
Free art projects for children. Museum admission is free on Sundays thanks to AstraZeneca.
Glory of Stories
Fridays, 10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
A city-themed story-reading leads to a discussion of works in the exhibition, followed by an art project.
November 2: Eddie's Kingdom by D.B. Johnson
November 9: City Hawk: The Story of Pale Male by Meghan McCarthy
December 7: Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile by Bernard Waber
December 14: Hot City by Barbara Joosse
December 21: The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

(above: John Sloan (1871-1951), Picture Shop Window, 1907-8, oil on canvas, 32 x 25 1/8 inches. Collection of the Newark Museum, gift of Mrs. Felix Fuld, 1925 (25.1163))


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