No Red Motif #1
John French Sloan (August 2, 1871 – September 7, 1951) was a twentieth-century painter and etcher and one of the founders of the Ashcan school of American art. He was also a member of the group known as The Eight. He is best known for his urban genre scenes and ability to capture the essence of neighborhood life in New York City, often observed through his Chelsea studio window. Sloan has been called “the premier artist of the Ashcan School who painted the inexhaustible energy and life of New York City during the first decades of the twentieth century” and an “early twentieth-century realist painter who embraced the principles of Socialism and placed his artistic talents at the service of those beliefs.”
In 1913, Sloan painted a two-hundred-foot backdrop for the Paterson Strike Pageant, a controversial work of performance art and radical politics organized by activist John Reed and philanthropist Mabel Dodge. The play, a benefit staged for the striking silk mill workers of Paterson, New Jersey, took place in Madison Square Garden and incorporated over 1,000 participants.
Also in 1913, Sloan participated in the legendary Armory Show. He served as a member of the organizing committee and also exhibited two paintings and five etchings. In that same year, the important collector Albert C. Barnes purchased one of Sloan’s paintings; this was only the fourth sale of a painting for Sloan (although it has often erroneously been counted as his first). For Sloan, exposure to the European modernist works on view in the Armory Show initiated a gradual move away from the realist urban themes he had been painting for the previous ten years. In 1914–15, during summers spent in Gloucester, Massachusetts, he painted landscapes en plein air in a new, more fluid and colorful style influenced by Van Gogh and the Fauves.
Beginning in 1914, Sloan taught at the Art Students League, where for the next eighteen years he became a charismatic if eccentric teacher. Sloan also taught briefly at the George Luks Art School. His students respected him for his practical knowledge and integrity, but feared his caustic tongue; as a well-known painter who had nonetheless sold very few paintings, he advised his students, “I have nothing to teach you that will help you to make a living.” He disdained careerism among artists and urged his pupils to find joy in the creative process alone.
The summer of 1918 was the last he spent in Gloucester. For the next thirty years, he spent four months each summer in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the desert landscape inspired a new concentration on the rendering of form. Still, the majority of his works were completed in New York. As a result of his time in the Southwest, he and Dolly developed a strong interest in Native American arts and ceremonies and, back in New York, became advocates of Indian artists. In 1922 he organized an exhibition of work by Native American artists at the Society of Independent Artists in New York. He also championed the work of Diego Rivera, whom he called “the one artist on this continent who is in the class of the old masters.” The Society of Independent Artists, which Sloan had co-founded in 1916, gave Rivera and José Clemente Orozco their first showing in the United States in 1920.
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