Biography: American realist painter John Sloan is best known for his images of the “drab, shabby, happy, sad, and human life” of New York during the early 20th century. Born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, Sloan moved to Philadelphia as a boy. He attended Central High School but had to leave before graduation to help support his parents and sisters. In 1892 he began to work as an illustrator for the Philadelphia Inquirer and to attend the Spring Garden Institute. In the mid-1890s, Sloan moved to another newspaper, the Philadelphia Press, and attended evening classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Through the academy and the pressrooms, Sloan got to know the men who would become his closest associates during his early career: Robert Henri, William Glackens, Everett Shinn, and George Luks. All of these friends had relocated to New York by the time Sloan brought his wife Dolly there to live in 1904.
Supporting himself as a freelance illustrator, Sloan settled in Chelsea and began making etchings and paintings of the streets, shops, and parks of his neighborhood, and the working-class people who he encountered there. His subject matter won him little praise from critics steeped in the genteel tradition, and he and other painters committed to urban realism would eventually be called the Ashcan School. Sloan also painted portraits, nudes, and landscapes, especially after 1914, when he spent his summers away from the city.
Sloan participated in, and helped to organize, ground-breaking exhibitions of modern art, including The Eight show at Macbeth Galleries in 1908, the 1910 Exhibition of Independent Artists, and the 1913 Armory Show. Sloan joined the Socialist Party and made powerful illustrations for socialist publications, most notably The Masses, in the teens. In 1912 he moved down to Greenwich Village and became part of the burgeoning art scene there.
In 1914, Sloan began to spend his summers in Gloucester, Massachusetts, then a thriving artists' retreat. At the recommendation of Henri, in 1919, he spent his first summer in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Fascinated with the local culture and vibrant art scene, he eventually bought a house in Santa Fe and spent part of each year there. He learned about Native American art and helped to organize the 1931 Exposition of Indian Tribal Arts in New York, an ambitious exhibition that displayed Native American productions as fine art.
In 1916, Sloan began teaching at the Art Students League, where he would serve as instructor and president, on and off, through 1938. His students included David Smith, Aaron Bohrod, and Jackson Pollock. In 1939 Sloan's teachings, compiled from notes taken by his student Helen Farr, were published as Gist of Art. As teaching became his primary means of support, he produced fewer illustrations. Although he was a respected artist and teacher, Sloan sold few works in his lifetime and only a handful before 1923.
In 1943, Sloan's wife of more than forty years died. The following year, he married his student and longtime friend Helen Farr. Thanks to the generosity of Helen Farr Sloan (1911-2005), the Delaware Art Museum is home to the largest collection of art by Sloan, as well as the John Sloan Manuscript Collection, a treasure trove of archival materials.