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Biography

John Sloan began his professional career as a newspaper and magazine illustrator in Philadelphia. Forced, because of family finances to drop out of the academically prestigious Central High School, Sloan embarked on a series of jobs that led to work as a newspaper illustrator. Talented and intelligent, he was attracted to fine art, and found his way into the circle of young artists gathered around the charismatic Robert Henri (1865–1929). In 1904, Sloan followed Henri to New York City. He was one of the eight artists who showed with Henri at the Macbeth Gallery in 1908. The group was tagged, by a hostile critic, with the sobriquet “Ashcan School” for the perceived lack of gentility, and thus unsuitability, of their subject matter. Though Ashcan artist is how John Sloan is best remembered, in fact, it is a wholly inadequate summation of Sloan’s long career as a painter, illustrator, etcher, teacher, and art activist. 

 In the years after the watershed Armory Show of 1913, Sloan, together with many of his American compatriots, evaluated his work in the light of European modernism and weighed what kind of changes to incorporate into his own artistic practice. While he forged his own way, independent of Henri, he never wavered in his personal friendship or respect for the man who set him on the path to fine art. Years later, he described Henri as “the Abraham Lincoln of American art." In the 1910s and 1920s, Sloan’s palette lightened as he began to experiment with color at the same time as he developed a new interest in landscape painting. Both of these departures reflect in the work that Sloan produced in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he spent five summers from 1914 through 1918.  By the end of that time, Sloan had had his fill of the area, a historically popular summer destination for city-based artists. According to his friend and biographer, Van Wyck Brooks, Sloan “said there was an artist’s shadow beside every cow in Gloucester and the cows themselves were dying from eating painting rags” (John Sloan: A Painter’s Life [New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1955], p. 153).

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