John Sloan: Between Philadelphia and New York, 1892-1907

Parsons, Jennifer, History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Turner, Elizabeth, Department of Art, University of Virginia

This dissertation takes the early career of John Sloan (1871-1951) as a case study for understanding the importance of place and artistic community in American art. While Sloan is best known as a member of The Eight or the so-called Ashcan School in New York at the turn of the century, his formative years in Philadelphia have not been fully explored. This project recasts a well-known story in the history of American art with new attention to the geographic and temporal specificity of events in Sloan’s life and in his artistic development. The “sensation” caused by The Eight exhibition in 1908, and the legacy of the works he displayed there, cemented his reputation as a New York artist. However, Sloan spent the first thirty-three years of his life in Philadelphia and produced a large body of work there as well. Revisiting his earliest choices and diverse artistic output—newspaper illustrations, caricature drawings, prints, photographs, amateur theatrical scripts, and oil paintings—reveals the sources of Sloan’s progressive, pictorial invention. The seeds of it lie in Philadelphia. This study reverses the commonly-held notion that Sloan’s modern vision derived chiefly from his New York experiences by concentrating on the understudied Philadelphia period between 1892 and 1904 and by finding correspondences between that oeuvre and the more well-known art he produced in New York between 1904 and 1907. In doing so, this research demonstrates that Sloan’s experiences in Philadelphia, and the journey between the two cities, significantly fostered his approach to seeing, apprehending, and transcribing modern life.

The dissertation is organized around environments to assert the importance of place for Sloan and to argue that his regional consciousness catalyzed his coming of age. Chapter 1 begins in “The Newspaper Room” to consider first how the institution’s working conditions contributed to the development of Sloan’s artistic identity; and second, how the materiality of the newspaper’s physical space engendered the artist to invent new pictorial devices that he would utilize in his later paintings. The second chapter, titled “The Studio,” examines how Sloan and his colleagues sought to create a Philadelphia version of the artists’ Bohemia. Chapter 3, “The Street,” turns to Sloan’s first paintings in Philadelphia. It elucidates how the conceptual and compositional devices Sloan learned in Philadelphia combined with his attention to regional identity, history, and modernity to form building blocks for the creation of his iconic New York paintings. Ultimately I argue that Sloan’s art and artistic identity were importantly informed by his regional consciousness and his specific position as a Philadelphia artist removed to New York at the turn of the century. What he learned in Philadelphia, and through his circulatory movement between the art world’s center and periphery in 1898, culminated in 1907 with the works shown at the Macbeth Gallery.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
John Sloan, American art, American modernism, Regionalism, Philadelphia, New York, Modern art, Ashcan School
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