Friday, April 27, 2018

John French Sloan, the Ashcan School and the Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibition "Modern Times: American Art 1910–1950"

John Sloan (American 1871 - 1951), Sixth Avenue and Thirtieth Street, 1907 (detail). Oil on canvas, 24 1/4 x 32 inches. Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of Meyer P. Potamkin and Vivian O. Potamkin, 2000. 1964-116-5. 

My knowledge of US art is still very limited. I had never heard of John Sloan, the Group of Eight or the Ashcan school until my eye was caught by a piece in Artdaily Philadelphia Museum of Art opens "Modern Times: American Art 1910-1950".

Wikipedia (link above) summarises Sloan in this way:
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."
The Ashcan School is described as:
The Ashcan School, also called the Ash Can School, was an artistic movement in the United States during the early 20th century that is best known for works portraying scenes of daily life in New York, often in the city's poorer neighborhoods. The most famous artists working in this style included Robert Henri (1865–1929), George Luks (1867–1933), William Glackens (1870–1938), John Sloan (1871–1951), and Everett Shinn (1876–1953), some of whom had met studying together under the renowned realist Thomas Anshutz at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and others of whom met in the newspaper offices of Philadelphia where they worked as illustrators. The movement has been seen as emblematic of the spirit of political rebellion of the period.
The Artdaily describes the Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibition Modern Times: American Art 1910–1950 as exploring the creative responses of American artists to the rapid pace of change that occurred in that country during the early decades of the twentieth century. It "examines the new and dynamic visual language that emerged during this period and had a dramatic impact on painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, architecture, and the decorative arts. These developments" were shaped by the dizzying transformations then occurring in every aspect of life, from the advent of the automobile and moving pictures to the rapid growth of American cities and the wrenching economic change brought on by the advent of the Great Depression after a decade of unprecedented prosperity."

According to Timothy Rub, the Museum’s George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer, "America’s embrace of modern life—its perils as well as its promise—in the early twentieth century was expressed most clearly in the arts. The work of this period still feels fresh and of the moment."

George Luks, Street Scene, 1905, Brooklyn Museum
I said earlier that my knowledge of American art was quite limited. That's actually true of my knowledge of American history and culture in general. I did study some American history,  have read various political works as well as fiction, have been exposed to multiple films and have been to the country three times.

While aspects of America are instantly familiar through exposure, it still strikes me as an alien culture, both simpler and far more complex than Australia. This is not a criticism, just a personal observation.

Back in the early 1980s when I was back at UNE as a postgrad student and on a general reading jag,  I read Stow Persons' book American minds; a history of ideas. This gave me a far better idea of both the simplicity and complexity of American life and thought than any other book that I have read because it was so wide ranging in its scope. The US is a much larger country than Australia in terms of population and resources. It is older and has a much bloodier history. In some ways it is multiple countries contained within borders reflecting settlement patterns and accident of history.

Yet when all this is said, there was something familiar in the art I looked at compared with Australia or indeed Europe at the same period.  I really would enjoy that exhibition.


Anonymous said...


First read this "Ascham"!

Jim Belshaw said...

That's a very Sydney comment, marcellous. I did laugh