JOHN SLOAN: Painter and Rebel by John Loughery

JOHN SLOAN: Painter and Rebel

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The hardworking life and leftist politics of the American realist painter (1871-1951), member of the Ash Can School and ""The Eight,"" reconstructed in scrupulous historical detail. Art critic for the Hudson Review, Loughery (Alias S.S. Van Dine, 1992) here portrays a painter whose career began when American art was practiced by regional realist masters, and spanned the influx of European Modernism at the beginning of the 20th century. Sloan appears first as a gifted child prodigy, the scion of a noteworthy but impoverished Philadelphia family. An able newspaper illustrator and cartoonist, he came to painting later, under the tutelage of Robert Henri, who helped him develop his signature imagery: unflinching portraits and vernacular cityscapes. Awkward with women, Sloan married a local firebrand, Dolly Wall, whom he met in a brothel. They moved to New York City, where they worked on the influential leftist magazine The Masses. Loughery is strongest in his descriptions of turn-of-the-century New York City and its distinctive neighborhoods. He views Sloan's co-organization of the 1908 show of ""The Eight,"" a group of painters linked more by their alienation from the contemporary art market than their styles, as the artist's defining moment. In later years, Sloan struggled to eke out an existence, constantly hustling for students and commissions. At the end of his life, redemption came with a one-man retrospective at the Whitney Museum. Sloan crossed paths with many colorful writers and artists, including George Bellows, Maurice Prendergast, John Butler Yeats, Robert Frost, and Marcel Duchamp. Between these figures and the always intriguing Dolly, Loughery has a wealth of material to work with. But Sloan himself remains an oddly two-dimensional and enigmatic figure, a dedicated man whose life was often defined by the radiance of those with whom he associated. An able, if stiff, examination of the trials of a talented artist whose day passed within his own lifetime.

Pub Date: June 5th, 1995
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Henry Holt