McSorley’s Bar
by John Sloan
34.15-Sloan_McSorleysBar-DIA-BAL-DTR 114636
John Sloan (American, 1871–1951), McSorley’s Bar, 1912. Oil on canvas, 26 × 32 in. (66 × 81.3 cm). Detroit Institute of Arts. Founders Society Purchase, General Membership Fund. © 2013 Delaware Art Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

John Sloan
McSorley’s Bar, 1912
Oil on canvas, 26 x 32 in. (66 x 81.3 cm)
Detroit Institute of Arts. Founders Society Purchase, General Membership Fund

The subject
John Sloan was inspired by his daily observations of life in New York City. McSorley’s Bar, a neighborhood landmark established in 1845, was located near the studio he leased at Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue. [1]

To the Armory Show
Sloan was a member of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors served on the Reception and Publicity Committee for the Armory Show. [2] But by January 1913 he had become dissatisfied with the organization of the exhibition, writing: “I can’t feel interested enough to attend the meetings lately. They are going to show what they think ‘good in art’!” [3] Nevertheless, he exhibited two paintings and five etchings at the Armory that reflected the urban realist subject matter for which he was known.

The response
Though one critic referred to Sloan’s subjects as “commonplace if not absolutely vulgar,” overall the response was favorable. “If this is dead art then let us live in the morgue!” announced the critic William B. M’Cormick. [4] The writer for the New York Herald counted Sloan “among the American painters who go in for more serious work.” [5] And the writer for the New York Evening Post described Sloan’s work as “witty, illustrational and spontaneous.” [6]

After the Armory Show
Overall, Sloan viewed the Amory Show as having a positive impact on American art, and he declared the modern movement a “powerful and efficacious drug” to cure the reliance on nineteenth-century academic art. [7] The exhibition also had a profound impact on his own art. Works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso particularly inspired him to dispense with the narrative and social content that had been the hallmark of his urban realist paintings in favor of an emphasis on color and plasticity of form.

[1] Valerie Ann Leeds, “McSorley’s Bar,” in American Paintings In the Detroit Institute of Arts (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1991-2005), 245.

[2] See John Sloan, “Notes in Connection With the Armory Show,” The John Sloan Manuscript Collection, Helen Farr Sloan Library, Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, 43; and Milton Brown, The Story of the Armory Show, 2nd ed., (New York: Abbeville Press, 1988), 83.

[3] John Sloan,  John Sloan’s New York Scene; From the Diaries, Notes, and Correspondence 1906-1913, Bruce St. John, ed., (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 628-29.  In later years Sloan continued to express his displeasure with the show, which he felt had been co-opted by Walt Kuhn and Arthur B. Davies.

[4] William B. M’Cormick, “Success of International Exhibition Disproves Statements That Art is Dead,” New York Press, March 2, 1913, 2:6.

[5] “Art Extremists, in Broadsides of Lurid Color, Invade New York and Capture an Armory,” New York Herald, February 17, 1913, 10.

[6] “International Art,” New York Evening Post, February 22, 1913, 5

[7] The John Sloan Manuscript Collection, 7.

John Sloan (1871-1951)

The American painter and printmaker John Sloan was a founder of the Ashcan school, a group of Realist artists who derived their subject matter from scenes of daily life in New York City. He participated in a series of groundbreaking exhibitions beginning in the early 1900s and throughout his career remained committed to promoting open exhibition venues for modern artists. Rallying against the prohibitive exhibition practices of the National Academy of Design, Sloan was among “The Eight” Ashcan artists who exhibited at William Macbeth’s gallery in 1908. In 1910 he played a leading role in the organization of the Exhibition of Independent Artists, “the first open, non-juried show ever held by, and for American artists.” [1] He continued his mission as the president of the Society of Independent Artists from 1918 to 1951.

Walt Kuhn invited Sloan to join the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (A.A.P.S.) in February 1912. [2] Sloan served on the Armory Show’s Reception and Publicity Committee, but by January 1913 he expressed dissatisfaction with the organization of the exhibition, believing that Kuhn and Arthur B. Davies were exerting too much control. [3] Despite his reservations, he lent two oil paintings and five etchings. Sloan’s urban realist works received mostly favorable notice in the press, although one critic called his subject matter “commonplace if not absolutely vulgar.” [4]

Sloan’s immediate response to the avant-garde European art he saw at the Armory Show was negative. He commented that the figure in Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) “greatly resembled a bundle of slats,” and published a cartoon lampooning Cubism, A Slight Attack of Third Dimentia [sic] Brought on by Excessive Study of the Much-Talked-of Cubist Pictures in the International Exhibition at New York, in the April 1913 issue of the The Masses.[5] But overall Sloan believed the exhibition had a positive impact on American art, and he quickly began to incorporate some of the tenets of European modernism—in particular an emphasis on form over narrative content—into his own work. [6]

[1] Grant Holcomb, “The Forgotten Legacy of Jerome Myers (1867-1940) Painter of New York’s Lower East Side,” American Art Journal (May 1977), 78-91, 81.

[2] John Sloan, “Notes in Connection With the Armory Show,” The John Sloan Manuscript Collection, Helen Farr Sloan Library, Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, 43.

[3] See Milton Brown, The Story of the Armory Show, 2nd ed., (New York: Abbeville Press, 1988), 83; John Sloan, John Sloan’s New York Scene; From the Diaries, Notes, and Correspondence 1906-1913, Bruce St. John, ed. (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), 628-29; and Sloan, “Notes in Connection With the Armory Show,” 50.

[4] “Painters’ Exhibit Approaches Salon,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 23, 1913, 6.

[5] Guy Pène DuBois, Artists Say the Silliest Things (New York: American Artists Group, 1940), 170.

[6] See Sloan, “Notes in Connection With the Armory Show,” 1, 7, 10; and Rowland Elzea, John Sloan’s Oil Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonné (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1991), 24.

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