Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair
by John Sloan
19.5-Sloan_WomenDryingHair-PHILLIPS1938.67_large
John Sloan (American, 1871–1951), Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair, 1912. Oil on canvas, 26⅛ × 32⅛ in. (66.4 × 81.6 cm). Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, museum purchase, 1938.67. © 2013 Delaware Art Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

John Sloan
Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair, 1912
Oil on canvas, 26 1/8 in. x 32 1/8 in. (66.36 cm x 81.6 cm)

Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, museum purchase,
1938.67

The subject
Sloan’s oil paintings drew from his daily observations of city life. Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair was inspired by a scene that he saw from the window of his 11th floor studio at 35 Sixth Avenue at West Fourth Street. [1] In 1939 he recalled the spectacle of women drying their hair on the rooftop of their apartment building as “another of the human comedies which were regularly staged for my enjoyment by the humble roof-top players of Cornelia Street.” [2]

To the Armory Show
Sloan joined the Association of American Painters and Sculptors in February 1912 and was later appointed to the Reception and Publicity Committee for the Armory Show. [3] But by January 4, 1913, he had become dissatisfied with the organization of the exhibition, writing in his diary: “I can’t feel interested enough to attend the meetings lately. They are going to show what they think ‘good in art’!” [4] Nevertheless, he exhibited two paintings and five etchings at the Armory that reflected the urban realist subject matter that made his name.

The response
The critical response to Sloan’s work at the Armory Show was varied. One encouraging writer called Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair “witty, illustrational and spontaneous.” [5]  But some critics persisted in believing the quotidian, urban subjects of the Ashcan artists were beneath fine art, and one called Sloan’s paintings “commonplace if not absolutely vulgar”. [6]

[1] Rowland Elzea, “Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair,” in Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, a Selective Catalogue (New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 1996), 468.

[2] John Sloan, Gist of Art (New York: American Artists Group, c. 1939), 233.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

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

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

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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