Window Dressing: Quick Bite

Happy Friday! Pull up a chair and join me today on Museum Quick Bites for a brief tour of, A Woman’s Work (1912) by John French Sloan.  Sexist title aside, this lovely painting is a window into early 20th century urban life. Let’s zoom in and check out the delightful details.

A Woman’s Work (1912) by John French Sloan, Cleveland Museum of Art, photo by cjverb (2021)

Starting on the right, note the woman hanging her laundry. Notice her flushed face and rolled up sleeves. Concentrating on her task, she has a clothespin clamped between her teeth. Her freshly cleaned clothing dangles precariously between tenement buildings. It is unclear if the basket next to her is freshly dried or another round to hang.

Close-Ups of A Woman’s Work (1912) by John French Sloan, Cleveland Museum of Art, photo by cjverb (2021)

A fire escape snakes up and down beside her and shadows from her bleached white laundry decorate the adjacent building. Two windows bracket the clothing and give us a glimpse of what is inside. Potted plants on the upper level, and a kitchen table and chair below. Above in the distance, another set of laundry billows in the wind amidst the chimneys and rooftops.

Close-Ups of A Woman’s Work (1912) by John French Sloan, Cleveland Museum of Art, photo by cjverb (2021)

According to the Cleveland Museum of Art, A Woman’s Work was a scene Sloan observed outside his Greenwich Village apartment. Which brings to mind Alfred Hitchcock’s voyeuristic movie, Rear Window (1954), also set in a Greenwich Village apartment complex. Sloan’s painting, however, is less murdery and instead, has a sunny and serene vibe.

Left: A Woman’s Work (1912) by John French Sloan, Cleveland Museum of Art, photo by cjverb (2021)

Right: Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly & Alfred Hitchcock on the set of Rear Window (1954), Wikimedia Commons

Artist’s Background: John French Sloan (1871-1951) was born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, the eldest son of Henrietta Ireland and James Dixon Sloan. At age 16, Sloan was forced to drop out of high school after his father’s business failed. Sloan took a job as a clerk at Porter & Coates Bookstore in Philadelphia. He also dabbled in drawings and etchings, and after learning of his talent, the bookstore owner offered to sell some of Sloan’s work.

Left: Self-Portrait (1890) by John French Sloan, Delaware Art Museum, Wikimedia Commons

Right: Hot Wave Puzzle Illustration (1900) by John French Sloan, Philadelphia Press, WikiArt

In 1890, at the age of 19, Sloan was accepted into the Spring Garden Institute in Philadelphia. A year later, he began to freelance as an illustrator for newspapers and magazines, a profession he would continue for several decades. After two years, Sloan enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. During this time he also met Robert Henri (1865–1929), painter, mentor, and leader of the Ashcan School. Within a few years, Henri, Sloan, and their fellow Ashcan artists relocated to New York City.

Left: Scrubwoman, Astor Library (1911) by John French Sloan, WikiArt

Right: Six O’Clock Winter (1912) by John French Sloan, Philips Collection, Washington DC, WikiArt

Fun Arty Fact:  The Ashcan School was not an actual school. Instead, it was comprised of a group of American realist artists, who featured everyday urban life. Their art was in strong contrast to the more popular Impressionists of the time. Ashcan members faced difficulties exhibiting their work at the more traditional art shows.

Hence, Sloan helped organize Ashcan artist exhibitions. The 1908 Ashcan exhibition at the MacBeth Gallery was a huge success. Click on this Ashcan School link to learn more.

John French Sloan with members of the Ashcan School (c1893) Archives of American Art, Wikimedia Commons

Sloan’s reputation grew and in 1916, he began teaching art full time at the Art Students League in New York. When he wasn’t teaching, Sloan spent his summers in Gloucester, Massachusetts painting land- and seascapes. This was a particularly prolific time in his life.  However, in 1919, Sloan claimed the coastal city had become too crowded and subsequently, began summering in New Mexico. There too, he spent his time painting the landscape.

Left: Yellow Rock, Gloucester (1915) by John French Sloan, WikiArt

Right: Sunlit Peak Santa Fe Canyon (1920), by John French Sloan, WikiArt

In the latter years of his life, Sloan’s health began to fail and in 1951 he was diagnosed with cancer. He died a little over a month after his 80th birthday, the result of post-surgical complications. In addition to his art, Sloan was an avid social activist, championing socialism and the working class. In addition to painting, Sloan created etchings, as well as newspaper illustrations, and puzzle drawings. If you’d like to learn more about his life and art, click on this John French Sloan link courtesy of TheArtStory.

John French Sloan (cropped; c1949) by Clara Sipprell, National Portrait Gallery, Wikimedia Commons

That wraps up our look out the window. I’ll be on holiday next week celebrating Thanksgiving, but I’ll be back in two weeks with more Museum Quick Bites. Until then, be safe, be kind, and take care 🙂

Cover photo by Philipp Ruch, courtesy of Pixabay.


Cleveland Museum of Art: A Women’s Work (1912) by John French Sloan
Smithsonian American Art Museum: John French Sloan
TheArtStory: Ashcan School
TheArtStory: John French Sloan
WikiArt: John French Sloan
Wikimedia Commons: John French Sloan

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