Painter and printmaker. Remembered especially for sympathetic portrayals of urban life executed in a rich, painterly style during his early career, he remained an important force in the art life of New York for many years. He exhibited with The Eight, participated for decades in organizing and promoting independent exhibitions, taught for more than twenty years at the Art Students League, and demonstrated a commitment to social justice and pacifism in drawings and cartoons for politically motivated publications. Born in the central Pennsylvania town of Lock Haven, John French Sloan moved with his family to Philadelphia in 1877. He left high school at sixteen to take varied jobs for several years. In 1892 he began working as a newspaper illustrator, while also taking classes for a year with Thomas Anshutz at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Soon he was mixing with other artist-illustrators, including William Glackens (a high school friend), George Luks, and Everett Shinn, while also finding encouragement from Robert Henri. In these years, Sloan expanded his practice to include poster design, as well as both book and magazine illustration. Through his mastery of the compositional principles of Japanese prints and art nouveau ornamentation, he gained national recognition as a graphic artist. He also began to work with etching, a technique he later exploited in an extended series of urban scenes. Meanwhile, Sloan began to paint the urban environment in a style derived from old masters. By 1900 his work—as in East Entrance, City Hall, Philadelphia (Columbus [Ohio] Museum of Art, 1901)—displayed the painterly handling, strong compositions, sensitivity to light effects, and eye for the telling detail that characterize his best work. Sloan also brought warm humanity and democratic dignity to all his subjects.
In 1904 Sloan moved permanently to New York, where his Philadelphia Ashcan School friends were gravitating. After The Eight's 1908 exhibition, Sloan continued for several more years to paint appealing visions of New York life, such as McSorley's Bar (Detroit Institute of Arts, 1912). However, even before he showed several works in the 1913 Armory Show, he had begun to search for a more systematic method of painting, studying in particular the theories of Hardesty Maratta, in addition to examples of European postimpressionism. Beginning in 1914, Sloan expanded his subjects to include views of locales where he regularly summered, first in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and from 1919, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In later years, he produced many studio figures, emphasizing plasticity with an uningratiating technique of contour lines and hatching, as in Nude and Nine Apples (Whitney Museum, 1937). Important through most of his career as a teacher and promoter of artistic liberalism, Sloan served as art director from 1912 to 1916 for The Masses. From 1916 until 1938 he taught regularly at the Art Students League. In 1939 he published Gist of Art, a combination memoir and aesthetic treatise. Because of health concerns in his final year, Sloan canceled his usual summer trip to Santa Fe, where he had owned a home since 1920. While vacationing in Hanover, New Hampshire, he died. Edited by Bruce St. John, his informal writings appeared posthumously as New York Scene: From the Diaries, Notes and Correspondence 1906–1913 (1965).