Los Angeles

John Sloan

Long Beach Museum of Art

John Sloan’s long life spanned the period in which American art came of age, and he was instrumental in the maturing process. While his American art is secure, he remains somewhat in the limbo of unappreciation that comes to many artists following their deaths before they are properly evaluated and placed in the over-all artistic scheme of things.

The earlier paintings in this extensive retrospective show a freedom, a sureness of brush stroke, a verve that is pleasing. As his work progressed, the brush stroke grew quieter, and the painting media became dryer and tighter, and line began to emerge, to the point that in some of the later works, surfaces are crossed by a thin hatching, rather giving the effect of crazing in the surface of a glaze. But the continual search to discover new territory in his vision is plain, even if the results do not reach the same heights as the earlier work. The “Self-Portrait” of 1929 shows traces of the interest in line which was later to develop so strongly.

The drawings and etchings, being done in media which are linear, call into play Sloan’s interest in line, and the graphic works often appeared far stronger than the paintings. The etching “Snowstorm in the Village” captures the atmosphere of a snowstorm, its close movement, its lowering clouds, its feel, through the use of arbitrary lines. A comparison of this work with the later paintings which attempt to use red lines to further define the surface of a figure would indicate what the artist was attempting to do, and how much more effective the concept was in the print technique. When Sloan has his line under control, there can be no doubt that he is a master.

The exhibition is a rewarding one. No painter worked harder to create an American imagery, and no painter was more important to the development of American art. That the work of this man has lost its shock value allows us new freedom in assessing his contribution.

H. J. Weeks