Today marks the birthday of great Greenwich Village artist and chronicler of everyday life in Lower Manhattan John Sloan, born August 2, 1871. Sloan worked as an painter and illustrator, first in Pennsylvania, and then most notably in New York at the turn of the twentieth century. His work is now highly regarded, and he is considered one of the founding members of what was originally derisively known as the ‘Ashcan School’ of American art. Many of Sloan’s works examine the character of the city — its streets and its people – and luckily for us, many are vignettes of East and West Village life.
When Sloan first moved to New York from Philadelphia in 1904 he settled in Chelsea. By 1912 he and his wife Dolly moved south to Perry Street in Greenwich Village. Sloan set up his studio in the Varitype Building at Sixth Avenue and Cornelia Street.
The flatiron-shaped tower figures prominently in a number of Sloan’s works, including The City from Greenwich Village below. The Varitype Building was included in the first section of GVSHP’s proposed South Village Historic District that was landmarked in 2010. Also featured is the Sixth Avenue El, which snaked its way across West 3rd Street and then up Sixth Avenue.
From his perch in the upper floors of the Varitype Building, Sloan was able to see many of the quiet moments of people’s lives play out. In describing the inspiration for his 1912 work, Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair, Sloan noted that it was just “another of the human comedies which were regularly staged for my enjoyment by the humble roof-top players of Cornelia Street.”
Sloan also found many of his subjects by walking the streets of the city. After a journey through the South Village to Bleecker Street and Carmine Street in January 1912, Sloan sketched a scene he witnessed in front of the Carmine Theater, that would later become the painting below. The theater no longer exists, as it was replaced when Sixth Avenue was extended south and redeveloped into the area where Our Lady of Pompei Church now sits on Father Demo Square.
Sloane also created many works depicting Washington Square, where he and other artists ascended to the top of the Washington Square Arch in January 1917 and proclaimed the creation of the “The Free and Independent Republic of Washington Square.” Sloan also captured noted sights in the East Village, including McSorley’s on East 7th Street. The building that houses McSorley’s was recently designated a New York City landmark, and is part of the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District.