John French Sloan's Ashcan Nudes

John French Sloan (1871-1951) is likely best known as one of the key members of the Ashcan School, the rough association of realist artists working primarily in New York at the turn of the century. Sloan's oeuvre is full of the gritty streetscapes typical of his movement. Some of his most well-known paintings like Dust Storm, Fifth Avenue, of 1906, Six O'Clock, Winter, of 1912, or The City from Greenwich Village, of 1922, convey a sense of the complex relationships between New Yorkers and their urban environment. From the beginning of the twentieth century into the depths of the roaring twenties, such images shape an understanding of what it meant to be a New Yorker and, more broadly, an American. Like his peer Edward Hopper, Sloan had a keen sense of the isolation and loneliness that often accompany life in a vast and impersonal metropolis. Upon closer inspection though, Sloan's body of work contains some unexpected images, including a series of nudes produced throughout his career. These images, often executed as etchings, capture solitary moments of female models in the artist's studio. They are artworks full of disparate qualities. At once sensitive and personal, they are also incredibly retrograde. They express, perhaps accidentally, the uniquely precarious relationship between artist and model, while also exhibiting the patent objectification of women which makes female nudes so problematic.

 John Sloan (1871–1951),  Prone Nude , etching, 1913, 3 1/4" × 6 7/16" (plate), Gift of Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, 1926, Metropolitan Museum of Art

John Sloan (1871–1951), Prone Nude, etching, 1913, 3 1/4" × 6 7/16" (plate), Gift of Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, 1926, Metropolitan Museum of Art

In an early work, Prone Nude, of 1913, Sloan references the canonical nude prototype. His model copies, with a few alterations, the infamous pose from Paul Gauguin's Spirit of The Dead Watching (Manao tupapau), a painting created twenty years earlier in Tahiti, which depicts Gauguin's terrified native wife Teha'amana laying prone on their bed. Sloan's use of the etching process flips the pose, mirroring his own subject to Gauguin's. While Teha'amana spreads her hands slightly in the earlier painting, the model in Sloan's etching half buries her face in folded arms. Both figures tightly cross their ankles and stare out chillingly at the viewer.

The gesture in Sloan's Prone Nude in the final etching also coincidentally recalls that of Francois Boucher's scandalous la Jeune Fille allongée, a portrait of Marie-Louise O'Murphy, the petite maîtresse of Louis XV. Both Gaguin's and Boucher's subjects were underage girls, bound by overtly patriarchal societies to take part in relationships that are unthinkable today. Even without the contextual baggage of Gaguin and Boucher, neither of these associations is a particularly positive one, as both are images of women presented exclusively for objectification. Sloan does not seek to correct the issues with the earlier exemplars, and instead presents a woman along the same lines as Gauguin and Boucher, devoid of agency or power in the face of the presumably male gaze. This continuity remains in Sloan's later depictions of women.

 John Sloan (1871-1951),  Nude Reading , 1928, etching, 5" x 7" (plate), Gift of Bernard F. Walker, Detroit Institute of Art

John Sloan (1871-1951), Nude Reading, 1928, etching, 5" x 7" (plate), Gift of Bernard F. Walker, Detroit Institute of Art

In another etching, Nude Reading, completed fifteen years after his Prone Nude, Sloan makes an image more his own. A nude model, presumably resting between poses, lounges on a bed while leisurely perusing a thick book. In the background, the artist's press is littered with materials. The scene is outwardly beautiful and meditative, but shares the same issues with Sloan's earlier Gauguin-inspired print. The woman is depicted in a one-to-one relationship with an object: the press. As the press has "a bed", the model lays on a bed. The insinuations of model as a tool of the artist, no different than a press, are obvious. The work is also a meditation on the process of creating the etching. The subject is present and so is the press on which this very print was likely created. In addition to revealing aspects of the artist's creative process though, it also presents a decidedly traditional view of the model's role in the creation of such work, as a passive object.

 John Sloan (1871-1951),  Nude and Etching Press , etching, 1931, plate: 4 15/16" × 3 15/16" sheet: 12 11/16" × 9 5/8", Gift of Ernest Shapiro and Family 1995, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

John Sloan (1871-1951), Nude and Etching Press, etching, 1931, plate: 4 15/16" × 3 15/16" sheet: 12 11/16" × 9 5/8", Gift of Ernest Shapiro and Family 1995, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In 1931, Sloan revisits the model and press motif in Nude and Etching Press. This time the figure stands with some discernible confidence next to the artist's press. The lithe arms of the anonymous woman replicate the outstretched "arms" of the press. The curvilinear qualities of the press's legs mirror the shapely legs of the model. Again, Sloan presents a woman one-to-one with an object. Neither this figure, nor the Nude Reading, interact with the press at all. Both merely pose in front of the it, and are nearly as still as Sloan's early Prone Nude. Both images elevate and personify the press, while simultaneously diminishing the humanity of the model. This piece, like the earlier nude paired with the press, is an apparent study of the artist's process. Tacked up haphazardly on the wall above the press are nearly a dozen nudes. Perhaps the model here is stretching between more formal poses, with the knowledge that her image too will be added to this collection.

 John Sloan (1871-1951),  Nude and Arch , etching and engraving, 1933, 7" x 5", on offer at Swann Auction Galleries March 13, 2018 19th Century Prints and Drawings Auction (Est. $1,500-$2,500)  This work was Unsold.

John Sloan (1871-1951), Nude and Arch, etching and engraving, 1933, 7" x 5", on offer at Swann Auction Galleries March 13, 2018 19th Century Prints and Drawings Auction (Est. $1,500-$2,500) This work was Unsold.

Another Sloan nude appeared in Swann Auction Galleries' recent Prints and Drawings sale on March 13. The work, which went unsold, comes two years after the Nude and Etching Press, and features a  model seated uncomfortably on a cushion in front of a window overlooking Greenwich Village. Stanford White's Beaux Art Washington Square Arch stands in bright sunlight in the eponymously named park, framed in the window behind the model. Scenes of city life are also evident, as cars can be seen through and around the arch. Windows of the apartment blocks abutting Washington Square Park form a further backdrop, and an added urbanity. The wrought iron railing and arch give the scene a vaguely Parisian air, imbued with the distinctly Bohemian feeling of the Village in the twenties and thirties. The model here is much more engaged with the viewer than her predecessors, staring out at us wanly. Still though, she is presented one-to-one with an object: the arch. The classical associations of arch and nude are quickly evident. Here though they are updated to New York in 1933, the Città Eterna of the New World.

In all of these pieces the aesthetic values of the Ashcan School are laid out in the medium of the etching. Richly and darkly inked, each plate is thick with crosshatching. Even the smooth-skinned model is criss crossed with descriptive lines. Sloan clearly revels in the textural and linear qualities inherent to the printmaking process and tends to fill the whole field of the plate with lines, independent of their necessity to express value or space. This technique results in prints that are as course as his paintings of metropolitan life. In terms of execution, these images hold together with a stylistic coherence that spans much of Sloan's career.

The problems present in Sloan's portrayals of his models are rather obvious to contemporary onlookers, if not unusual in his own day. The use of models to hone hand-eye coordination and express supposedly universal or eternal artistic values was a time honored tradition and would have been a key point in Sloan's education at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. It is difficult, though, to reconcile the avant-garde nature of so much of Sloan's oeuvre with the way in which he envisaged nude women. He was a leader of a liberal art movement, an avowed communist, and a rebellious spirit, yet his depictions of women are ensnared by many of the trappings shared by more conservative artists.

While they do offer access to usually unseen moments in the artist's studio and creative practice, these nudes also engage in typically misogynistic portrayals of female bodies. They can and should be appreciated for their craftsmanship, for their ability to show Sloan's process, and for their storytelling capability. But they are surprisingly out of step with the values evident in Sloan's life and in his broader body of work.

Ten Emerging Artists To Watch

Since its founding in 2016, I have been the Art Editor at Boston Accent Lit, a literary journal focused on publishing work by emerging talents from throughout the country. For our two year anniversary, we ran a competition to select ten visual artists particularly worth following. What follows is my congratulatory essay to the selected artists published in Boston Accent Lit and the list of selected artists, linked to their work on the Boston Accent Lit site. Thank you to Boston Accent Lit's Founder and Editor-in-Chief Sarah O'Brien for supporting the visual arts in this publication, and for adding her thoughts to this essay in parentheses.

Boston Accent Lit was founded in 2016, and over the last two years we have published the work of numerous writers and artists. As Boston Accent’s Art Editor, I try to share a diverse range of work being made by artists today. It seems that now there are more artists, more types of media, more approaches, more points of view than there had been at any previous point in history. For the two-year anniversary of the journal, we mounted a contest to find ten emerging artists particularly worth following going forward. The artists selected represent some of the diversity present in visual art, and represent a small cross-section of some of the myriad approaches, from traditional painting technique to collage-based creating to performance, being used by young art-makers. Their works explore a range of subjects—taking on topics such as self-reflection (seen in Lydia Mozzone’s paintings of naked women celebrating their beauty in solitude), family dynamics (conversations to be found within Casey Cullen’s photographic work in Nicaragua), and healing trauma (depicted stirringly in Taylor Maroney’s oil portraits in which sitters indicated places on their bodies that held the most emotional stress). Most importantly, each of these ten innovators brings their own style to the table and they share art that is uniquely personal, honest, and, in some cases, even confessional.

It is only fitting that, as an editor in a literary setting, I should draw on poetry to contextualize the work of these artists. In his 1818 poem, “Endymion,” John Keats wrote, “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never. Pass into nothingness…” (read an excerpt of this piece here). Setting whatever the academic interpretation of this might be aside, it is a reminder that a great work of art is inherently resilient to the changing tides of fashion, taste, or history. Each of the emerging artists selected for inclusion in this issue imbues their work with some of the qualities that make worthwhile art immune to the erosion of time: depth, originality, beauty, et cetera. It will be exciting to learn where each of these artists ends up, how their work evolves, and which paths their artistic careers pave as they craft their roles in the larger art community. Everyone at Boston Accent Lit is thrilled that we could play a part in sharing the work of these ten artists with you.

Selected Artists:

Matthew Awoyera Jr.

Chelsea Coon

Abba Cudney

Casey Cullen

Sarah D'Ambrosio

Neda Kerendian

Traci Marie Lee

Taylor Maroney

Lydia Mozzone

Britny Savary-Bersani

We will continue to share works of art in all media, by artists from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, belief systems, and points of view.

Thank you for reading.

Michael Rose

Ten Questions with Abba Cudney


Abba Cudney (b. 1992) was raised in Chicago, IL and studied painting and printmaking at the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester, NH. Her work is focused on the theme of the interior and she employs a subtle surreality in her depictions of spaces and objects to evoke nostalgia. Abba is one of my favorite emerging artists and in the following ten questions we talk about her process and the story behind her work. Read our conversation and be sure to stay until the end for a slideshow of some of Abba's work that I particularly like. Abba has exhibited widely including a recent show which received much praise at Kelley Stelling Contemporary in Machester, NH. She will be featured in a two person show in the Fain Gallery at Temple Habonim in Barrington, RI from March 9 - May 2, 2018.

Q1. Your subject matter of choice is the interior. How do you select the spaces you depict? What's the significance of these rooms?

A1. Most, if not all, of the spaces I have depicted hold some form of resonance with me. When I began on this interior journey, all of the spaces were either my first college apartment or friend's apartments. I explored everything in front of me, everything that held a memory and story. My work then evolved to a series recreating rooms of my childhood home both occupied and empty, acting as a form of therapy almost. My art changes and evolves with the passing of time, dependent on where I am and what significance that space holds for me.

Q2: The significance of these spaces is evident in the strength of their execution. Is there any significance to the emptiness of these spaces? Any particular reason your rooms are not populated?

A2. When figures are present in a painting, photograph, drawing, etc., a story is almost automatically formed in a viewer's mind and therefore hard to stray away from. I want the objects and spaces to act as the figures, giving them their own personalities. I want people to question why objects are where they are and to create ever-changing narratives. I like to think of my rooms as self portraits almost, with a suggestion of a presence.

Q3. In your paintings, you often mix acrylic and oil. Can you talk more about your painting technique and how you developed it?

A3. I found that I never liked to start on a white surface. Working off of a base of one or multiple colors helps me not only to envision a space more clearly, but also my value structure. The acrylic helps me achieve a drip-like base layer and go in without any restrictions. The oils allow me to bring the space to life with more vibrancy and texture. After my base layer of acrylics and before I go in with oils, I draw the scene and objects with charcoal. Almost 100% of the time I will leave much of the line work. I feel as though it helps enhance the feeling of impermanence, like one is looking at a fading memory.

Q4. It seems like your process is pretty additive then. Have you ever experimented with erasure in your work, or removing layers rather than adding them? And what role does editing play in your work?

A4. A big reason why I use charcoal when I am drawing out the scene is because of its ability to be wiped away and resurfaced again with ease. In printmaking I experiment more with the reductive process, which actually helps me more with value scale and allows me to think of my scenes differently.

Q5. You cite painters as varied as Édouard Vuillard and Antonio Lopez Garcia as inspirations. What are some commonalities among artists whose work you admire, and how have they influenced your work?

A5. Many of the artists I am inspired by were a part of "The Nabis" movement and some considered "Intimists", painting the everyday contemporary life. Many of their philosophies revolved around the idea of drawing emotion out of these everyday scenes and objects. I think that what connects all of the artists I draw inspiration from is their ability to take what some see as the mundane and create a more intimate story, "a window into the soul". Stylistically, I have always admired the Impressionists and their ability to use paint in a bold and vivid way that truly brings life to a painting.

Q6. In addition to painting, you create monotypes and other prints extensively. How does your work as a printmaker influence your painting and vice versa?

A6. Printmaking, monotypes especially, is a way for me to experiment more freely. A lot of my prints begin as the "thumbnails" for larger paintings, and then morph into their own personalities. There is an element of surprise and spontaneity in printmaking that I personally find more difficult to achieve in my paintings.

Q7: In your printmaking, you often work back into the scenes with pastel or other materials. Do you feel that this additional work on your prints continues the spontaneity that the monotype process starts, or does it become more controlled?

A7. I think once I go back into a print I automatically tend to become more controlled and think longer on my decisions. It also depends on what material I am using. For example, with pastels I tend to be more careful, but if I am using watercolor crayons I am more loose just due to the way the medium wants to act.

Q8. Can you talk more about the palate you use in your paintings? How do you manipulate color to influence the perception of the spaces in your work?

A8. My palate usually depends on the space I am recreating and I tend to rely heavily on intuition in the beginning stages. I am very intrigued by the psychology of color and how it can symbolize emotions. In order to feel the intensity of my emotions, I exaggerate most of the colors in the objects and walls, and enhance the feeling of it being a dream or memory.

Q9: You paint in a studio within your home. Does this ever pose a challenge for you? I’m thinking particularly of a great diptych of your bedroom. Does being so close to a space you’re painting make it more difficult to capture it in your style?

A9. There are definitely pros and cons to having a studio in the same space you live. A few years ago I rented out a studio with other artist friends separate from my home. I miss the social aspect of that the most, being able to hear other critiques and work creatively off of each other. However, for me personally, I like being comfortable in my own space and being so close to a lot of what I paint. If I need references from life, I can just walk out of my studio and it is all there.

Q10: What projects are you currently working on, and what’s next for you?

A10. Recently I have been experimenting with image transfers on different surfaces and layering materials. I am continuing my paintings and prints, evolving and learning as I go. I am also in the process of preparing for a show that I have at Temple Habonim in Barrington, RI so that has been keeping me busy and driving me to create more frequently.

Rhode Island Art Buyers Survey

I've recently been reviewing some of the great art market reports produced annually to examine the state of the global marketplace for visual art. While the The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF), and Art Basel produce the two most comprehensive reports in the industry, Artsy recently introduced an insightful report on the state of commercial galleries and other reports focus on more niche aspects of the art trade.

One area that I have not seen covered very well is the market for more regionally based artists, including those working in New England. While the high end of the market is doing quite well and blue chip international artists see continued strength in their marketplaces, it can be difficult to find information on topics of a more local nature.

Because of this information gap, I created a very simple and unscientific survey focused on art buyers in Rhode Island to get a better sense of their view of the local market. This short two page survey should only take about three minutes to complete. All the answers given are anonymous and I will publish the results on this blog in February of 2018. The survey will be available to take through January 31, 2018.

I hope you might take a moment to click the button below and complete this survey.  Your participation will help me learn more about the marketplace for original fine art in Rhode Island, and will enable me to share that valuable data with local artists and galleries.

Call for Art: Ten Emerging Artists to Watch

I have been the Art Editor of Boston Accent Lit, a small online literary journal, since it was founded in 2016. Over the last nearly two years we have published the work of many talented emerging artists, so in honor of our forthcoming two-year anniversary we are hosting a competition to highlight ten young artists worthy of special recognition. The full call for art for Boston Accent Lit's Ten Emerging Artists to Watch 2018 is below and is also available on the Boston Accent site. If you know of an artist who might be interested to apply, please share this call with them!

Call for Art:
Boston Accent Lit’s Ten Emerging Artists to Watch 2018

Boston Accent Lit, a Boston-based literary journal, seeks submissions from emerging artists from throughout the United States for Ten Emerging Artists to Watch 2018. Visual artists working in all media are welcome to submit their recent work for consideration. This competition will be juried by Boston Accent Lit's Art Editor Michael Rose. Submissions are due by January 31, 2018.

About Boston Accent Lit:
Based in Boston, MA and founded in February 2016 by Sarah A. O'Brien, Boston Accent Lit aims to showcase work that is daring and innovative, as well as providing a platform for underrepresented voices. The primary goal of Boston Accent Lit is to publish quality work by both emerging and established artists. Boston Accent publishes six issues per year in a digital format, which enables us to be accessible to readers, writers, and artists worldwide. It also will publish digital chapbooks, beginning in 2018.

About the Juror:
Michael Rose joined Boston Accent Lit as its founding Art Editor in 2016. Michael is an art historian, gallerist, and advisor based in Southern New England. He has served as Gallery Manager at the Providence Art Club, one of the nation's oldest arts organizations, since 2014. Michael earned his BA in Art History from Providence College and his Certificate in Appraisal Studies in Fine and Decorative Arts from New York University. He has completed additional coursework at the Rhode Island School of Design and was a member of the Fall 2017 cohort of Practice//Practice, AS220's national professional development program for arts administrators. You can learn more about Michael at his website

Competition Rules:

  • Artists must be based in the United States.

  • Submitters must be no more than 30 years old as of January 30, 2018.

  • Artists over 30 will be considered if they have not been previously published.

  • Each artist may submit up to five works for consideration.

  • Artists may also include a short statement and a biography or CV.

  • All work must be original and the product of the applicant.

  • The juror reserves the right to personally invite individual artists or those previously published in Boston Accent Lit to apply for this competition.

Ten Emerging Artists to Watch 2018 will be published in Boston Accent Lit's February 2018 Anniversary Issue. This Issue marks two years since the founding of the publication. Ten Emerging Artists to Watch will be accompanied by an essay by Michael Rose and will feature works by selected artists along with their information.

How to Submit:
To submit, please send your materials to under the heading “10 to Watch” with your last name in the subject line. All submissions will be considered. Submissions are due by January 30, 2018.

For questions about submitting please contact, or to speak with Michael directly, please reach out to him at


Exploring American Art in the Nineteenth Century

On October 22 I gave a talk at the Bristol Art Museum on the Providence Art Club, and in the course of preparing for this presentation I revisited my art history and my history to get a better look at the year of the Art Club's founding: 1880. Something that came to mind immediately was the proximity of the Club's beginning to the end of the American Civil War, which concluded just fifteen years prior. For comparison, 2017 is of course just sixteen years after the events of September 11, 2001. This correlation made me curious to explore the War's enormous impact on the cultural life of the United States.

It is difficult, or maybe even impossible, for contemporary Americans to imagine what life in the mid and late nineteenth century might have been like in the same country where they now reside. The culture of nineteenth century America was quite different, the nation still so unshaped, that it is as if the Civil War took place in an entirely other country than our own. But the after affects of the conflict shaped the country that we know today. Just one aspect of the changing and coalescing of American society that took place during the Reconstruction Period was in the area of art and culture.

Before the War, and for decades after, the United States was viewed as a cultural backwater. Bereft of their own art institutions, most American artists traveled abroad to study. In ateliers in Paris, hundreds of Americans worked under the tutelage of French artists who themselves were trained in proper academies using well-worn and respected techniques espoused by the art establishment. This temporary diaspora created a class of cultural ex-patriots the likes of which would not be seen again until The Lost Generation of the 1920's.

Scores of these art pilgrims returned to their country to create art with European skill and American vision. And in doing so, these artists realized that the United States would require cultural infrastructure if their momentum was to continue. Artists along with patrons and the growing mercantile and economic elite drew together to create the necessary institutions that would underpin a burgeoning American art scene. Many of the organizations founded to serve the cultural needs of the nineteenth century found a staying power that continues into the twenty first.

  An early exhibition at the Providence Art Club, about 1890, founded in 1880 to stimulate "art culture" in Providence, RI. The Club utilizes the same gallery space for exhibitions today.

An early exhibition at the Providence Art Club, about 1890, founded in 1880 to stimulate "art culture" in Providence, RI. The Club utilizes the same gallery space for exhibitions today.

In the period between 1865 and 1900, an astounding number of cultural organizations were formed in the United States. Primarily in the wealthy North; philharmonics, libraries, literary societies, social clubs, private studios, art schools, associations, and museums sprung into existence. Many of these were funded by the wealth being piled up in a country whose rapid industrialization was sparked by the disastrous internal conflict of the Civil War. The vast irony of the creative output in the post-bellum era is that the industrial complex that abetted the War was also, at least indirectly, responsible for the cultural flowering that occurred in its aftermath.

The types of organizations that grew up after the War were myriad. They were professional associations, museums, and institutions of higher learning. The Yale School of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, the Pratt Institute, and the Corcoran College of Art and Design all came into existence in this period. Along with other art schools and private ateliers, they made it possible for the first time to educate American artists at home. This broadened the base of art makers and expanded, democratized, and Americanized points of view presented in the art created in the United States.

In the decade and a half after the War, a slew of art museums were founded, too. These institutions, and their wealthy patrons, would bring the treasures of the world to the United States. Many of the nation's preeminent encyclopedic museums were established in the frenzied nineteenth century, including the Detroit Institute of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Smaller museums like the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts and the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence also came into being. Together, the establishment of such institutions is indicative of the widening audience for culture. As the middle class grew, more Americans were interested in the entertainment possibilities inherent in an art museum.

In the middle of this period, another organization was founded. Not a school, or a museum, but a professional association and social club meant to bring artists and collectors together for the pursuit and patronage of art. In 1880, in Providence, Rhode Island, sixteen men and women came together to found the Providence Art Club. Dedicated to stimulating "art culture" in the City of Providence and beyond, the Club would provide a collective impulse for exhibition and networking.

  Some early members of the Providence Art Club, circa 1890.

Some early members of the Providence Art Club, circa 1890.

The Club was the first such organization to be co-founded by men and women, forty years before the female founders of the Club would be eligible to vote. The second individual to sign the Club's constitution was the great African-American landscape painter Edward Mitchell Bannister. This community, diverse and potentially radical in its day, made it possible for artists and patrons to meet, and for artists to exhibit their work outside the constraints of traditional commercial galleries.

Over the course of the last 137 years, many of the aforementioned organizations have thrived and grown. The Art Club is no exception. Since 1880, the Club has ballooned from 16 members to over 600, and it organizes more exhibitions now than ever. On November 12, the Club opened The 113th Annual Little Pictures Show & Sale, the largest and oldest exhibition of its kind in the United States. The endurance of the Art Club is indicative of the quality inherent in many other organizations established in the same period. Though established for decidedly nineteenth century needs, the Club continues to serve today's artists and patrons in the same tradition, albeit with expanded and modernized services.

In revisiting the period of the Art Club's founding, I came to appreciate the Club more for its historical role in bringing artists and patrons together. While art schools and museums provided much needed venues to education and inspiration, the Art Club was a practical necessity for mid career artists eager to court new patrons. The fact that six women, and an African-American were so integral to the founding of the Club adds to the organization's particular uniqueness within its milieu.

The broader story of American culture at the end of the nineteenth century is one of a country returning to normalcy after an internal calamity. Economic progress partially sparked by the Civil War resulted in an environment where burgeoning art organizations were able to thrive. The Robber Barons of the Gilded Age underwrote institutions which eventually came to serve diverse audiences all over the United States. Contemporary Americans ultimately owe a debt of gratitude to the artists and connoisseurs of the nineteenth century. Their enormous investment in a cultural infrastructure for a cultureless nation continues to pay dividends today.

Two Upcoming Talks: Fall 2017

I am pleased to share that I will be participating in upcoming events this fall:

The Providence Art Club, A Rhode Island Institution
Sunday, October 22 at 1:00pm

Bristol Art Museum
10 Wardell Street
Bristol, RI 02809

Admission: $5 for BAM Members | $10 for non-members

This talk will focus on the story of the Providence Art Club from 1880 to the present. Founded “to promote art culture” less than two decades after the American Civil War, the Providence Art Club was part of the cultural flowering that took place throughout the United States in the late nineteenth century. Unique in its day, the Art Club was the first such organization to be co-founded by men and women some forty years before women gained the right to vote. The Club continues its mission today through unique social and educational opportunities for its members and exhibitions in three historic galleries that are always open to the public. I will discuss the Club’s history, traditions, and continuing impact on the Rhode Island cultural scene.

This talk will be presented in conjunction with an exhibition of work by printmakers of the Providence Art Club at the Rogers Free Public Library in Bristol.


The Life & Art of Florence Brevoort Kane
Sunday, November 5 at 2:00pm

St. Peter's by-the-Sea Episcopal Church
72 Central Street
Narragansett, RI 02882

Admission: Free will offering to benefit the Community Market at St. Peter's

Florence Brevoort Kane (1895-1956) was an accomplished sculptor who lived and worked in New York, France, and Rhode Island. A passionate member of the Providence Art Club, she left $150,000 to the organization upon her death in 1956 along with the bulk of her remaining work. While the Art Club likely has the most extensive collection of Kane's work, including preparatory plasters and completed works in bronze, St. Peter's by-the-Sea Episcopal Church holds several of Kanes important memorials and religious images. This program will feature three speakers: Judy Landry, who serves on the historical committee of St. Peter's Church, contemporary sculptor Mimi Sammis who will talk about the process behind creating sculptures, and I will be speaking about Florence's work and her impact on the Art Club community. Several works from the Art Club's collection will be on view at this event.

If you're available for either of these programs, I hope you will consider adding them to your calendar. You can also join my mailing list for direct updates about upcoming programs.


Swann to Offer Important Ossawa Tanner Painting in October Sale

Swann Auction Galleries remains the only major auction house with an entire department dedicated to the consignment of works by African-American artists. In the October 5 sale of African-American Fine Art, there are numerous praiseworthy lots available. Of particular interest though, is a painting by one of the most popular African-American artists of the nineteenth century; the Pittsburgh-born Henry Ossawa Tanner.

The fourth lot in the October sale is from Tanner's series of paintings that focused on the biblical story of the Holy Family's flight into Egypt. The most well-known work using this motif is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In the Met's picture, Joseph, Mary, and the infant Christ are shepherded into the gates of a city under the cover of night. Mary swaddles her newborn son while riding a donkey, the whole scene foreshadowing Christ's entry into Jerusalem in adulthood. The lamp of a faceless attendant lights the path and an architectural background likely inspired by Tanner's travels in North Africa and Palestine. The work is executed in Tanner's painterly style, a later improvisational mode in his technique which blossomed in the early years of the Jazz Age. The rich milky blues in the painting at the Met match tones seen throughout Tanner's work in this period.

 Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)  Flight Into Egypt , 1923 oil on canvas 29 x 26 in. (73.7 x 66 cm) Marguerite and Frank A. Cosgrove Jr. Fund, 2001 Accession Number: 2001.402a The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)
Flight Into Egypt, 1923
oil on canvas
29 x 26 in. (73.7 x 66 cm)
Marguerite and Frank A. Cosgrove Jr. Fund, 2001
Accession Number: 2001.402a
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In the painting that will be auctioned by Swann, Tanner returns to the same story. The Holy Family is pictured in a tight grouping with two donkeys, a town low in the distance and a hazy moon hidden by clouds overhead. This nocturne bears the hallmarks of Tanner's style after the turn of the century, with the same cool blues seen in the Met's painting and throughout his oeuvre. It is a fine example of Tanner's mature work. With that latter-day Impressionist handling of the brush, it could as easily have been painted the artist's contemporaries Sargent or Sorolla. Completed between 1920-1925 it was made at the same time as the Met's version and at the height of Tanner's public fame. He was awarded the rank of Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur by the French Government in 1923. This painting is a bit murkier than its well-known counterpart, but conveys the tense foreboding and drama of a quintessential biblical scene rendered by an artist with a passion for religious subject matter.

 Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)  Flight into Egypt  oil on linen canvas, circa 1920-25 23 1/4 x 37 inches, 590 x 952 mm Signed in oil, lower left. Swann Auction Galleries Sale 2456 Lot 4

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)
Flight into Egypt
oil on linen canvas, circa 1920-25
23 1/4 x 37 inches, 590 x 952 mm
Signed in oil, lower left.
Swann Auction Galleries Sale 2456 Lot 4

Tanner was born just two years before the start of America's Civil War to Benjamin Tucker Tanner, a Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Sarah Tanner, a mixed race woman who had escaped the slavery into which she had been born through the Underground Railroad. His family prized education and independence, and ran in intellectual circles. This included a close friendship between the artist's father and Frederick Douglass.

In 1879, Tanner was admitted to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The only black student in the Academy, then the preeminent art school in the United States, Tanner was able to study directly under Thomas Eakins. Eakins, the master of American realism, would have inspired Tanner with his commitment to new fashions of studio practice, enabling the young artist to explore painting without the burdensome and outmoded practices of more rigid instructors.

Though Tanner is regarded as the first African-American artist to gain international acclaim, he lived most of his life after 1891 as an ex-patriot in France due to widespread racism in his home country. In 1899 he married the white opera singer Jessie Olssen and they had one child together. Such a union would remain illegal in the United States until 1967. The more liberal French culture of his time lead to success and comfort for Tanner. In an interview regarding the 2012 exhibition Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit, curator Anna Marley, PhD, notes that in the United States Tanner was regarded as a "Black artist", while in France he was simply know as Monsieur Tanner, artiste Americain.

 Thomas Eakins  Portrait of Henry O. Tanner , 1900 oil on canvas 24⅛" × 20¼" The Hyde Collection

Thomas Eakins
Portrait of Henry O. Tanner, 1900
oil on canvas
24⅛" × 20¼"
The Hyde Collection

Tanner's frequent explorations of biblical stories throughout his career underscore his religious upbringing in an erudite Christian home. But his repeated return to the imagery of the Holy Family fleeing King Herod bears a more significant symbolic weight. The images of pilgrimage for safety and freedom pictured in his scenes of Joseph, Mary and the Christ-child are natural metaphors for the journeys of escaped slaves like his own mother.

In using accepted canonical imagery in the genre of religious painting, Tanner avoided being pigeonholed as a "Black artist" while subtlety exploring themes of great relevance to the Black experience. The Civil War was a notoriously religious affair, with both sides claiming God's solidarity with their cause. In the aftermath of the War and in light of the newly held but tenuous rights of African-Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Tanner utilized American religiosity as a means to deliver a message about family, freedom, and love that was powerful for African-Americans who continued to work to see their rights properly recognized.

With an estimated sale price of $200,000-$300,000, it is probable that the painting on offer at Swann in October will be bought by an institution. It will be interesting to see the amount of activity this work generates in the marketplace and if, in the end, it goes into another private collection or if Flight into Egypt becomes available for the public in a museum setting. The potency of Tanner's personal story and artistic accomplishments makes his work particularly prized in any situation, but in the current political and social climate a painting of such quality by a groundbreaking African-American painter may be even more sought after.

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