John Sloan and the transitory nature of modernity
This thesis demonstrates that the social complexities inherent in early twentieth century New York City are apparent in the figures of the American realist painter John Sloan, especially in his images of women of the working classes. Through a close contextualization of the social and economic conditions of the United States, especially large urban centers such as New York City, at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, I will look at Sloan's images of working women in order to consider their function as metaphors for the modern American city. Unlike previous scholarship on Sloan's images of women I will expound upon the subject by considering these figures in relationship to their urban context rather than examining them in isolation. In this thesis modernism will be conceptualized through the lens of the widely accepted theories of the German sociologist Georg Simmel and the French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire; these writers largely characterize modernism as that which is fleeting, transitory and imprecise. Through a close examination I will reveal how these ideas are manifested in the work of John Sloan. Next, I will consider Sloan's personal statements, as published in his autobiography, diaries, and letters in order to substantiate a level of disinterestedness in his work. As a fundamental concept of modern aesthetic thought, disinterestedness, which will be explored through Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgment , is connected to both Simmel's social theory as well as Baudelaire's poetry and criticism. The combination of these modernist principles will aid in the understanding of Sloan's style of portraying fleeting moments and ambiguous figures. By and large the aim of this thesis is to suggest that Sloan's images of women reflect the complexities of the American city at this time. His representations of laundresses, prostitutes seamstresses, and other typical figures of the modern European realist tradition, are contextualized by Sloan within the milieu of rapid industrialization, rising immigration and tremendous population growth. These attributes of the changing city are integrated into his figures, and, I argue, transform his portrayals of working women into representations of the city itself.