John French Sloan was born in 1871 in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. He may have studied art in high school, where some fellow classmates were William Glackens and Albert C. Barnes. The three of them would go on to make major contributions to American art as adults. At sixteen, John Sloan became the sole provider for his family and dropped out of school to work in a book store. There he had access to the stores print department and art books. He began creating etchings and was able sell them in the store. Later, he worked as a designer for a greeting card company and then went on to work as an illustrator for The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Press. He also created illustrations for several magazines and journals to earn money.
His first formal art training came when he studied under Thomas Anshutz at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1892. In the same year, Sloan met Robert Henri, an artist that soon became a mentor to him. Henri encouraged Sloan to start painting and often sent him reproductions of European artists like Goya, Velázquez and Manet. Together, Henri and Sloan promoted a new form of realism that helped to redefine American Art.
John Sloan began painting seriously in 1896. His training consisted of a few classes at various institutions, his study and reproduction of works by masters and his work experience as an etcher and draughtsman. By 1903, he had produced approximately sixty oil paintings. In 1904, Sloan moved to New York City’s Greenwich Village, where he painted some of his best known urban genre paintings. Sloan was also a member of The Eight, a group of American artists that included Robert Henri, Arthur B. Davies, Earnest Lawson, Everett Shinn, Maurice Prendergast, William Glackens and George Luks. During this time, Sloan became a leading political figure in the Ashcan School of realist artists. In 1910, Sloan joined the Socialist party and soon after that became art editor of the radical journal, The Masses.
By 1913, John Sloan participated in the Armory Show and the same year, his old class mate and now renowned collector, Albert Barnes purchased one of his paintings. The Armory Show broaden his exposure to European Modernist works and consequently influenced him to slowly move away from painting urban scenes for landscape subjects with a Fauves color pallet.
In 1914, Sloan taught at the Art Students League. Sloan also taught for a brief period at the George Luks Art School. His students admired him for his practical knowledge and integrity. In 1916, John French Sloan co-founded The Society of Independent Artists. Art Critic Robert Hughes praised the influence of “the most lyrical, and politically acerbic of the Ashcan artists, ‘a spectator of life’, as he called himself.” Sloan’s work had an honest humane-ness, a frank sympathy. He refused to flatten lower-class New Yorkers into stereotypes of misery, and his strong sense of the moments in which ordinary people are seen unaware, or isolated, deeply affected a leading artist of the next generation, Edward Hopper.
In 1939, Sloan published an autobiography entitled, Gist of Art. In the book, Sloan writes: “I have always painted for myself and made my living by illustrating and teaching. I have never made a living from my painting.” In the 1940s, Sloan began painting a series of nudes. On September 7, 1951, John Sloan died of cancer in Hanover, New Hampshire. He was a premier member of the Ashcan School, whose works are highly coveted and collected today. He influenced a new generation important artists, included Alexander Calder, Reginald Marsh and Barnett Newman. John French Sloan pieces can be seen in the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Brooklyn Museum, the Delaware Art Museum and various other institutions.