John French Sloan (1871-1951, American) born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, grew up in Philadelphia where he lived until 1904 when he moved to New York City. Early on he was encouraged to pursue art, and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; however, when his father had a mental breakdown, he was forced to quit school and started working at a bookstore. There he created his first works which he sold in the store. He went on to produce greeting cards and calendars. By 1903, he had created more than sixty oil paintings, but remained virtually unknown. He survived by illustrating books and by working at The Philadelphia Press, where he drew puzzles until 1910. He got his break when his works were exhibited at the Macbeth Galleries. Sloan became a Socialist and Pacifist and was opposed to WWI and the inequalities of the American economic system. In 1914, Sloan began to teach classes at the Art Students’ League, which he would continue to do for the next eighteen years.
Sloan was one of the founders of the Ashcan School, a term he, in fact, despised. He became well-known for realist paintings of early 20th century New York City urban settings. A few of his paintings include cats as the inevitable companions of cat lovers or as typical inhabitants of urban neighborhoods and establishments. In Chinese Restaurant, 1909, we see a cat in a seemingly respectable restaurant looking up at a woman who is feeding it from the table.
In Mr. McSorley’s Cats a man, perhaps a butcher, is surrounded by four obviously hungry cats in a bar.
Sloan created his art slowly and methodically and most of it was based on scenes he remembered, not sketched in real life settings. His sketches gave only the impression of the immediacy of a setting, like a snapshot. In the charcoal etching, The Effect is Spoiled a woman reads a book near a window as a cat sits on the sill.
In another etching, Sunbathers on the Roof, we see a man and woman lying on the roof with a black cat in between them, undoubtedly a symbol of lust and desire.
In the 1920’s Sloan turned to painting nudes and portraits. A fine example of which is the portrait of Dolly with a Cat.
Today Sloan’s works are found in many museums around the United States.