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'John Sloan Gloucester Days' is worth visiting twice

Posted: 7/21/15

By Keith Powers, Wicked Local, Cape Ann Beacon

ART REVIEW: 'John Sloan Gloucester Days' is worth visiting twice

"John Sloan Gloucester Days,” on view now at the Cape Ann Museum, aggressively collected from the artist’s paintings that have been scattered throughout private holdings and museums, brings together more than three dozen of Sloan’s works created during those five years. On view through the end of November.

John Sloan arrived in Gloucester for the summer of 1914 as a confident artist, still young, but with broad training and worldly experience. He had already worked as a commercial illustrator, drafting and etching for newspapers in his native Philadelphia. He had studied the masters, especially Rembrandt. He had moved to New York, and became heavily involved in the Ash Can school of realists. He spent years at the socialist publication “The Masses,” and participated in the famous Armory Show of 1913, which brought him to the attention of prominent collectors, and also exposed him to European modernists.

Coming to Gloucester, where he would spend the next five extended summers, Sloan branched out. His work on Cape Ann, richly imagined land- and seascapes, have a distinct color philosophy, and show strong ideas about geometrical composition.

In the company of fellow artists and their families staying in the Red Cottage on East Main Street (which still stands), Sloan roamed the Cape, painting on the Neck, out on Eastern Point, in the East Gloucester moors and Dogtown, and along the Back Shore.

Sloan’s last summer on the Cape came in 1918; after that, he would spend his vacations in Santa Fe, and return to New York for the rest of the year. But those five seasons in Gloucester solidified his ideas, especially about landscape, and had a profound impact on subsequent generations of painters who would call Cape Ann home, or at least a port-of-call: Davis, Hartley, Blaine, Henri, Hopper.

“John Sloan Gloucester Days,” on view now at the Cape Ann Museum, aggressively collected from the artist’s paintings that have been scattered throughout private holdings and museums, brings together more than three dozen of Sloan’s works created during those five years.

On view through the end of November, the exhibition shows Sloan’s unmistakable signature. Colors are profoundly articulated, synthesized not only from the vistas that Sloan observed, but from his own particular sense of which colors worked together. Beautiful examples of Sloan’s Gloucester palette — he was influenced by the color harmony system of Hardesty Maratta — show up in “Frog Pond,” “Evening, Dogtown,” and “Ruined Blue Fences.”

Compositional geometries are unmistakably personal. Paintings — like “Balancing Rock, Gloucester Harbor,” “Gloucester Harbor, 1916” or “Norman’s Woe” — are not necessarily arranged to show off their titled subject, but to capture the physical geometries presented to the artist.

Those two things alone — unique color harmony, and compositional creativity — are enough to define Sloan’s greatness. Then there’s the output: hundreds of works created in five short years, a period of virtuosic artistry that is beautifully encapsulated in this exhibition.
CAM curator Martha Oaks has included several views of a Gloucester that no longer exists. “Hill, Main Street” shows a speeding car passing a horse-drawn cart near Union Hill. “Gloucester Trolley” speaks for itself. “Pig-Pen by the Sea” shows the Nugent Farm condominiums for what they used to be: a boulder-strewn pasture for farm animals overlooking Good Harbor Beach.

Few exhibitions demand repeat visits. Some do because they are too complex to digest in one viewing. Others, like this noble collection of works by an artist who both transcended and defined painting on Cape Ann, are simply too beautiful not to see more than once.
 
John Sloan Gloucester Days runs through Nov. 29 at the Cape Ann Museum. The exhibition is free with museum admission. For more information, and exhibition-related programming, visit www.capeannmuseum.org or call 978-283-0455.