NARRATOR: Artist John Sloan worked for more than twenty years as an illustrator for the Philadelphia Enquirer and other publications. He claimed that his newspaper work taught him to “go into the streets and look at life.” This painting is based on a visit he made to the picnic grounds in Bayonne, New Jersey, in 1905 to celebrate Decoration Day, now known as Memorial Day. A group of young men and women, whom the artist described as healthy and lusty, play in the park on their day off. They are surrounded by a grove of trees, covered with a protective white coating that Sloan exploits for its decorative effect. The artist was one of a group of painters who were dubbed by critics “The Ashcan Schoo.l” This was not meant as a compliment; Sloan and his colleagues shocked people when they painted scenes of everyday urban life. Often, they depicted working people who, until now, were rarely the subjects of American art.
Today, it is difficult to appreciate the radical character of Sloan’s work; much of it seems nostalgic and even charming by our standards. But in its time the painting represented a forceful challenge to prevailing standards of taste. Sloan was a student of Robert Henri, whose work you can also see in this gallery. Henri once said that American art should honestly reflect its time and place.