John Sloan (1871-1951)
Backyards, Greenwich Village
Oil on canvas
Overall: 26 × 31 15/16 in. (66 × 81.1 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase
Rights and Reproductions Information
© artist or artist’s estate
John Sloan was devoted to creating art from what he observed in the streets of New York City, finding "beauty in commonplace things and people." In his paintings, he portrayed tenements, colorful neighborhood characters, and bustling crowds—all subjects deemed vulgar by the art establishment. He was, as he put it, "in the habit of watching every bit of human life I can see about my windows, but I do it so that I am not observed at all." Backyards, Greenwich Village, a work that Sloan developed from pencil sketches made from the window of his apartment on West 4th Street, evinces the artist’s keen powers of observation. Here, a private scene of two children building a snowman in a backyard, with a pair of cats and another child watching them from a window above, brings dignity and romance to lives that would otherwise go unnoticed. A depiction of children, cats, and laundry flapping in the breeze might seem nostalgic and even charming by today's standards, but in its time Sloan’s work signaled a forceful challenge to academic norms in its rejection of refined subject matter and its emphasis on aestheticizing the everyday.