From 1903 to 1905, American artist John Sloan created 53 etchings to illustrate comic novels by French author Charles Paul de Kock. The books—satires of French society in the first half of the 19th century, full of slapstick violence—were a perfect subject for Sloan’s lively etching style of short, expressive lines and loose cross-hatching.
The project also seemed to inspire Sloan to look at 20th-century New Yorkers with the same satirical eye that de Kock trained on Parisians of the previous century. In the years directly following his work on the illustrations, Sloan produced a number of etchings featuring humorous vignettes of life in the streets, parks, tenements, and taverns of the busy metropolis.
A selection of Sloan’s etchings as well as related prints, drawings, and books will be on view in “Drawn to Satire: John Sloan’s Illustrations for the Novels of Charles Paul de Kock.”
The exhibition opens Oct. 24 and continues through March 29, 2010, in the Susan and Stephen Chandler Wing of the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art. The works on view, part of a major promised gift of John Sloan material from Gary, Brenda, and Harrison Ruttenberg, shed light on an important but little known aspect of the artist’s career. The Ruttenbergs’ Sloan collection is rich in preliminary drawings and early versions of the de Kock illustrations, inviting close study of Sloan’s working methods as he was becoming a prominent member of the band of urban realist artists known as the Ashcan school.