John Sloan’s Long Shadows
June 28, 2017
Call it a conservation revelation. Sometimes you don’t know how dirty a painting is until it’s clean, or at least until you start cleaning it. John Sloan’s 1918 oil painting Long Shadows is just such a work. As paintings conservator Mark Bockrath observed, “As soon as I cleaned the house, I could see that there was a wonderful painting under that dense grime.” Cleaning revealed the artist’s dazzling color and lively brushwork. The shadows incorporate rich blue and plum tones that contrast beautifully with the impressive range of greens employed for the grass, shrubs, and trees. The foliage, in particular, is deftly handled, and the sky perfectly evokes late afternoon in the summer. Prior to conservation, the nuances of this brilliant color scheme had been obscured by dirt.
Long Shadows was painted in 1918 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, a thriving artists’ colony, where Sloan spent his summers between 1914 and 1918. He painted dozens of landscape paintings in Gloucester each year, often working outdoors. The house pictured in Long Shadows is the red cottage that the Sloans rented with friends each year. The painting’s remarkable color scheme is a result of the paints and color system promoted by Hardesty Maratta in the early 20th century. Maratta developed a system that allowed artists to pre-plan their palettes based on harmonious “chords” of colors. Maratta’s company manufactured high-quality oil paints and pre-printed diagrams that artists could use to determine the “color triads” for their canvasses. His paints and system were adopted by Sloan and his friends, Robert Henri and George Bellows, as well as many other American artists in the 1910s and 1920s. Painted with the Maratta system, Sloan’s Gloucester landscapes are among the artist’s most vibrant and daring works.
Long Shadows was exhibited in a group show at the Touchstone Gallery in New York in 1919 and in a solo show at the Hudson Guild Neighborhood House in 1940, but has not been on view publically since then. The Museum owns several Gloucester paintings in better condition—actually, before conservation, they were all in better condition—and these will be featured in An American Journey: The Art of John Sloan, which opens in October.
Long Shadows is important because of its strong composition, significant subject matter, and clear connection with the Maratta color system. The Museum owns the color diagram that Sloan made when planning his palette for the work. Cleaned and conserved, Long Shadows allows us to represent the story of Sloan’s Gloucester landscapes and his experiments with the Maratta system.
This canvas is one of 12 paintings that have undergone conservation treatment in advance of the exhibition. The Delaware Art Museum is grateful to the Richard C. Von Hess Foundation for funding the conservation of paintings and works on paper for An American Journey. This conservation initiative will allow us to display significant works that have not been seen in decades, better representing the scope of Sloan’s career.
Heather Campbell Coyle
Chief Curator and Curator of American Art
Above: Long Shadows, 1918 [pre- and post-conservation photos]. John Sloan (1871–1951). Oil on canvas, 20 × 26 inches. Delaware Art Museum, Gift of the John Sloan Trust, 2006. © Delaware Art Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.