John Sloan (American, 1871- 1951), Green's Cats, oil, 1900,
Delaware Art Museum
Earlier this week my wife Alice and I stopped in at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington. As always happens when I visit there my eye was caught by one of the Museum's early oils by the famous Ashcan School painter John Sloan, Green's Cats.
Remarkable for its liveliness, the painting just nails the inimitable personality of felines. Quite an accomplishment when you consider it's almost completely devoid of any details. Sloan has chosen a view where the cats have turned away, hiding from us their distinctive eyes and whiskers. Typical of cats, they seem oblivious to our presence.
To learn a painting's secrets I often like to turn it upside down. It helps one see just how Sloan arranged his painting to make it express its "cat-ness" so powerfully. For starters, Sloan expanded the scale of the two cats to completely fill his canvas. There's no question that they, rather than the room, are the main story.
Sloan places his furry models so there's only a tiny bit of empty space in between them. While that space is technically empty the cats' bodies squeeze it into a distinctive shape. This negative shape, as artists would call it, knits the two cats together, hinting that the two felines have worked out their own special relationship.
The black cat's body is painted in as an almost completely flat shape. But Sloan invests energy and personality into the cat by giving its outer silhouette is a surprisingly expressive collection of unexpected shapes. I love the way the black diamond shapes in the floor tiles dance around the black cat's body. Notice how they almost look like the shapes of the cat's ears and paws.
Sloan's painting is so satisfying because he builds such a convincing space around his cats. They seem perfectly at home in this intimate world he's created.
Heather Campbell Coyle, Delaware Art Museum's Chief Curator and Curator of American Art , is putting together the first big survey of Sloan's art since 1988. An American Journey: The Art of John Sloan will run at the Museum October 21, 2017 - January 28, 2018. It should be a lot of fun to see. I'm sure the cats are hoping to be included.