McSorley's Back Room (Back Room of McSorley's Bar)
April 5, 1912
Oil on canvas
Purchased through the Julia L. Whittier Fund; P.946.24
After studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1892 to 1894, John Sloan worked as a newspaper and magazine illustrator before concentrating more fully on easel painting. His journalistic experience honed his ability to capture quickly the vital, sometimes less glamorous, aspects of everyday urban life. He relished his role as an observer of modern life as played out on the streets, on the rooftops, and at local gathering places, including restaurants and bars. Between 1912 and 1930, John Sloan produced several works depicting McSorley’s “Old House at Home,” a New York tavern on East Seventh Street. Founded in 1854, it is still in business today. According to Sloan, McSorley’s was frequented by “quiet working men who sip their ale and look as if they are philosophizing.” The hushed, contemplative mood of this painting echoes Sloan’s description of the bar as an oasis “where the world seems shut out—where there is no time, nor turmoil.” The tavern’s founder was no longer living when Sloan discovered the place, but through this painting and a related etching Sloan appears to pay homage to John McSorley, who, according to his son, always sat there in the sun. The tavern remained an all-male domain until the 1970s. Dartmouth purchased this and two other paintings by Sloan from a 1946 exhibition that the College organized in honor of the artist’s seventy-fifth birthday. Sloan was a cousin to the College’s president, John Sloan Dickey, and in 1951 returned to spend a summer painting in Hanover, where he died that fall. The museum now holds thirty-seven works by Sloan.
Last Updated: 4/29/09