Artist John Sloan was born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, in the late summer of 1871, the son of an amateur artist and occasional business man. Five years later Sloan and his family moved to Philadelphia, and in 1884 he started at the prestigious Central High School. A few years later he was forced to leave early to help support his family, and in 1888 he began working for a bookseller and print dealer. He taught himself how to etch with the aid of Philip Gilbert Hamilton's The Etcher's Handbook. At the age of 20 Sloan began taking drawing classes at the Spring Garden Institute, and started as a freelance commercial artist.
Not long after he was given a staff job in the art department of the Philadelphia Inquirer, all the while studying drawing at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1895 he started working for the Philadelphia Press.
Around the turn of the century, under the influence of the artist Robert Henri, Sloan started painting more seriously, producing portraits and landscapes from his Philadelphia neighborhood. Around this time Sloan with others started what would later be called the Ash Can School - an artistic movement that became best known for portraying scenes from the poorer districts of New York City. These artists thought it was almost their duty to tell truths about the city and the harsh conditions of modern life often ignored by the suffocating influence of the Genteel Tradition in the visual arts.
The origins of the name "Ash Can school" came from a complaint found in a magazine called The Masses alleging that there were too many "pictures of ashcans and girls hitching up their skirts on Horatio Street."
The Ashcan School of artists have also been known as "The Apostles of Ugliness" and consisted, other than John Sloan, Robert Henri (1865–1929), George Luks (1867–1933), William Glackens (1870–1938), John Sloan(1871–1951), and Everett Shinn (1876–1953). Some of them met studying together under the renowned realist Thomas Anshutz at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts others met in the two main newspaper offices of Philadelphia where they worked as illustrators.
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