A painter, printmaker, and art instructor, Helen Farr Sloan (1911-2005) dedicated most of her life to promoting the art of her husband, realist painter and illustrator John Sloan (1871-1951).
Helen Farr Sloan was one of the Delaware Art Museum’s greatest benefactors, donating over 4,700 works of art (including almost 2,700 works by John Sloan) and the John Sloan Manuscript Collection, transforming the museum into the largest repository of his work and an invaluable resource for scholars of early 20th-century American art.
Helen Farr Sloan, 1911-2005, on view Sept. 26-Jan. 10, honors her legacy as an artist, philanthropist and resource for generations of scholars. It showcases about 30 of the paintings, prints and drawings she produced between 1925 and 1980. Only a few of Helen Farr Sloan’s works entered the permanent collection of the Delaware Art Museum during her lifetime.
Since her death in 2005, the museum has received a substantial number of Helen Farr Sloan’s prints, drawings and paintings, from her estate and as donations in her memory, which form the backbone of the exhibition.â€¨Her career started when she went to art school at age 16 and began producing ambitious prints and paintings in her 20s, but she completed little work after 1960, as she intensified her efforts to preserve John Sloan’s legacy.
Farr Sloan trained at the Art Students League with John Sloan, Boardman Robinson and Harry Wickey. Like many American artists in the 1930s, she found her subjects in daily life. Her paintings and prints record the cafés and subways of New York City. Her visits to Santa Fe, New Mexico, resulted in Native American subjects rendered with energetic lines and vibrant color. Beginning in art school, figure study was a constant activity, and her sketchbooks are filled with nudes and model studies.
Expanding on her interest in the human form, Helen Farr Sloan produced strong depictions of the dancer and mime Angna Enters in characteristic poses. “The students of John Sloan and Robert Henri—Edward Hopper, Reginald Marsh, Isabel Bishop, Peggy Bacon—absorbed their instructors’ interest in everyday life and shaped the modern figurative art of the mid-20th century. Helen’s art should be understood in that context,” says Heather Campbell Coyle, Delaware Art Museum’s curator of American art.â€¨
Farr Sloan began spending summers in Delaware in 1961. In 1989 she moved permanently from New York to Wilmington. Here she assisted scholars interested in Sloan and his circle, and helped to organize and annotate John Sloan’s papers. She participated in the local art scene by taking ceramic classes at the museum and keeping a studio at the Howard Pyle Studios on Franklin Street. In 1992, the Studio Group hosted the first retrospective exhibition of Helen Farr Sloan’s work. In 1998, she received the Governor’s Award for the Arts in honor of her philanthropy and continued to visit the Museum regularly, even in her 90s.