Helen Farr (Sloan) (1911-2005)
Oil on masonite panel, 23 7/8 x 18 inches. Signed lower right: "Helen Farr". Titled “Poker” in red crayon on reverse, with artist’s name and address: “Helen Farr/ 168 E. 74/ NYC”. Size and “#46” also appears in black marker.
"Helen Farr Sloan," The Studio Group, Wilmington, Delaware, May 1-3, 1992, no. 20; Enduring America: Selections from the Collection of Art and Peggy Hittner, Northern Arizona University Art Museum, April 7 - May 29, 2015.
Studio Group exhibition catalogue, cover; Enduring America (catalogue).
Art by American Women: Selections from the collection of Louise and Alan Sellars (exhibition catalogue, 1991), p. 121.
Acquired January 25, 1999 from Kendall Chew & John Formicola, Rosemont, PA.
Although undated, The Studio Group exhibition catalogue listing for the work (see above) indicates an execution date of 1937. New 3-½ inch gold leaf frame. Accompanied by brief correspondence dated August 15, 1999 from the artist describing the work and circumstances of its creation.
Helen Farr was born New York City in 1911. She began her formal art training at the Art Students League at age 16, studying under Boardman Robinson and her future husband, the celebrated artist of the Ashcan school, John Sloan (1871-1951). A painter, illustrator, lithographer and art educator, Farr also designed sets and costumes for children’s theater productions. She wrote and edited a book on Sloan’s teachings and philosophy of art in 1939. Farr married Sloan (nearly 40 years her senior) five years later. A member of the Society of Independent Artists, Farr served as its director from 1940-44 and exhibited work in each of the annual exhibitions of the Society from 1929 through 1944. Farr’s work was also shown at the Hudson Guild in New York, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the de Young Museum of Art in San Francisco. Examples of her work are included in the permanent collections of the Delaware Art Museum and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Following her husband's death, Farr nurtured and greatly enriched the legacy of John Sloan through her scholarship, the management of his estate and her unflagging support for the advancement of the rich history of American art during the "Ashcan" era.
Farr’s work celebrates everyday life in New York City, rural New England and in Santa Fe, where she and Sloan spent their winters. Her paintings and lithographs reveal the "Ashcan" influence of her husband's art. In commenting on the philosophy of the artist Robert Henri, she revealed her own. “He encouraged his pupils to be interested in the world outside themselves,” Farr wrote of Henri, “and to see beauty in what is familiar to others, often in what may seem drab or ugly to the callous mind.”* Poker reflects this approach, depicting the participants and spectators of a neighborhood card game with a keen sense of solemnity and dignity, much as William L’Engle portrayed his African-American subjects several years earlier in Nightclub Dancer (Harlem). Although marginalized, the black community was as integral to the American Scene in 1940 as the infinitely more visible white society. According to the artist, the scene was based on her observations “while riding the second or third avenue “L”…on the edge of Harlem" and was painted from memory. The figures, she recalled, were "sitting on a rooftop" near 96th Street.** Her husband, John Sloan, had long looked to the urban rooftops as a fertile source of subject matter. "I see them all down there without disguise," he wrote. "These wonderful roofs of New York bring to me all of humanity."***
* Helen Farr Sloan in her Introduction to Perlman, Bennard B., Painters of the Ashcan School: The Immortal Eight (Dover reprint ed., 1988), p. 12.
** Correspondence from artist dated August 15, 1999.
***Rebecca Zurier, Picturing the City: Urban Vision and the Ashcan School (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), p. 285, as quoted by David Peters Corbett in his essay on Sloan's Spring Planting in Reflections: The American Collection of the Columbus Museum of Art (Columbus Museum of Art and Ohio University Press, 2019), p. 241.