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JOHN SLOAN

PIGEONS, 1910

About the Artwork

From the vantage point of his New York City studio on West 23rd Street, Sloan worked in a range of media to depict the scenes of daily life he witnessed on the rooftops. Etchings like Roofs, Summer Night (1906) and Love on the Roof (1914) and paintings such as Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair (1912, Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts) convey a sense of the freedom and escape the roofs provided from the suffocating confines of New York tenement living. Here Sloan depicts the then popular pastime of raising pigeons, which were let loose daily to fly for exercise. Witnessed by their trainer and a young boy perched on the tenement wall, the birds circling above seem to give visual expression to the men’s dreams of a flight of fancy high above the city.

Sloan described his desire to capture the golden light of evening that illuminates the skyline so brilliantly, an interest reminiscent of the French Impressionists’ concern with effects of light at different times of day. He noted that the fleeting quality of light before sunset was present for only twenty minutes and recalled interrupting his work each day to achieve the warm orange “pre-sunset glow.” The dwindling daylight suggests the passage of time; in similar fashion, New York’s skyline delineates the transformation of the urban scene at the dawn of the new century. At the right a church steeple is clearly visible, and illuminated behind the pigeon trainer, the construction of Pennsylvania Station appears. The new building was symbolically replacing the old—a modern temple of progress in the rapidly expanding city.

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