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George Bellows and New York, 1900–1930

John Sloan
American, 1871–1951

Movies

1913
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase, 1940.16

John Sloan is known for his depictions of the leisure moments of working-class women. But while early movie-going was a distinctly female leisure activity, in this scene, he includes women, men, and children as subjects around a vibrantly illuminated cinema.

Though an active socialist, Sloan denied his paintings contained political overtones, and adhered to the conventional notion that “serious” art should remain impartial. But Movies is perhaps more charged with social commentary than Sloan would admit. He insisted on the modesty and innocence of femininity, but in the foreground it seems that two heavily made-up women are coaxing the attentions of two men. Also in the foreground, a young girl restrains a smaller child who is reaching toward the brightly lit cinema, suggesting the unsuitability of movies—particularly the sensational nature of the feature film advertised on the marquee—for impressionable youth.