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George Bellows and New York, 1900–1930

John Sloan
American, 1871–1951

Turning Out the Light

1905
Etching
Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1986.5

This etching is one from a series of ten entitled New York City Life, for which John Sloan took on the role of the casual voyeur and the nosey neighbor. Many from his contemporary audience disapproved of such intimate scenes and some galleries rejected them for exhibitions because of their crude nature. However, the novelty lay not in their perceived vulgarity, per se, but rather in how Sloan made use of the new urban landscape: the densely built tenements of Lower Manhattan allowed him to easily observe and sketch the private lives of his neighbors. The recent construction not only pushed the possibilities of developing technologies, but also dismantled the boundaries between the public and private spheres.

The New York City Life series showcases Sloan’s talent for etching. Here, his dense crosshatching creates high contrast between the bright artificial light and the darkness of night. Sloan balances this effect with loose, sketch-like lines, reflecting the fleeting moment about to be plunged into darkness.