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Coco, J.M. (1999). Exploring the Frontier from the Inside Out: John Sloan's Nude Studies. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(4):1335-1376.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(4):1335-1376

Exploring the Frontier from the Inside Out: John Sloan's Nude Studies

Janice M. Coco

The American realist artist John Sloan (1871-1951), a leading member of The Eight and the Ashcan School, is best known for his paintings and etchings of New York City life at the turn of the twentieth century—pictures that have endured as major documents in art history. Given the social nature of his early images, contemporaries were perplexed when Sloan became almost exclusively preoccupied with what was perhaps the most unpopular genre in American art—the female nude. Yet despite disapproval from his peers and lack of public interest, he continued to focus on nude studies for over twenty years, and created a series of unusual and disturbing images that so far have defied explanation. Formal analyses exist, but little has been written about the content of these pictures. My study bypasses the question of aesthetic quality that has troubled other art historians, and instead attempts to correlate these works with Sloan's personal life and his early career. When interpreted in the light of his history and his own words, these images reveal Sloan's intimate connection to his depicted female figures—a bond that emerges despite his attempt to maintain an objective distance from his subjects. My analysis is based on the work of D. W. Winnicott, who theorized that cultural production embodies our earliest, most profound relationship to our parents. As I will argue, the late nudes represent an intense period of mature, retrospective self-exploration. While this psychoanalytic investigation is certainly speculative, it is intended to open some possible new ways of understanding Sloan's representations of women.

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