Its been an unusual journey from Fourteenth Street in New York to Woodward Avenue in Detroit for a painting created by American artist John Sloan. Sloan painted Fourteenth Street at Sixth Avenue in 1934 for the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), created to employ artists during the Great Depression. The painting, which had been officially missing since 1938, has been located and is now on long-term loan to the Detroit Institute of Arts
Sloan was known for capturing the energy and essence of neighborhood life in New York City. Fourteenth Street vividly depicts bustling crowds dealing with the commute to work, school and shops after a snowstorm on a busy street. It is on view outside the exhibition Government Support for the Arts: WPA Prints from the 1930s through March 21.
John Sloan is an important American painter, said Kenneth Myers, DIA chief curator and curator of American art. The museum has two spectacular paintings from the early years of his careerWake of the Ferry and McSorley's Barbut Fourteenth-Street is an important addition to the collection because it enables us to have a major work from the later and generally less-well known period of Sloans career.
The story of how Fourteenth Street ended up at the DIA from its beginning in the halls of congress is fascinating. Works created by artists on salary with the PWAP were property of the US government, and were meant to be displayed in public buildings. Sloan created two paintings during his brief time with the PWAP: The Wigwam, Old Tammany Hall (1934), now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York; and Fourteenth Street at Sixth Avenue, which hung in the office of Senator Royal S. Copeland until his death in 1938. When Senator James Byrnes took over Copelands office, the painting was no longer there.
In the early 1980s, during an administration change in Washington, congressional staffer Charles Terrill found the unframed painting in a pile of trash next to a dumpster. Terrill, who was surprised to find such a stunning painting discarded on the street, was very taken with it, but did not know of its importance. He took it home where it hung on his wall until his death in 1987.
When Terrill passed away, the painting was given to his sister Cathie Terrill, who lives in Traverse City. It wasnt until Terrills nephew, Bob Waun, upon a visit to the DIA in the late 1990s, saw paintings by John Sloan and made the connection that his uncle might have saved a very special work of art. Cathie Terrill had the painting appraised a few years later, and only then learned of its value.
In 2003 the US General Services Administration (GSA) became aware of the paintings location, and recovered the painting from Terrill. Through negotiations, the GSA agreed to a long-term loan of the work to a museum designated by Terrill. She chose the DIA.
We are delighted to have this wonderful Sloan painting at the DIA, said Graham W. J. Beal, DIA director. The timing is especially fortunate in that it complements our current exhibition of WPA prints.