Gray and Brass, 1907. John Sloan. Oil on canvas.Marguerite and Frank A. Cosgrove Jr. Fund, 2018. © 2023 Delaware Art Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Gray and Brass dates from the most dynamic year of the former newspaper artist’s career as an urban realist painter. John Sloan was the last of his Philadelphia friends, later dubbed "Ashcan" artists—Robert Henri, William Glackens, George Luks, and Everett Shinn—to relocate to New York, in 1904. Initially supporting himself as a freelance illustrator, Sloan—a self-described "spectator of life"—enthusiastically embraced his new environment, producing both paintings and prints of the city’s many attractions and mix of urbanites. In Gray and Brass, he contrasts the self-satisfied attitudes of nouveau-riche passengers in the flashy "gray and brass" motorcar with a loosely painted grouping of New York’s lower classes at rest. The scene is set on the Fifth Avenue edge of Madison Square Park, where diverse New Yorkers co-mingled—an ideal subject for the socially progressive artist. Gray and Brass belongs to the group of vital urban scenes painted by Sloan in 1907—the only one to juxtapose socio-economic difference in a single image. Here, as in all of his work, Sloan captures the vibrant culture of looking and being seen that characterized the contemporary urban spectacle.