Painters in Winter: Chapter Fifteen

John Sloan

John Sloan

The Sullivan Ordinance goes into effect today, Monday, January the twentieth. Women are forbidden, henceforth, to smoke in public places. Exactly what is a public place, though? Restaurants and hotels and train stations, certainly. And ferry boats. Surface-cars. The subway. But what about the sidewalk? Is the sidewalk a public place? This big gruff policeman on the Bowery seems to think it is, and so here he is now cautioning a young lady named Katie Mulcahey, who is about to strike a match on the wall of the Alligator Café. Madam, you mustn’t! he cries. What would Alderman Sullivan say?

But I am, and I don’t know, she replies. And lights her cigarette. So she’s pinched, and prodded along with a day stick, and none too gently, all the way to the precinct house. Then she’s locked into a cell—she’ll go to court this evening. This evening? You mean you’re going to keep me here all day? She swears a blue streak. I never heard of this law, she says, and I don’t want to hear about it! No man shall dictate to me! The other girls and women in the cell with her are prostitutes. Several of them are smoking. Crooked black Havana cigars. Standing by herself in the corner is an old lunatic, her face red and terrible in a stripe of pale daylight. She’s dressed in soiled coats and skirts, many of them, smells badly, and is muttering.

If this don’t take it all, says Katie Mulcahey. In jail for having a smoke! This takes the cake, so help me God.


Miss Belle Morehouse Lawrence has come all the way across the continent to testify as a witness for the defense in the Thaw trial. She is a large woman of advanced years. Once she has been sworn in, she takes out a white handkerchief and begins to twist it. Yes, she was Harry K. Thaw’s teacher, many years ago. Yes, she kept a diary, back in those days. That’s true. She still does, as a matter of fact. Keep a diary. Why, yes, she would be glad to read—from where it says This day Harry Thaw. She clears her throat, then enunciates as though leading a fourth-grade class through a drill page in McGuffey’s. This day Harry Thaw, a quiet, distant, wide-eyed boy came into our school. He could not speak a word that I or any other person could understand.

Defense counsel Littleton stops her there, and thanks her. So you remember Harry K. Thaw as a peculiar little boy.

Yes, sir, he was a very peculiar little boy, agrees Miss Lawrence. Sometimes he would howl like a wild dog. Nobody could make him stop.

Thaw sits slumped behind the defense table, his face in his hands. Occasionally, he peeps between his fingers. In the past two weeks he’s heard himself described as being an imbecile since birth, maniacal in manhood. Suicidal. There was testimony that he tried to kill himself with poison in a Paris hotel room—after he first heard Evelyn’s story. About Stanford White and herself. About how White drugged her and ravished her when she was but 16. The revelation drove Thaw to take veronal. Later he was removed to a sanatorium in London. Upon his release he tried to throw himself from a train. One alienist after another, using professional terminology, has declared him crazy. And now his own mother is going to say so, as well.

Mrs. William Thaw is in frail health, and needs a nurse, smelling salts, and an ebony cane to make it to the witness stand. Her handkerchief is black. Is it true, madam, asks Mr. Littleton, that you once described your son in a letter as being…more or less unbalanced? Yes, it’s true. Harry has been nervous since was three months old, she says, blotting perspiration from her forehead. Beginning when he was three months old, he would scream and twitch and throw up his hands.

In a sorrowful voice, she explains that she gave birth to another child before Harry, but that it died two days later in its crib. The tragedy ruined Mrs. Thaw’s health for years afterwards. She was still not fully recovered when Harry was…born.

She pulls her shawl closed with one bony white hand.

District Attorney Jerome, his head still congested, chooses not to cross-examine the witness.

The New School of Art used to be the William Merritt Chase School, till the old maestro, who never had any real talent for numbers, or patience with minutiae and planning, relinquished control of it several years ago. But even after the place was no longer his, Chase continued teaching there. Composition. Still Life. The Nude. Twice a year he’d publicly paint a full-length portrait. The entire student body would come to watch, it was like a three-hour holiday—there’d even be cider and pork sandwiches. Chase—in his flat-brimmed top-hat, cutaway coat, and bright gold cravat—always put on a damned good show.

This past spring, however, he quit, abruptly, and moved further west on Fifty-seventh Street, to the Art Students League. Robert Henri insists it was pride that made him leave—Chase couldn’t bear it that Henri had become the more popular instructor. Chase tells a different story. According to him, all his classes were fully subscribed, oversubscribed. No, this had nothing to do with popularity. He left because there was a falling off in standards. Oh yes. A very definite falling off in standards.

Henri’s most prized students were among Chase’s poorest, consistently. These people didn’t know the first thing about composition, they didn’t even know how to draw, many of them. Chase found most of the pictures painted by Henri’s men depressing and vulgar. What collector in his right mind would buy an oil painting of a tippled hag? And all their talk about the art spirit, the mystical brotherhood of artists. Poppycock! What about craftsmanship? Virtuosity? Professionalism? Robert Henri was steering these poor young men in the wrong direction, straight over a cliff. And Chase could no longer countenance it.

John Sloan has heard both versions of the story, and figures the truth is probably some combination of the two. Chase’s vanity probably was stung, but Henri did tend to praise a mediocre painting if the painter was someone he happened to personally like. Sloan’s been told about former stars of Henri’s figure class, absolute geniuses, who later signed up at the YMCA for lessons in rudimentary drawing.

Art schools. Sloan entertains mixed feelings about them, anyway. Are they really so important—how useful are they? He picked up precious little in a classroom; he learned to draw by copying pictures that he liked from folios and illustrated novels, and when he decided to make etchings, he simply read Hamerton’s Handbook, then bought a plate, a needle, and a roller, and set to work. True, he learned mechanical drawing at the Spring Garden Institute, and acquired the rudiments of anatomy at the Pennsylvania Academy (though he didn’t last there long, quitting in sheer boredom half-way through his second semester), but all and all? Art school is probably overrated. And in most cases, unnecessary. Same as going to Paris. Or living your life in turmoil.

If you’re meant to be a painter, and you paint, you’ll be a painter. It seems to Sloan.

Who strolls into one of the larger studios at the New York School of Art this gray Monday afternoon, then takes off his scarf and coat and throws them across a table. His stomach is queasy, out of sorts, as it always gets whenever he has to stand up and talk to strangers. Henri went off to Wilkes-Barre last night, to finish a commissioned portrait, and Sloan (good old Sloan!) has agreed to take his class today. Portrait Painting. With an enrollment of well over two dozen men. All looking keenly disappointed. Where’s old Hen? Hen’s not here! It’s a substitute! Sloan attempts an amiable smile, fails, becomes flustered—then suddenly turns toward a row of easels and regards the pictures to be criticized. His hands are clammy. He decides to fill and light his pipe.

Henri teaches for the money, but also because he likes it. He loves it. Thinks Sloan.

Imagine that.

Once a week last fall, October through December, Sloan went out to Pittsburgh—450 miles, round trip—just to teach a couple of drawing classes; ten students in one, a mere four in the other. And none with any talent. The school a drafty old house. The salary a hundred dollars a month. The whole business seemed scarcely worth the trouble, and the dyspepsia, that it caused, particularly since his paycheck was almost always late. In fact, he’s still owed some money.

Until his paintings start to sell, Sloan would much prefer to make his way on illustration work alone.

But he’s here now, he’s committed himself, promised, he’s doing his friend, his best friend in the world, a big favor–so he might as well get on with it.

And once he’s begun, he finds that he’s almost–almost–enjoying himself, is surprised at how easily his remarks come, and how sensible they sound; remarks about value, and color sequence, root tone, and the solid geometry of the form; one idea leading naturally to the next. Give the hair a shape that has weight and texture. Don’t make the shadow under the chin as dark as it looks. Most of the time, he keeps his eyes fixed rigidly on the portrait at hand, or at a point (actually a wire nail) in the back wall, but every so often he hazards a glance at the class and then is extravagantly pleased to discover everyone taking notes. Taking notes! Well, why not? Sloan knows his onions. You’re John Sloan, as Henri used to say; John Sloan, the artist. The more he talks, the looser he feels; he starts making comprehensive gestures with both arms. Thus plucked up, he swings from the technical to the polemical–and promptly runs into trouble.

A general observation, he says, narrowing his eyes and nodding down the long line of portraits: a doughy blonde showgirl posed at her cheap toilette; a small Italian waiter (black vest, string tie, pencil behind his ear) standing slumped beside an uncleared table and looking as plaintive as a man under arrest; a bald, open-mouthed shopkeeper with dirty fingernails; a yawning night watchman with a large stomach straining against a misbuttoned tunic; a stooped and tousled domestic, squinting, wary, water bucket in one red fist, mop in the other. A sullen panhandler. A tired old circus clown.

One general observation, says Sloan, stroking his chin. Then at length, he says, There is kindness missing from these pictures, gentlemen. I don’t see people here, I see caricatures. Be kind to those you paint. They wouldn’t be alive if they were not fit to live. People are funny enough without our being cruel to them. If they are ugly, make them ugly, by all means–but make them sensitive. Find the noble proportions! We all belong to the same human family. Be kind!

He pauses for a moment, then nods emphatically and turns away from the easels, only to find himself confronted by twenty-odd aggravated, glaring students. Sloan’s face goes abruptly pink. They look ready to lynch him! He opens his mouth, then frowns–perplexed–and immediately shuts it again. What did he say that was so awful? So provocative? That their work lacks all measure of sympathy? Well, so it does! To Sloan, it seems practically condescending, in the same pious way that muckraking journalism in McClure’s and Collier’s, Munsey’s and Pearson’s too often is: look at these poor, miserable, helpless others among us–the ignorant colored, the short-tempered Sicilian, the isolated, consumptive Bohemian, the boozy Irish Catholic, the idolatrous Chinaman, the petty, feuding, penurious Jew. These creatures. These caricatures.

To hell with caricatures! And to hell with these students, if their hides are too thin. Students! School! Stuff and nonsense!

But there’s another hour yet to fill, and so, after polishing his eyeglasses and drawing a long, steadying breath, Sloan turns back to the easels again. To put angles in the figure, he says, put angles in the background. (Any problems with that, men? Good.) Avoid using dark neutrals in the under painting. The whites of the eyes are much closer to flesh color than you might suspect.

Till finally, finally: class dismissed!


But school is out, it’s t’ree o’clock! whines Joseph Donilo, who’s fifteen years old and in the eighth grade at P.S. 83. School is out, ev’rybody’s gone–you can’t keep me here!

I can, says Miss Blanche Rosenthal, firmly. And I intend to.

I got a job!

What you have, young man, is detention. Now, I advise you to gather your books and report downstairs to the Principal’s office this very minute. Otherwise–

Otherwise, applesauce! I ain’t goin’! And you can’t make me!

He bolts suddenly, knocking over a desk and then clambering onto a high window sill, but just as he’s about to jump–the classroom is on the second floor, facing 110th Street–Miss Rosenthal grabs him from behind, locking her arms around his stomach and pulling. Help! he shouts, help!

Down below on the pavement, Josephine Donilo, age fourteen, watches in horror as her big brother disappears from sight. Then she races around the corner, into Seventh Avenue, calling after a crowd of her schoolboy friends. The Jew is killin’ my brother, the Jew is killin’ my brother, she’s beatin’ him black and blue–I heard it, I seen her! The Jew is killin’ my brother, she’s beatin’ him with a stick. I seen it, I heard it! The Jew is–

Ten minutes later, Miss Blanche Rosenthal, accompanied by two fellow teachers–Miss Sadie Striet and Mr. John Murray–come out the door of P.S. 83 and proceed down the front steps. They’re talking about going to see Vice-President Taft this evening, he’ll be giving a speech and answering questions at the Cooper Union. Mr. Murray notices a group of boys seated on a curbstone across the street, but doesn’t pay them any attention–till a piece of broken plaster knocks the hat right off his head.

That’s her! says Josephine Donilo, leaping onto a horse-block and pointing at Miss Rosenthal. That’s the Jew that beat my own brother so bad he prob’ly can’t walk! That’s her!

The boys–the avengers–nod soberly, then cross the avenue in a phalanx, digging stones from their pockets. The first missile that flies strikes Miss Rosenthal, hard, in the left arm. Then they come in a volley, and the teachers, hands to their faces, flee down the street and into a pharmacy on the corner. Romelein and Fuchs. Druggist Fuchs slams the door behind them, and locks it. Miss Striet is weeping. Miss Rosenthal is bleeding from her cheek. Telephone the police! says Mr. Murray, just as the plate glass window–Ice Cream & Soda Fountain/Cigars/Wines of Cardui–explodes in.


Walking downtown from Fifty-seventh Street, Sloan remembers to stop into a bank to buy postage stamps, $49 worth. He joins the end of a short line, his hands clasped behind his back, his glance roving everywhere, taking in the pillars and the electroliers, the hard benches, and the commodious glass-topped officers’ desks behind a mahogany rail; he looks up, seeing two scurrying cash-boys nearly collide on the balcony, then watches an old woman, bent over a counter in an alcove, laboriously write her signature; he watches another, older woman lift her overskirts and tuck her bankbook into a small white bag secured by a rope around her waist. Directly in front of Sloan is a gray-haired man in a workman’s jumper who keeps clearing his throat and spitting phlegm into a blue handkerchief. The teller’s lamps all have green shades. The walls are buff and gold. Red tape! somebody shouts (him, over there, dressed in the broadcloth frock coat and carrying a silver-headed cane; the rascal), his voice echoing throughout the vast bank interior and bouncing off the high railing. Damnable red tape! he says, and demands to see the manager.

Silver-headed cane. Buff and gold walls. Small white bag.

Smiling, Sloan steps to the window. Afternoon, he says, I’d like to buy some stamps.

Outside again, he reckons he might as well cross over to Fifth Avenue and deliver them now to Macbeth’s; save him a separate trip later. Someone at the gallery will be addressing all the envelopes and mailing out the catalogs and invitations. Which is a big relief. Till yesterday, when the printer telephoned to say the job was finished, Sloan was positive that chore, like every other chore connected with the show, would fall to him.

Macbeth’s Galleries is in a narrow commercial building at 450 Fifth Avenue, three rooms on the fourth floor. Rather small rooms. It won’t be easy, come Saturday night, to hang all of the group’s paintings–well over 30 of them–in that space, but with luck and some fancy finagling, they’ll do it. And if it looks like a hash? So be it. They’re “apostles of ugliness,” ain’t they?

Last spring (last spring already!) when Sloan and Henri started to bat around the idea of an exhibition of their own, one without prizes and decorous gloss, they had in mind something far more ambitious, and subversive, than a two-week show. Steamed up by the National Academy’s complacency, its favoritism, its arrogance, they meant to establish an alternative system, nothing less, hospitable to young artists and innovative art, and fatal to the royalist forces of conservatism–its rigged juries and controlled membership. They’d destroy the Academy by humiliating it, by showing pictures that made the stuff in their galleries look as dull as dishwater.

But to do that, they first needed to lease a permanent exhibition space. Shinn knew of an auction house that had recently gone out of business, Sloan recommended a furniture showroom in his own neighborhood–they could hang hundreds of pictures there! But Glackens kept asking how much will this cost, how much will this cost?

Too much.

So they lowered their sights, whereupon Henri asked his friend Davies to ask his dealer Macbeth if, by some chance, the crowd could have his galleries sometime in the near future. Yes, he supposed he could squeeze them in, but for two weeks only, in February, and for a guarantee, payable in advance, of $500. Thus the revolution shrank to a rebellion. Sedition in small rooms….

Sloan comes off the elevator and into a gallery hung with what he considers to be a lot of art-rot, two dozen marine paintings by somebody named Dougherty. Good lord, all that water, all that weather–to what purpose? Macbeth (short, round, red-faced with his hair neatly parted) laughs at Sloan’s obvious disgust, then pumping his hand, he winks. And whispers, A lot of leather, eh? Pot-boilers! But they sell, dear boy. They sell. Unlike…

Unlike the drawings and paintings in the second gallery, which are being removed from the walls now by two young male employees, and wrapped in parcel paper by a third.

Macbeth clucks in disappointment.

Myers? says Sloan.

You know him?

Neighbor of mine. Nice fellow.

Splendid fellow! agrees Macbeth. But as commercial as a rusty nail. No sales!

Which speaks for the present condition of judgment in picture-buyers, says Sloan.

To be sure, to be sure, replies Macbeth, who then changes the subject to mention that, at last, he received Prendergast’s pictures just this afternoon, by express from Boston. He writes to me he’ll be arriving Saturday morning with his brother.

Sloan nods. The eight of us will do the hanging.

Democracy! says Macbeth with a quick smile. Wonderful!

Sloan leaves the stamps with Macbeth’s assistant, grabs a handful of catalogs, then, before taking the elevator back down, has a quick look at what remains on the walls of Myers’ work–an etching of a ramshackle clapboard house on MacDougal Street, drawings of two old men on a bench, women shopping at a greengrocer’s on First Avenue, a barker in a vacant-lot circus, oil paintings of a dozen little schoolgirls with joined hands playing London Bridge, a candle-lit saint’s-day procession.

Sentimental? Some of them, but clearly some of them, too, are important pictures. Lovely work. And all of them, every single one of them, brimming with kindness.

Poor Jerome….

Continuing southward on Fifth Avenue, negotiating the heaps of dirty snow, watching the motor-cars roll past undisturbed by the slippery road-surface that gives such trouble to the coach-and-wagon horses, Sloan finds himself drifting into a blue funk. Now, why is that? The silly class? Oh, hang the class! Seeing Jerome’s work, a half-year’s worth of it, being pulled from the walls and bundled up like so many legs of mutton? Maybe. Sometimes it seems so pointless–so irresponsible. Making art while everybody else is busy making money.

He passes a flower stall, then stops suddenly at the corner, turns around and goes back. A nice bunch of carnations? For Dolly? She’d like that, she would. And it would certainly cheer up Sloan to see her smile, clap her hands together, kiss him on the neck–you shouldn’t have, you really shouldn’t have! Carnations it’ll be. A dozen. But when he takes out his billfold, it’s empty. And, except for two nickels and several pennies, so are his pockets.

He could spit.

Outside the Cooper Union, John Murray looks up and down Fourth Avenue, and all around the square, then checks his pocket watch again. Seven-thirty. He’ll wait a few more minutes, even though Taft must already be speaking, to judge from the burst of applause coming from the Great Hall. Seeing two young women turn the corner together at Astor Place, his spirits lift, and he moves briskly to greet them–but no, it’s neither Miss Striet nor Miss Rosenthal. More applause, then laughter.

Murray was very much looking forward to this evening out with the ladies–well, with Miss Rosenthal, at least. Miss Striet is certainly good-natured and charming, a lovely person, a dear friend–but Miss Rosenthal! Miss Rosenthal. (Blanche!) Is so intelligent and sympathetic, so–wonderfully pretty. Her reddish-gold hair, her lustrous brown eyes, her long dark lashes! For almost a year he’s admired her. Greatly. And she seems to admire him, to respect him, and he’s been hoping that one of these days…that she might…that he might…that they could possibly, even though he’s only a civics teacher, that they could–oh drat!

She’s not coming, it’s clear she’s not coming, that she’s still far too distraught, and all because of those vicious young hoodlums. Poor Miss Rosenthal! Blood on her cheek. She fairly swooned there in the pharmacy–after the police arrived, she could scarcely speak to them, she was trembling so. The druggist fixed her a powder in a paper cone, made her swallow it with a glass of water. Mr. Murray wanted to take her hand (her slender white hand) and stroke it, but couldn’t, of course. So he just stood by, useless, amid the broken plate glass: eam & Sod  gar  f  Car  ce W

Oh, how he’d like to strangle those boys, each and every one of them! Till their faces turned blue and they soiled themselves. Ignorant dagos.

She’s not coming.

It’s not fated. Or as his mother would say–has said, about so many of her heart’s desires–It just ain’t meant to be.

Which is maybe the best thing, all around. Maybe it is. All for the best. Miss Rosenthal? and Mr. Murray?

Would be a nightmare, worse than anything that even Mr. Theodore Dreiser could dream up. Impossible. Catastrophic. Tragic.


At ten minutes before eight, he turns and walks sluggishly into the Cooper Union, the Great Hall filled to capacity, and so brilliantly lit that it’s like pins to his eyes. He disappears in the crowd….

Behind a rostrum on the stage, the Vice-President of the United States looks infinitely amiable, and is stupendously fat. Three hundred pounds. His mustache is white, his hair still brown and neatly parted in the middle. He has finished delivering his prepared remarks and is now taking questions from the auditorium.

A man in the second row: Sir, is there any chance that the President will suddenly change his mind and decide to run for another term in office?

Mr. Taft: President Roosevelt has clearly stated his intentions not to seek another term. And as we all know, when he says something, he means it.

A man standing against a side wall: Then, sir, will you be seeking the nomination for yourself?

Mr. Taft: I will make clear my intentions soon enough. All in good time. All in good time. No need to rush.

A man far back in the hall, raising his voice to be heard: Mr. Taft, sir. It’s been printed in the newspapers only this week that there are a quarter of a million people looking for work in our city. If I might be permitted, sir, to read you some figures, he says, taking out a notebook.

Mr. Taft: Are you with the press?

Man: Yes, sir. The Evening Journal.

Mr. Taft: I can’t see your face from here, sir, but you seem too nice a fellow for that sort of occupation.

Man: Well, a job’s a job, sir, and I’m glad to have one. Plenty of other people don’t, as I say. Two hundred and fifty thousand of ’em, just here in New York. Ninety thousand cutters and tailors out of work. Forty thousand skilled mechanics in the construction trade laid off since April. Fifteen hundred machinists. Sixteen hundred of the city’s 8,000 iron molders–idle. Five thousand diamond cutters and jewelers. Shirt and necktie workers, cigar makers: 2,000 looking for work and not finding anything. And those are just the skilled workers, sir. There are at least 75,000 unskilled workers knocking on every door. The Municipal Lodging House is filled, the Charities Department is overburdened. And there are thousands of tramps wandering the city streets this winter, existing no one knows how. Never before has there been so many beg–

Mr. Taft: But just what is your question, sir?

Man: What is a man to do who is out of work and starving?

Mr. Taft blinks, astonished.

God knows, says the Vice-President, I don’t.


Dolly Sloan is reading aloud from Joseph Andrews: “Lady Booby then casting her eyes on the ground, observed something sparkle with great lustre, which, when she had taken it up, appeared to be a very fine pair of diamond buttons for the sleeves.” Pausing, Dolly glances away from the page, to Sloan, who is carefully applying gilt to a picture frame. How are you feeling? she asks. Are you feeling any better?

He came home this afternoon complaining of a wicked, throbbing headache. She rubbed his neck, massaged his temples, then insisted he lay down for a while before supper. It was no use, though, he couldn’t nap, and within ten minutes of stretching out, he was back up again and in his studio, using the last half hour of daylight to do some picture-fixing, adding a bit of color here and there to the one called Boy and Mirror. But pausing every so often to squeeze his head between his hands. She made him stop working, finally, afraid he might pass out. Had he caught something? A chill? There was influenza about. Are you hungry, Jack? Not at all. Well, you should have something anyway. Eat something–for me? She made hash, but he hardly touched it. Then: back to the studio. To gilt a frame.

Dolly followed him, watched him, fretted over him, and at last picked up the novel he’s been crawling through for several months. Shall I? she asked, gesturing with the book. At his nod, she opened it to the page he’d marked with a newspaper cutting dated last May 15 (“Eight Independent Painters to Give an Exhibition of Their Own Work Next Winter”) and began to read: “Chapter Eleven: Where the good-natured reader will see something that will give him no great pleasure…”)

Are you feeling any better at all?

Oh much, says Sloan. Much better. He smiles, but it’s counterfeit. Dolly can always tell.

At ten past eight, Robert Henri arrives. Unexpectedly, as usual. Only this evening, instead of sweeping in with a stage flourish, he carries himself like an old, weary man, sighing as he shrugs off his overcoat, then pushing a hand languidly through his long black hair as he sinks onto the studio couch. Dolly looks from Henri to her husband, then shakes her head. And she thought Sloan might be coming down with a cold. Eyewash! It’s nerves. Look at the pair of them, nervous as kittens. But if those two birds–the boys–don’t get off the anxious seat, by the time the exhibition opens they’ll be flat on their backs in bed. Dolly knows a thing or two about the mechanics of distress.

I’ll make some tea, she says, and decides: no Lipton, chamomile. For health.

While Dolly is in the kitchen, waiting for the water to boil, Henri comes in and wets his hands at the sink, works up a soapy lather and scrubs his face, then pats himself dry with a dish towel. He moves to go back to the studio, but then notices, on the table, the small pile of catalogs that Sloan brought home earlier from Macbeth’s. Ah! He hasn’t seen the finished job till now, only the proofs. Well, well! Finally a smile. Well, well. He holds a catalog at arm’s length–and approves. Looks good! Well done, John, he calls to Sloan, take a bow.

Henri opens the catalog and turns through it, savoringly. Picture titles on the left-hand pages (excellent choice of typeface; excellent), photographs on the right. Everett Shinn: eight paintings. Ernest Lawson: four. John Sloan: seven. Maurice B. Prendergast: seventeen. (A bit excessive in Henri’s opinion, but too late now. Anyway, several pictures are small studies. Little things.) George Luks: six. Robert Henri–

Take a bow for what? says Sloan coming down the hall. Oh, yes. The catalog. Well, I’m glad you like it. He stands in the doorway, a cigarette in his fingers. Then he frowns when Henri does.

This photograph of my painting, says Henri, his face going abruptly pink, his tone sulky now, is–is rather blurry, is it not, in comparison with the others?

Dolly turns off the flame under the kettle, and moisten her bottom lip with the tip of her tongue.

I don’t mean to criticize, John, says Henri, but good lord!

Sloan blushes, his glance seeking the floor. I agree with you, he says, it’s not very good, but it’s the best we had.

I assumed, since you never said anything, that all the pictures you took had come out well. I had no idea! If I had–

You’ve been away more than you’ve been around, says Sloan tartly. And draws a puff on his cigarette. If you’d been more available, maybe you’d’ve noticed the problem sooner.

Oh! Am I to understand you don’t believe I’ve pulled my full weight? Then possibly I should remind you, Johnny (he never calls him Johnny) that almost every newspaper in this city is committed to publishing a story about our show. And not by accident. Not by accident.

And whose photographs, says Sloan, will be illustrating those stories?

Well, obviously, I wouldn’t boast about that.

Sloan doesn’t reply, and there’s a long silence, the two men glaring at one another across the kitchen table.

At last, Sloan begins to sag. He gives his head a distracted shake, then lifts one shoulder in a kind of half-shrug. And apologizes. I’m sorry, Hen. I wish it came out better, myself.

Henri flips the catalog back onto the table. Of course I know that. It’s just…regrettable. Very re-goddamn-grettable.

Without steeping the tea, Dolly turns from the stove, crosses the kitchen, then walks down the short hall and into the bedroom. Closes the door behind her and turns the lock. Then, kneeling on the hooked rug, she reaches an arm under the bedstead and pulls out her suitcase. Throws it on the bed. Opens it. Unhooks the curtain fasteners. The bottle–this one is gin; she has other spirits cached elsewhere–is wrapped in a scrap of old flannel and stuck inside the black handbag she bought last summer, to go to a funeral. Sloan’s mother’s.

Very carefully she fills the cap, and then lifts it in a toast.

To the exhibition!

Continue to read CHAPTER SIXTEEN →