“Unconscious grace” on a rooftop in Chelsea

Lines of laundry, a pigeon coop, a sunbather? It’s a very different neighborhood today than the one depicted in John Sloan’s A Roof in Chelsea, New York, painted in the 1940s.

“This is one of Sloan’s last renderings of the domestic city life he so loved to observe,” states this writeup from the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College. “He worked on the painting at intervals beginning in 1941.”


“Sloan was particularly drawn to the subject of women hanging out laundry on rooftops. He described his persistent attraction to this theme as ‘an urge to record my strong emotional response to the city woman, any woman running up colors of a fresh clean wash. Sun, wind, . . . blowing hair, unconscious grace give me great joy.’”

Here’s another Sloan painting of women, hair, and laundry—this time on a Cornelia Street roof.

“Full of light, movement, and brilliant color, this ebullient image stands in sharp contrast to some of Sloan’s more introspective works and the strident political illustrations he created earlier in his career.”

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9 Responses to ““Unconscious grace” on a rooftop in Chelsea”

  1. ronfrankl Says:

    Beautiful! I love the timelessness of Sloan’s work.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I love his interest in something as seemingly mundane as hanging laundry.

  3. tomgeorgearts Says:

    that is beautiful…sadly reflective of the unequal position of women in society at the time though i feel…

  4. Keaton Says:

    Sloan is excellent. Now, I’m trying to find the name of a movie and can’t remember if it was mentioned on this blog or another. Its a 1950s movie shot in some area of Brooklyn before something like the BQE was built. I want to say it was in DUMBO. Or perhaps it had something to do with the naval yards. Does anyone know?

    • ronfrankl Says:

      A drama? There’s a few movies I can think of that were filmed on the Lower East Side and/or Brooklyn waterfront. A Hatful of Rain, Pick Up on South Street and Side Street in the late 40s or 50s. Hitchcock’s Saboteur has scenes filmed at the Navy Yard, as well as the Statue of Liberty, of course.

      • Keaton Says:

        Hey, thanks for the reply! I’m definitely gonna check those out. I looked these up and none of them are the movie I’m trying to find. I’ve tried all kinds of searches and can’t seem to find it. 😦

      • ronfrankl Says:

        Film and New York history are two of my interests, and nothing interests me more than when the two are combined. If you can recall any of the plot or the stars, I’d be glad to try to help you figure it out. I don’t know if you like silent films, but there is a fascinating film called Regeneration (1915), allegedly the first gangster film, that was shot on location on the Lower East Side. It offers a fascinating view of early 20th century New York street life.

      • Keaton Says:

        I honestly can’t remember any of the actors. I hadn’t heard their names before. I looked the movie up (when I knew the name) and found the full length film on youtube. I only watched about 30 seconds to check the streaming quality. It seemed to be a crime drama of kind. The opening scene had a bit of an abrupt start. I think there was a street scene and then it cut to the interior of a diner counter with two guys in suits and hats talking. Thats as far as I got and probably not enough info. Regeneration sounds like another great suggestion. I’ve started a list now so I don’t forget the names of the films! Thanks!

  5. A dazzling sunset from a West 23rd Street roof | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Sloan had a thing for the triple combo of women, rooftops, and laundry, as these paintings reveal. […]

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