Monday, March 27, 2023


Obscurity of the Day: Paul Palette, The Practical Paintist


A special treat of an obscurity today as we shine the spotlight on the only newspaper comic strip series penned by the great pioneering Ashcan School painter, John Sloan

Sloan worked at the Philadelphia Press in the 1890s to 1910s because the income from his serious art was practically nonexistent at the time. His most remembered work there were his puzzle cartoons, a long-running weekly feature in which a set of illustrations could be reinterpreted to fit some specified category. For instance, if Sloan showed a bridge onto an island, and the category was US States, the illustration would represent Rhode (road) Island. (In actuality, the puzzles were generally quite tough to solve, unlike my elementary example).

Though Sloan produced all sorts of work for the Press, and he had an excellent sense of humour, for some reason he very rarely contributed to their homegrown Sunday comics section. He did some occasional one-shots, and just this one series, Paul Pallette the Practical Paintist (which eventually had its spelling error corrected to Palette). 

For fans of Sloan, who know that he could see the humour in the art world and his own aspirations, a comic strip about a goofy artist seems like a natural outlet. Unfortunately, Paul Pallette is little more than a copy of Billy the Boy Artist except with an adult protagonist. Pallette is a champion for realism in art, and every time he fools someone into mistaking a painting for reality he is utterly delighted with his triumph even as he endures the negative consequences. 

Since Billy the Boy Artist was rarely seen outside of Boston, Sloan could easily get away with his copycat strip with few readers the wiser, but it's still too bad he didn't take the opportunity to produce something more original. In any case, the strip did not last long. It debuted on October 22 1905 and last appeared January 7 1906. The above two samples, courtesy of Cole Johnson, are the first two of the series. 

An interesting footnote to this series concerns Sloan's signature. Rather than sign with his name, Sloan playfully signed this strip with a dollar sign (seen above), the name 'Ivan Lanso', or a drawing of a snail, which is a playful self-reference to his near-legendary slowness in producing art.


Hello Allan-
Sloan was part of the group of rebelous impressionist artists known as "The Eight", who came along in the 1900s, notably a famous show at the MacBeth Gallery in 1908, where he and other untraditional painters were given their moniker.
Saying something about modern art, I guess, several of the daubers dabbled in comics, they were:
Arthur B. Davies
William Glackens
Robert Henri
Ernest Lawson
George B. Luks
Maurice Pendergast
Everett Shinn
John Sloan

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