“This Staten Island resort had few visitors compared to Coney Island, and gave better opportunity for observation of individual behavior.” –John Sloan
Along with fellow members of the early 20th-century group of American painters known as the Ashcan School, John Sloan was interested in the life of New York’s streets and gathering spots. These artists sought to present themes that depicted their surroundings, such as the creation of an urban ethnic culture in New York’s immigrant neighborhoods, the glaring contrasts between wealth and poverty, the glitter of show business, the bustle of city streets, and the ferment over the proper roles of men and women.
Sloan first visited South Beach, an amusement park on Staten Island that attracted primarily working-class clientele, on June 23, 1907. Like many of his New York–themed works, his depiction of South Beach suggests a story that begins when one person looks at another. In South Beach Bathers a woman adjusting her hat is eyed appreciatively from the side and behind by men lounging on the sand. Women play several roles at once in Sloan’s art: beyond being objects of desire, they record the new independence of modern New Yorkers, while also presenting a variation on old ideals of beauty in art.