American Acrostics: Milton Avery and John Sloan

John Sloan, Clown Making Up, 1910

John Sloan, Clown Making Up, 1910, Oil on canvas 32 1/8 x 26 in.; 81.5975 x 66.04 cm. Acquired 1919. The Phillips Collection, Washington DC.

To celebrate the last month of Made in the USA, we’ve asked Phillips staff to create acrostic poems for works in the exhibition. We’ll feature some of our favorite submissions over the next few weeks. In this post, Specialist for School, Outreach, and Family Programs Andrea Kim Taylor tries to get inside the head of a young woman writing at a desk and William Spates, Museum Assistant, gets thoughtful about one of his favorite paintings.


Milton Avery, Girl Writing
Under the influence of inspiration
She stops to empty her mind
And struggles for expression

Andrea Kim Taylor, Specialist for School, Outreach and Family Programs


Milton Avery, Shells and Fishermen, 1941. Oil on canvas, 24 x 36 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1943





John Sloan, Clown Making Up

A lifetime of stories to share

William Spates, Museum Assistant

“Look on the model with respect…”

Henri Matisse, Untitled (Seated Nude), ca. 1908

Matisse on models: “I depend entirely on my model, who I observe at liberty, and then I decide on the pose which best suits her nature…. And then I become a slave of that pose.” Henri Matisse, Untitled (Seated Nude), ca. 1908. Ink on paper, 10 5/8 x 8 1/4 in. Gift of Marjorie Phillips, 1984. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.

Proving that no occupation is un-strikeable, nude models in France are threatening a strike for better wages and job benefits. Despite the many languid figurative works that may imply that nude modeling is nothing more than draping one’s body over a chaise, even those sessions can be plenty challenging. John Sloan, in his treatise Gist of Art (1939), offers this insight into the artist/model exchange:

The important thing to bear in mind while drawing the figure is that the model is a human being, that it is alive, that it exists there on the stand. Look on the model with respect, appreciate his or her humanity. Be very humble before that human being. Be filled with wonder at its reality and life. There is a human creature that lives and breathes and feels, a thing with a mind and character of its own—not a patchwork of light and shadow, color shapes.

Sometimes when I come into the classroom I look at the model and see that she is shivering with cold or suffering in some difficult post she is trying to hold too long. You look up at her and back at the paper, tick-tock, back and forth—all you are looking for is some detail of the appearance of the figure.