"Of Human Bondage": Etchings by John Sloan Illustrating W. Somerset Maugham's Novel

Friday, September 28 to Saturday, December 8, 2007,
Joel and Lila Harnett Print Study Center

The University of Richmond Museums presents the exhibition, "Of Human Bondage": Etchings by John Sloan Illustrating W. Somerset Maugham's Novel, on view from September 28 to December 8, 2007. The exhibition focuses on sixteen etchings Sloan made in 1937 for a deluxe edition of Of Human Bondage, issued in a two-volume set each containing eight original etchings by the artist. The exhibition also explores adaptations of the book, such as two movie versions, one from 1934 starring Bette Davis and Leslie Howard, and the other from 1964 with Kim Novak and Laurence Harvey.

An English playwright, novelist, editor, and essayist W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) became one of the most popular authors of his era and reputedly the highest paid of his profession during the 1930s. The most successful novels by the author included Of Human Bondage (1915), The Moon and Sixpence (1919), Cakes and Ale (1930), and The Razor's Edge (1944). As a dramatist he produced 29 plays, many of which achieved theatrical acclaim.  

Of Human Bondage
(1915) is the longest and most well-known work in prose by Maugham. The American critic and writer Theodore Dreiser referred to it as a work of genius and compared Of Human Bondage to a Beethoven symphony. Although Maugham himself insisted it was more invention than fact, the novel appeared to be closely autobiographical; Maugham's life experiences of attending a private school, suffering from a stammer, and obtaining a medical degree found their way into the narrative of the main character Philip Carey, an orphan with a club foot.

The American painter John Sloan (1871-1951) was one of a group of artists, including Robert Henri, William Glackens, and Maurice Prendergast, who became known as the Ashcan School for their gritty depictions of urban life. While Sloan remains more famous for New York scenes, he was also an able landscapist and portraitist, as well as a prolific printmaker. The etchings for Of Human Bondage, lively and intimate, show that Sloan's concept of the big city could be translated to the novel's London setting with as much vitality as seen in his images of New York.

Sloan personally admired Maugham's masterpiece and read the novel three times. The etchings communicated Sloan's own sense of the interest in the joy of existence, his love of humankind, his liberality and zest. Sloan's works pleased Maugham so much that he planned to use them to decorate his new house in South Carolina where he lived from 1940 to 1946 during the Nazi invasion of Europe. For Sloan's illustrations had "caught wonderfully the tang of the period," said the author, and made readers "eager to know more about the people whose image the artist has shown."

The exhibition features objects from the collections of the Joel and Lila Harnett Print Study Center, University of Richmond Museums, and the University of Richmond's Boatwright Memorial Library. Organized by the University of Richmond Museums, the exhibition was co-curated by Richard Waller, Executive Director, University Museums, and Dina Zhurba, MLA'08, graduate student, University of Richmond, and 2007 Harnett Summer Research Fellow in the University Museums.
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Programming

Friday, September 28, 3 to 3:30 p.m.
Curator's talk, Harnett Print Study Center, Modlin Center for the Arts.
"Image and Text: Sloan and Maugham,"
Dina Zhurba, MLA'08, University of Richmond, 2007 Harnett Summer Research Fellow, and co-curator of the exhibition, "Of Human Bondage": Etchings by John Sloan Illustrating W. Somerset Maugham's Novel