American, 1882–1925

George Bellows

"George Bellows was a student of William Chase, Kenneth Hays Miller and, especially, Robert Henri, whose private courses he attended in 1904. He was one of the youngest members of the Ashcan School, of which Henri was the chief mover and theoretician, which found its subjects in scenes of unadorned urban street life, with its noises, smells and dirt. He was often inspired by Thomas Eakins, though in choice of subjects rather than style. He featured in an exhibition of the National Academy of Design in New York, where he obtained a prize in 1908 and became a member in 1909. He took part as a representative of American Realist artists in the organisation of the Armory Show in 1914, which was unquestionably the defining artistic event in the USA in the early 20th century. He also belonged to a group within American artistic society known as the Fifteen Group. In 1920 and 1925, he was briefly one of the Woodstock Group, and bought a house in that town.

"From 1909, he lived next to a boxing club, where he frequently went to watch the fights, one of his favourite subjects and an interest he shared with Eakins. Boxing was the subject of some of his strongest works: the famous Dempsey and Firpo or Both Members of This Club, 1909. Unlike Eakins, who treated his subjects statically, as if they were posing, Bellows aimed to convey the movement, the effort and the dynamism, even the violence, of the sport. In Both Members of This Club, the two boxers, one white and one black, are fellow club members, but once in the ring they are enemies. They hurl themselves at each other, hit each other, bleed. In the darkness outside the ring, their features reflecting the lights, the watching crowd shout excitedly. Bellows responded to criticisms relating to the details of equipment or technique by saying: ‘I know nothing about boxing. I just paint two men trying to kill each other.’ He also liked to paint street scenes and images of everyday New York life, which he treated with affection rather than irony.

"From 1916, he produced lithographs that express his revulsion in the face of World War I. He also painted numerous portraits. Although in terms of his subjects he was determined to see himself as a fearless witness to his time, his pictorial technique still bore the imprint of the 19th century. However, this was not the 19th century of sentimentality, but rather Daumier’s century, and more distantly that of Goya, with the same kind of violent effects, in which he obtained sharp contrasts by chiaroscuro techniques and produced a gestural dynamism by vigorous brush-strokes" (Benezit, Dictionary of Artists, Paris, 2006).

Museum Collections:
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX
Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, MA
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
National Gallery, London
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C
The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C..
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT

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