Emma in a Purple Dress


George Wesley Bellows ( American, 1882 - 1925 )

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General Description

A member of the Eight, or Ashcan school, and best known for his boxing scenes, George Bellows also produced moving portraits, as seen here. During the early 1920s, Bellows was preoccupied with the depiction of his wife. Towards the end of his life, Bellows treated his every day subjects in a simple, large, and monumental way. This portrait of George Bellows' wife, Emma Story, took over three years to produce and involved just as much dramatic struggle as the artist's well-known fight scenes. Emma in a Purple Dress is characteristic of Bellows's family portraits, in which the obvious affection he holds for his wife and children is balanced by an ambiguous sense of reserve.

Emma Bellows recalled her husband's terrific struggle to paint her face, as he scraped out each successive effort to capture her character as well as her likeness. He did not flatter Emma, or her elaborate dress, which Bellows liked for its textures. In the finished painting, Emma's eyes are cast to one side, her gaze distant. The light falling on Emma's face softens the resolute frontality of the composition, while in her averted gaze may be read the tedium of innumerable sittings.

A drawing in the museum's collection (1960.124) indicates the relative ease with which the artist handled the dress, but the paper ends at Emma's neck. Starting in 1921 and continuing for the three years he labored on the large portrait, Bellows executed lithographs which depict his wife in the same setting and attire, but experiment with different compositions. (1960.125)

Adapted from

  • William Keyse Rudolph, DMA Label copy (1956.58), August 2005.

  • P.F.R, DMA research document (1956.58), n.d. Collection Records Object File.

  • Eleanor Jones Harvey, DMA Label copy (1956.58), August 1993.

  • Eleanor Jones Harvey, "George Bellows, 'Emma in a Purple Dress'" in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 249.

Fun Facts

  • Emma was thirty-nine and the mother of two girls when the portrait was completed. Bellows met Emma, who is reported to have been an attractive, spirited woman of strong character, in 1905, and they were married in 1910. The pair met while enrolled in a class taught by Robert Henri at the New York School of Art (formerly the Chase School of Art, named for its founder, William Merritt Chase).

  • In a 1951 article on the recent exhibition of Bellows' work at H.V. Allison Gallery in New York, Time magazine focused on this portrait and Emma Bellows' successful management of her husband's estate after his death in 1925. Mrs. Bellows comments on the title Emma in a Purple Dress as having always puzzled her because, "I know that dress by heart. I made the jacket myself. The skirt was rose-colored, the jacket blue." ("Painter & Wife," Time 58:26 (December 24, 1951), 34.)

Web Resources

  • Framing George Bellows
    Read Suzanne Smeaton's essay on The Frame Blog (ed. Lynn Roberts), June 15, 2013.

  • Emma in the Purple Dress, 1919
    See one of George Bellows' early efforts to capture his wife's likeness in this portrait that resembles but predates the work in the DMA collection.