Artists & Designers
George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925)
George Bellows was born in Columbus, Ohio, and there attended Ohio State University (1901-04) before leaving his senior year to study art in New York. He gave up a promising career in baseball to pursue his first love, art. Sports became a primary theme in his work, but he was also well known for painting landscapes, portraits and figure compositions with vitality and strong emotion.
Arriving in New York City in 1904, he enrolled in William Merritt Chase's New York School of Art where he was an enthusiastic student of Robert Henri, who stressed the importance of capturing direct observations on canvas and working rapidly in paint so as not to lose the immediate response to a subject. He also studied briefly with John Sloan, Hardesty Gillmore Maratta, and Jay Hambridge, whose theories of geometric harmony had considerable influence on his thinking. Bellows's bold brushwork and dark, glowing color take their cues from his study of Édouard Manet and Frans Hals, as does his interest in portraiture. He was closely associated with the Ashcan School, whose members chose socially charged urban scenes for their subjects.
His early paintings of the Hudson River and New York bridges show brilliance of execution, but his boxing scenes and depictions of city life were more popular. Throughout his early work Bellows chose themes that had been treated earlier by Thomas Eakins, though they differed in their approaches to realism. Eakins' scenes of masculine athleticism emphasize stability and stillness, while Bellows' art heightens the subject's action and violent emotion. Bellows' famous painting, Both Members of This Club (1909), which depicts a boxing match, echoes Eakins' depictions of the same subject but asserts the men's movement and forcefulness rather than precise anatomical details. Bellows' Forty-Two Kids (1907) is a variation of Eakins' The Swimming Hole (1885), but Bellows' attention to capturing motion makes Eakins' swimmers look more traditional in comparison.
Bellows first exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1906 and won the coveted Hallgarten Prize two years later. In 1909 he became the youngest Associate in the Academy's history, participated in the Exhibition of Independent Artists, and began teaching Life and Composition classes at the Art Students League. In 1913 he assisted in the organization of the Armory Show, and exhibited six paintings and eight drawings in the exhibition. Bellows began executing lithographs in 1916, and they number among some of his most effective works. The technique lent itself well to his expressive drawing style, and as a printmaker Bellows often created morbid, despairing images reminiscent of the graphic work of Francisco Goya.
He spent most of his life in New York searching the slums and parks as well as the fashionable sections for material for his work. During the summer months, Bellows and his family lived in various places in New England and in 1922 they built a second home in Woodstock, New York. In his later career, Bellows' moved away from his earlier preoccupation with urban motifs and his paintings became simpler, more monumental, and sensitive. As illustrated by Emma in a Purple Dress (1920-1923, 1956.58), his primary themes during this period were family, pastoral, and literary subjects.
Steven A. Nash, Dallas Collects American Paintings: Colonial to Early Modern: An Exhibition of Paintings from Private Collections in Dallas (Dallas Museum of Fine Arts: Dallas, TX), 107.
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.
"Biographies of American Artists," DMA research document, n.d., Education Files.
P.F.R., DMA research document, n.d., Collections Records Object File.
During the period of nine years, from when he started lithography in 1916 until his death in 1925, George Bellows made an estimated eight thousand impressions of his prints.
Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 15, 2012 to February 18, 2013.
The Art of Boxing
Watch this video made in conjunction with an exhibition of the same title at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2012).