George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925)
Historic American Paintings, Works on Paper, and Printmaking
Bellows was born in Columbus, Ohio, and received his early training at The Ohio State University, where he excelled not only as an illustrator for the school's publication, The Makio, but also as a baseball and basketball player, and as a member of the men's chorus. Just before graduating from the university, however, Bellows moved to New York to receive more extensive art training. From 1904 to 1906, he studied with Robert Henri at the New York School of Art.
There could not have been a better match of teacher and student. Henri, the compelling teacher, philosopher, and proponent of urban realism, immediately found a convert in the inexperienced but bold and enthusiastic painter. Bellows, inspired by Henri to follow the example of the seminal French Modernist, Edouard Manet, quickly developed his ability to render compelling images of New York City as experienced by the ordinary man.
Bellows excelled in the media of both oil painting and lithography. His early paintings are characterized by bold, gestural brushstrokes loaded with color, conveying and creating a metaphor for the energy and vitality of his newly adopted home and beloved city. This work embodies the reality of ordinary days and settings, while the vigorous paint application, and compositional sophistication is informed by his study of paintings by Modern painters such as Manet and Henri, with whom he shared an affinity.
Bellows is known, not only for his New York City urban views, landscapes, and psychologically-penetrating portraits, but also for his paintings and prints which convey his fascination with of athletic competition, most specifically, the boxing match. These images are vigorous in subject, composition, and handling. They communicate excitement and power, as well as his acute sensitivity to the fleeting and telling moment. Whereas Eakins' paintings of this subject tend to be intellectual and objective, Bellows' are direct, earthy, dramatic, and emotionally-compelling.
Bellows was a member of many art societies, including the National Academy of Design, National Institute of Arts and Letters (New York), Society of American Artists, and Society of Independent Artists. In addition, his work received critical attention early as a result of several one-man showings at the beginning of his career, including the Montrose Gallery, New York, 1914; Art Institute of Chicago, 1914; Milch Galleries, New York, 1917; Knoedler's Gallery, New York, 1919; and Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, 1919. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York, held exhibitions the year Bellows suddenly died, in 1925.
He also was awarded many prizes in his short career, including: the Gold Medal, Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, 1915; Isador Medal, National Academy of Design, 1916, 1917; Temple Award, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1917; First Harris Prize, Art Institute of Chicago, 1921; Beck Gold Medal, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1921; Gold Medal, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh; Logan Purchase Prize, Art Institute of Chicago, 1923; and William A. Clark Prize and the Corcoran Gold Medal, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Selected Permanent Collections:
Art Institute of Chicago
Cleveland Museum of Art
Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Source: James M. Keny and Nannette V. Maciejunes, Triumph of Color and Light: Ohio Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, exh. cat., Columbus Museum of Art, 1994, 29-30, 93-95.
See also: Marianna Doezema, George Bellows and Urban America, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1992; Charles H. Morgan, George Bellows: Painter of America, New York, Reynal, 1965; and Jane Myers and Linda Ayers, George Bellows: The Artist and His Lithographs, 1914-1924, exh. cat., Fort Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum, 1988.