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George Bellows

See also: American Art


"Although George Bellows did not exhibit with The Eight, by the time of the exhibition his name was often linked with theirs as a follower of Robert Henri and one of the "youthful apostles of force, who express...the rush and crush of modern life, the contempt for authority." For him, 1908 proved to be a banner year. In the wake of the Macbeth Galleries show. he participated in an exhibition that critics dubbed "The Eight out-Eighted." Organized by a group of Henri's pupils, it was distinguished by paintings of urban subjects rendered in an anti-academic technique that some found inept or deliberately crude but others considered audacious. Bellows showed a painting of the Pennsylvania Station excavation and the first of his boxing pictures, a pastel titled The Knock-Out. Critics either praised or damned the "frankly brushed" painting of "the Big Hole" and the "startling though brutal slice from life on the East Side," but all singled out Bellows as a young artist to watch. He was not exactly an outsider at this point; the year before, he had exhibited Pennsylvania Excavation and the boxing painting now titled Club Night at the National Academy of Design and had sent Forty-two Kids to national juried exhibitions at the Carnegie Institute and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. At the same time that he was exhibiting with his fellow young Turks in rented rooms, his paintings Forty-two Kids and North River, an urban landscape, were attracting favorable notice at the National Academy's spring exhibition; the latter earned Bellows his first award and his first sale to a museum. The next year Bellows was elected to the National Academy of Design. All of this acclaim helped establish his reputation as a painter of "passing phases of the town in a manly, uncompromising fashion," who found excitement where weaker souls saw only ugliness.

"Bellows had some experience with commercial illustration as a student in Ohio, and in the 1910s he occasionally picked up magazine assignments. But he came to New York primarily to study art, and achieved enough success through painting, printmaking, and teaching to be spared relying on illustration for his living. Instead, in Robert Henri's classes he developed a way of depicting the city. He eventually took the characteristics of rapid, vigorous execution of topical subject matter, and of exploring the extremes of New York life, even further than did the Philadelphia artists who had trained as news reporters. Bellows was a more ambitious painter than his older colleagues and more sophisticated in the way he handled color and materials; his paintings show an expressionistic boldness and a willingness to take risks. In his art we see a power, and a fascination with violence, that makes Sloan and Luks seem warmhearted, Shinn refined, Glackens reticent - and that struck some of Bellows's contemporaries as empty, "noisy" bluster. Deliberately seamy images of working-class people are rendered with relish, so that while the ringside crowds and street children appear slightly grotesque, they are also indisputably alive. Boxing scenes and construction sites, polo matches and seascapes alike are marked by a sense of struggle and conflict. But in Blue Snow, the Battery Bellows achieves equally stark effects in a smoothly brushed expanse of empty space. His work in black-and-white-rough drawings in charcoal or crayon and later lithographs was just as potent.

"Bellows made some of his best large-scale drawings and prints for The Masses. In the teens he became a member of the editorial board and participated in the circles of artists and activists now termed the "Lyrical Left." Unlike Sloan, a committed Socialist, Bellows allied himself with the anarchist side of American radicalism. Like his mentor, Henri, he took a stand for individual freedom, admired Emma Goldman, and taught at the Ferrer School. Within The Masses' internal political debates, he expressed his convictions by arguing for artistic independence from any editorial policy. The pictures he published there included urban scenes (Why don't they all go to the country for vacation?) as well as classbased social satire (Business Men's Class) and some unforgettable political commentary. He differed from The Masses' editorial policy in his active support of American intervention in World War I. Always willing to use fame as a soapbox, he became a very public supporter of the war effort.

"After 1908, Bellows's art explored several directions. He continued to depict fight scenes and other city subjects but also painted seascapes in Maine. With fame came prestige, portrait commissions, invitations to socialize with wealthy people, and some very interesting images of New York's elites at leisure. At the same time, he revisited the subjects of his early paintings in a series of large-scale prints that helped expand lithography's potential as a fine-art medium."

- From Metropolitan Lives: The Ashcan Artists and Their New York

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George Bellows Images

1906 River Rats
1907 Forty-two Kids
1908 Excavation at Night
1908 Paddy Flannigan
1908-10 Beach at Coney Island
1909 Stag at Sharkey's
1910 A Morning Snow - Hudson River
1913 Cliff Dwellers

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