George Bellows, The Big Dory, 1913, Oil on panel, 45.7 x 55.9 cm, New Britain Museum of American Art, Harriet Russell Stanley Fund.

George Bellows, Forty-two Kids, 1907, Oil on canvas, 106.7 x 153 cm, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, Museum Purchase, William A. Clark Fund, Photograph Mark Gulezian.

George Bellows, New York, 1911, Oil on canvas, 106.7 x 152.4 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, Image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

George Bellows, Massacre at Dinant, 1918. Oil on canvas, 125.7 x 210.8 cm, Greenville County Museum of Art, Gift of Minor M. Shaw, Buck A. Mickel, and Charles C. Mickel; and the Arthur and Holly Magill Fund.

George Bellows, Foreshadower of the Dynamism of the Previous Century

George Bellows, Emma at the Piano, 1914, Oil on panel, 73 x 94 cm, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., © Courtesy of the Bellows Trust.

George Bellows, Tennis at Newport, 1920, Oil on canvas, 109.2 x 137.2 cm, James W. and Frances McGlothlin.

George Bellows, Dempsey and Firpo, 1924, Oil on canvas, 129.5 x 160.7 cm, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Purchase, with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.

George Bellows, Rain on the River, 1908, Oil on canvas, 82.2 x 97.2 cm, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Jesse Metcalf Fund, Photograph: Erik Gould, courtesy of the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence.

George Bellows, Blue Snow, The Battery, 1910, Oil on canvas, 86.4 x 111.8 cm, Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, Museum Purchase Howald Fund.

George Bellows, Pennsylvania Excavation, 1907, Oil on canvas, 86 x 111.8 cm, Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Gift of Mary Gordon Roberts, Class of 1960, in honor of her 50th reunion.

George Bellows, Churn and Break, 1913, Oil on panel, 45.7 x 55.9 cm, Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, Gift of Mrs. Edward Powell.

George Bwllows, Cliff Dwellers, 1913, Oil on canvas, 100.3 x 105.4 cm), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Fund, Digital Image: © 2009 Museum Associates/LACMA/Art Resource, NY.

George Bellows, Shore House, 1911, Oil on canvas, 101.6 x 106.7 cm, Private Collection.

George Bellows, Paddy Flannigan, Winter 1908, Oil on canvas, 76.8 x 63.5 cm), Erving and Joyce Wolf.


Metropolitan Museun of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall
George Bellows
November 15, 2012-February 18, 2013

George Bellows (1882-1925) was regarded as one of America’s greatest artists when he died, at 42, from a ruptured appendix. His early fame rested on his powerful depictions of boxing matches and gritty scenes of New York City tenement life, but he also painted cityscapes, seascapes, war scenes, and portraits, and made illustrations and lithographs that addressed many social, political, and cultural issues of the day. Featuring some 120 works, the landmark loan exhibition George Bellows is the first comprehensive retrospective of the artist’s career since 1966. It invites the viewer to experience the dynamic and challenging decades of the early 20th century through the eyes of a brilliant observer. Bellows had close ties to the Metropolitan Museum and was inspired by paintings in its collection, to which one of his own was added in 1911— when he was only 29 years old — and his first retrospective was the Met's 1925 memorial exhibition.

The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Royal Academy of Arts, London.

Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, George Bellows attended Ohio State University, where his athletic talents suggested that he might become a professional baseball player and his illustrations for the student yearbook hinted at an artistic calling. In 1904, before graduating, he moved to New York City to study art with Robert Henri, one of America’s most influential teachers in the period. Bellows would become the leading young member of the Ashcan School artists, all of whom Henri inspired. The Ashcan artists aimed to chronicle the realities of daily life, and Bellows was the boldest and most versatile among them in his choice of subjects, palettes, and techniques. Bellows never traveled abroad, but learned the lessons of European masters — such as El Greco, Francisco de Goya, Édouard Manet, and others who nourished Ashcan realism — by studying their works in museums, including the Metropolitan.

When, in 1911, the Metropolitan acquired his canvas Up the Hudson (1908) as its first Ashcan painting, Bellows became one of the youngest artists to be represented in the Museum’s collection. His candid portrayals of New York City, Maine’s rugged coast, boxers in the ring, the atrocities of World War I, friends and family members, and other distinctive themes are among the triumphs of early 20th-century art.

•Exhibition Overview• The exhibition is organized thematically, within a chronological framework: New York, 1905-1908; Boxers and Portraits, 1907-1909; Penn Station and the Hudson River, 1907-1909; Work and Leisure, 1910-16; The Sea, 1911-17; Bellows’s Process, 1912-16; The War, 1918; Bellows’s Process, 1916-23; Family and Friends, 1914-19; and Late Works, 1920-24.

Nearly a third of the exhibition is devoted to scenes of New York City. After painting several scenes of tenement kids enjoying themselves along the banks of Manhattan’s East River, Bellows turned to a popular destination for diverse crowds seeking relief from the summer’s heat on their day off from work. His Beach at Coney Island (1908, private collection) signals the relaxed moral codes associated with this locale on Brooklyn’s south shore. One leading critic described Bellows’s teeming view as “a distinctly vulgar scene,” not least because of the amorous couple shown embracing in the foreground.

New York (1911, National Gallery of Art), one of Bellows’s few depictions of the heart of the city rather than its edges, captures the tumult of a busy intersection in winter. Looming skyscrapers obliterate all but a tiny patch of sky. Pedestrians of every social class scurry along the sidewalks. Horse-drawn carriages, delivery carts, and trolleys pack the streets. Men with shovels work to remove any trace of the recently fallen snow.

Bellows maintained a lifelong interest in sports, and his many depictions of boxers in the ring are his most familiar and iconic works. Stag at Sharkey’s (1909, Cleveland Museum of Art) depicts a prize fight at Tom Sharkey’s Athletic Club, a popular bar that was located directly across Broadway from Bellows’s studio at 66th Street. Because public prizefighting was illegal in New York at the time, club members could buy their way in each evening for a few dollars. The artist’s low vantage point places the viewer almost at ringside.

The Hudson River and adjacent Riverside Park often inspired Bellows. For Rain on the River (1908, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design), the artist positioned himself on a rocky overlook and showed the river below shrouded in mist. A pedestrian navigates a flooded footpath, and smoke billows around a train that is pulling into a shed. Bellows’s contemporaries, who were accustomed to the light and sunny urban views favored by the American Impressionists, would have been startled by this gritty urban subject.

As Bellows’s reputation grew, his experiences, subject interests, and social contacts expanded. Although many of his paintings concentrate on the world of work, he also recorded the leisure classes, who created a rich visual pageant as they enjoyed promenades in New York’s parks and other genteel activities.

He painted Polo at Lakewood (1910, Columbus Museum of Art) after attending a match on the estate of railroad tycoon Jay Gould, in Lakewood, New Jersey. Bellows was fascinated by the contrast between the game’s violence and the carefully groomed riders, ponies, and spectators.

Bellows focused almost half of his oeuvre on marine and shore views, although these works are not as well-known as his city scenes. He completed Shore House (1911, private collection) — one of his earliest treatments of this sort of subject — from sketches he had made during his recent honeymoon in Montauk. This painting and others like it pay homage to Winslow Homer, some of whose New England seascapes were in the Metropolitan’s collection by 1911 and were available for study. Such works by Bellows, with their celebration of the sea and sense of isolation, remind us that he was a classmate of Edward Hopper (who was also born in 1882), another modern American realist who appreciated Homer’s achievements.

In addition to being a gifted painter, Bellows was one of the most accomplished American lithographers. It is therefore not surprising that he executed the most forceful image of himself as a lithograph. His Self-portrait (1921, Collection of Max and Heidi Berry) shows him working on a lithographic stone in the balcony studio in his home on East 19th Street. The scalloped edges of the mirror in which he observes himself frame his reflection and remind us of the printmaker’s challenge: to draw in reverse the image he ultimately seeks.

Two rooms in the exhibition demonstrate the importance of lithography in the development of Bellows’s themes. On view will be groupings that show his exploration of a single idea through drawings, prints, and paintings. For example, the charismatic evangelist Billy Sunday preaching to a mass audience is the subject of four works created between 1915 and 1923 in various media.

In 1918, Bellows made five large oils and 16 lithographs that recall alleged atrocities against civilians by the German army at the beginning of World War I. These works invoke the legacy of the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya’s famous depictions of the horrors of the battlefield, Disasters of War (1810-20), which were made a century earlier in response to Napoleon’s invasion of Spain. Goya’s prints were often on display in New York and Bellows would have been aware of them. In Massacre at Dinant (1918, Greenville County Museum of Art), Bellows refers to the mass murder of 674 civilians by German troops in Belgium. Although the soldiers are barely visible, their bloody bayonets and rifles appear at the left. The bodies of dead women and children fill the foreground, and helpless clergy are shown in the center. Shockingly brutal, Bellows’s war images still resonate with viewers today.

Bellows painted many portraits of women that offer a compelling counterpoint to the violent, predominantly male world that he recorded in his better-known boxing canvases. Bellows’s wife Emma was his artistic muse and he painted her in many guises. He wrote passionately to her: “Can I tell you that your heart is in me and your portrait is in all my work? What can a man say to a woman who absorbs his whole life?”

In the last years of his life, Bellows spent summers in Woodstock, New York, a rural arts community in the Catskill Mountains. He communed with nature, local townspeople, and a close circle of family and artist-friends. His most important works from the period were monumental figure paintings executed with old-master grandeur. Traditional in subject and highly organized in structure, they referenced well-known paintings that he knew from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection or had seen in reproductions. Emma and her Children (1923, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) shows his wife and two daughters elegantly attired, sitting on a sofa in an arrangement that calls to mind Auguste Renoir’s Madame Charpentier and her Children, Georgette-Berthe and Paul-Émile-Charles, which entered the Metropolitan’s collection in 1907. Painting this monumental portrait weeks after his mother died, Bellows enlisted a somber palette and stoic poses that invoke Old Master canvases he admired more than the lightness of Impressionism.

Dempsey and Firpo (1924, Whitney Museum of American Art), the boxing scene that ends the exhibition, was Bellows’s last masterpiece. It embodies the era’s Machine Age aesthetic and Art Deco sleekness. The questions it raises about a new beginning for his art were, however, never answered. On January 8, 1925, Bellows died from a ruptured appendix. The American author Sherwood Anderson concluded that the artist’s last paintings “keep telling you things. They are telling you that Mr. George Bellows died too young. They are telling you that he was after something, that he was always after it.”

Catalogue and Related Programs The exhibition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated color catalogue with essays on aspects of Bellows’s career by prominent scholars. Published by the National Gallery of Art, the catalogue is available in the Metropolitan Museum’s book shops (paperback, $40).

George Bellows, The Cliff Dwellers, 1913, Watercolor and pen and brush and black ink, with black crayon, charcoal, and touches of scraping, 54 x 68.6 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago, Olivia Shaler Swan Memorial Collection, Photography © The Art Institute of Chicago.

George Bellows, The Studio, 1919, Oil on canvas, 121.9 x 96.5 cm, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas
Photograph by Dwight Primiano.

George Bellows, Mrs. T in Cream Silk, No. 1, 1919, Oil on canvas, 121.9 x 96.5 cm, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, The Joseph H. Hirshhorn Bequest, 1981.

George Bellows, Self-Portrait, 1921, Lithograph,
26.67 x 20 cm, Collection of Max and Heidi Berry, Image: Courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Photograph by Ric Blanc.

George Bellows, Beach at Coney Island, 1908, Oil on canvas, 106.7 x 152.4 cm, Private Collection

George Bellows, Polo at Lakewood, 1910, Oil on canvas, 114.9 x 161.3 cm, Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, Columbus Art Association Purchase.

George Bellows,Stag at Sharkey’s, 1909, Oil on canvas, 92 x 122.6 cm, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Hinman B. Hurlbut Collection, © The Cleveland Museum of Art.

George Bellows, North River, 1908, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, © Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia Joseph E. Temple Fund 1909.2.

George Bellows and the Ashcan Painters, an American Experiment

George Bellows, Blue Snow, The Battery, 1910, Columbus Museum of Art, © Columbus Museum of Art Howald Fund Purchase 1958.035.

George Bellows, The Palisades, 1909, Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, © Photo courtesy of the Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, Chicago, 1999.10.

John Sloan, Sixth Avenue and Thirtieth Street, 1907, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania, © Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania / DACS London 2011.

Georges Luks, Knitting for the Soldiers: High Bridge Park, , 1918, Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, © Photo courtesy of the Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, Chicago, 1999.87.

George Bellows, The Big Dory, 1913, New Britain Museum of American Art, © New Britain Museum of American Art, Harriet Russell Stanley Fund, 1944.21. Photo: Alex Morganti.

William Glackens, Washington Square, 1910, New Britain Museum of American Art, © New Britain Museum of American Art, Charles F. Smith Fund, 1944.03. Photo: Alex Morganti.


The National Gallery
Trafalgar Square
44-020 7747 2885
Room 1
An American Experiment:
George Bellows and the Ashcan Painters

March 3-May 30, 2011

An American Experiment: George Bellows and the Ashcan Painters introduces visitors to Bellows and his artist friends (William Glackens, George Luks, John Sloan and their teacher Robert Henri), and to an important moment in the history of American painting.

The Ashcan School was formed at the beginning of the 20th century as American painters, principally in New York City and Philadelphia, began to develop a uniquely American point of view on the beauty, violence and velocity of the modern world — and a new way to represent them. The most familiar reading of the Ashcan painters is as urban realists who embraced the brutal but vivid life of the city as their subject and found stark visual language through which to communicate their realities to a contemporary audience (John Sloan, 1907, Sixth Avenue and Thirtieth Street, Philadelphia Museum of Art).

The most prominent member of the group was George Bellows. Usually discussed as an artist of the city, often depicting urban parks, Bellows also enjoyed painting landscapes away from the metropolis. The American master of snow, Bellows seems to offer engagement with the natural world as the main subject of his paintings (The Palisades, 1909, Daniel J. Terra Collection, Chicago).

An American Experiment contains seven paintings by Bellows; four of these are scenes of New York State and will be hung together along one wall of Room 1. Blue Snow, The Battery (1910, Columbus Museum of Art) depicts the 25-acre public park immediately adjacent to Wall Street at the tip of Lower Manhattan. The bustling Port of New York and New Jersey lies nearby but little of it is evident. Rather, the city is shrouded in snow and it seems as if sounds are muted.

However, Bellows did paint the urban construction of New York City and Excavation at Night (1908, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Arkansas) is one of a series of images Bellows made of the building work at the site of Pennsylvania Station. This picture has a long art-historical lineage behind it, recalling the paintings of light-in-darkness by the 18th-century artist Joseph Wright "of Derby." Bellows’s early 20th-century version capitalises on the compositional and aesthetic means developed by the artists of the sublime, like Wright and Turner, to describe the urban scene.

In the 1910s Bellows increasingly embraced non-urban subject matter, and he spent considerable time on Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine. Here he painted one of his most audacious images, The Big Dory (1913, New Britain Museum of American Art), which anticipates the stylisations of Art Deco a generation later, and reflects the radical avant-garde European influences the artist had recently been absorbing.

The Ashcan painters were part of a widespread interest in the quality of life in the modern cities of the early 20th century. Along with British artists like Walter Sickert, they are representative of a strong analysis of urban experience while owing much to Old Masters such as Velázquez and Manet.

George Bellows, Three Rollers, 1911, © National Academy Museum, New York, © National Academy Museum, New York.

Robert Henri, Dutch Joe (Jopie van Slouten), 1910, Milwaukee Art Museum, © Milwaukee Art Museum Purchase M1965.34. Photo by John Nienhuis.

George Bellows, Nude Girl, Miss Leslie Hall, 1909, Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, © Photo courtesy of the Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Art Acquisition Endowment Fund, Chicago 1999.5.

Robert Henri, The Art Student (Miss Josephine Nivison), 1906, Milwaukee Art Museum, © Milwaukee Art Museum Purchase M1965.34. Photo by John Nienhuis.

George Bellows, Excavation at Night, 1908, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, © Courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas.