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George Bellows (1882-1925): Modern American Life

George Bellows. Stag at Sharkey's, 1909. Oil on canvas, 92 x 112.6 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Hinman B. Hurlbut Collection © The Cleveland Museum of Art.

Exhibition preview

GEORGE Bellows (1882-1925): Modern American Life, on display at the Royal Academy of Arts from March 16 to June 9, 2013, will be the first retrospective of works by American realist painter George Bellows to be held in the UK.

When Bellows died at the age of 42, he was considered one of the greatest artists in America.

His fascination with New York’s gritty urban landscape, its technological marvels and the diversity of its inhabitants, made him both an artist of the modern city and an insightful observer of the dynamic and challenging decades of the early 20th century.

Most of the works in the exhibition have never been shown in the UK.

Bellows’ short career encompassed a range of subject matter and the exhibition will explore the principle themes of his work, featuring boxing fights, cityscapes, views of the Hudson River, social scenes, seascapes, portraits and the First World War.

The exhibition will present 71 works of art: 39 paintings, 15 drawings and 17 lithographs, covering Bellows’ career between 1905 and 1925.

In 1904, before graduating from Ohio State University, Bellows left his native Columbus and moved to New York to study art with Robert Henri, one of America’s most important teachers of the period and leader of the group later known as the Ashcan School.

Bellows soon established his reputation as a vigorous, realist painter. The 1909 painting, Stag at Sharkey’s (The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio), is one of Bellows’ most celebrated works and depicts a prize fight at Tom Sharkey’s Athletic Club, a popular bar that was located directly across from Bellows’ studio. Since public prize-fighting was illegal in New York at the time, club ‘members’ could buy their way in each evening for a few dollars.

A lifelong sportsman, Bellows revisited the boxing theme later in his career, taking up the subject both in lithography and in one of his last paintings, Dempsey and Firpo, 1924 (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York).

Bellows was especially drawn to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, finding subject matter in the chaotic scenes of downtown New York, where immigrants lived within the crowded tenement buildings. Forty-two Kids 1907 (Corcoran Gallery of Art, Wasington) depicts children bathing in the polluted waters of the East River.

Further highlights of the exhibition include the cityscape, New York, 1911 (National Gallery of Art, Washington) and Men of the Docks, 1912 (Randolph College, Virginia). Bellows’ interest in the city’s infrastructure can be seen in his depictions of the excavations of the Pennsylvania Railroad Station.

Whether painting urban scenes, family portraits such as Emma at the Piano, 1914 (Chrysler Museum of Art, Virginia) or social scenes including Love of Winter, 1914 (The Art Institute, Chicago), Bellows was captivated by modern life across the spectrum of American society.

He never travelled abroad, but was influenced by the works of European masters from Francisco de Goya to Edouard Manet. The horrors of the First World War, as seen in a powerful series of paintings and his lithographs depicting the atrocities in war-torn Belgium, were inspired by reading accounts in the New York Times.

In 1925, at the height of his fame, George Bellows tragically died of appendicitis. The extent of his accomplishment was recognised later that year at a memorial exhibition of his work, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He left behind a remarkable body of work for so short a career: some 600 oil paintings, hundreds of drawings, and dozens of lithographs.

Ann Dumas, Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts, comments, ‘This is the first time that an exhibition of Bellows’ work has been held in the UK and the Royal Academy is privileged to be able to offer its audience the chance to learn more about this powerful and compelling artist.’

Geoge Bellows (1882-1925): Modern American Life is organised by the National Gallery of Art, Washington in association with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Royal Academy of Arts.

The exhibition has been curated by Charles Brock of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Barbara Weinberg from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with Ann Dumas, Curator, Royal Academy of Arts.

A fully illustrated catalogue has been published to accompany the exhibition George Bellows (1882-1925): Modern American Life, with contributions from twelve authors including Charles Brock, Carol Troyon and Melissa Wolf.

George Bellows Gallery

Admission: £10 full price, concessions available. Friends of the RA go free.

Times: Daily from 10am to 6pm (last admission 5.30pm); Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm).

Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD

Tel: 020 7300 8000


Manet: Portraying Life continues at the Royal Academy of Arts until April 14, 2013.