George Wesley Bellows

In yesterday's post Julie introduced you to the Ashcan School which was an artistic movement in the USA during the late C19th early C20th and known for works portraying scenes of daily life in New York, often in the city's poorer neighborhoods.1

The work of George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925) was mentioned briefly as his sketch led to the coining of the name the Ashcan School. George was a second generation Ashcan painter being influenced very much by Robert Henri (1865-1929) who started The Eight which became absorbed into the Ashcan School.

These painters were interested in gritty urban subject matter and the real life dramas of ordinary people.

When you look at a George Bellows painting, no matter the subject matter, there is a wonderful rhythm and movement to his work. He is noted for his paintings of action scenes especially of boxers as illustrated below.

The painting on the left was produced in 1909 and illustrates his dark paintings with crude painterly strokes making the figures appear to be in motion.2

The painting on the right depicts the September 14, 1923 boxing match between American Jack Dempsey and Argentine Luis Firpo. As time passed by it has become Bellows' most famous boxing painting.1 The paint strokes and contrasts are more refined but the motion in the figures remains. George experimented in creating lithographs and this painting also appears in this printing medium.

There can be no doubt that this man was multi-talented: from all accounts he was drawing before he went to kindergarten, and his elementary–school teachers often asked him to decorate their classroom blackboards at Thanksgiving and Christmas.1

Not only could he draw, George was very athletic and turned down the chance to be a professional baseballer choosing to work as a commercial illustrator while still a student. Although he continued to accept magazine assignments throughout his short life, George was driven by his passion to be a painter moving to New York City in 1904 to study art.1

It was here that George met Robert Henri who was the main influence on his style and encouraged him to paint urban scenes involving ordinary people and the dramas they were experiencing.

Not all of George Bellow's urban scenes are dark and dramatic but all do have a narrative and rhythm of life and for some, a satirical tone as shown below in Cliff Dwellers and River Front.

George Bellows did not paint many portraits but the ones he did create are very expressive and some quite provacative.

I particularly love seascapes and those created by George Bellows are wonderful for the natural and human drama.

Bellows painted over 250 scenes of the sea. The Fisherman (below right), is considered to be a significant late canvas (painted 1917) that he made while visiting Carmel, California. It is in the collection of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. 1

George Bellows died in January 1925 at age forty-two from peritonitis after failing to tend to a ruptured appendix. He is still regarded as an important influence on the development of modern art in America.

If you would like to know more about George Wesley Bellows please check out the website dedicated to his lithographs and drawings by Clicking Here.

And if you have time and the interest you might like to watch this documentary film made for Art History Class by Thomas Pomarico. It chronicles the life of George Bellows and the Ashcan Movement. The video does go for nearly one hour but it gives a detailed account of Bellows and the Ashcan painters.


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