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George Bellows

November 15, 2012–February 18, 2013

Penn Station and the Hudson River, 1907–9

Bellows, who had been raised in Columbus, Ohio (population 125,000 in 1900) explored New York (population 3.5 million in 1900) with wonder and curiosity. Among his early paintings depicting the city is a series of canvases recording the excavations for the Pennsylvania Railroad Station. Bellows also painted Manhattan's river-bound borders, only rarely portraying its bustling commercial or theater districts. Beginning in 1908, he devoted several canvases to Riverside Park on Manhattan's Upper West Side, which had been designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1873 and was just nearing completion. Some of Bellows's scenes look across the Hudson River to the Palisades, steep cliffs along the west side of the river that were then the focus of conservation efforts. Although Bellows envisaged Riverside Park as an urban oasis, he acknowledged such modern intrusions as steamships on the Hudson and trains running along its shore.

George Bellows (American, Columbus, Ohio 1882–1925 New York City). Pennsylvania Excavation, 1907. Oil on canvas, 33 7/8 x 44 in. (86 x 111.8 cm). Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts. Gift of Mary Gordon Roberts, class of 1960, in honor of her 50th reunion

One of the largest building projects in the country, Pennsylvania Station entailed the razing of two city blocks—from Thirty-first to Thirty-third Streets between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. Completed in 1910 (and demolished 1963–66), it covered eight acres and featured a magnificent terminal designed in the Beaux-Arts style by the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White. Bellows, however, was much less interested in the splendid structure than in the primordial pit where workmen toiled and sometimes lost their lives.

George Bellows (American, Columbus, Ohio 1882–1925 New York City). Rain on the River, 1908. Oil on canvas, 32 x 38 in. (81.3 x 96.5 cm). Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Jesse Metcalf Fund

Like Frederick Law Olmsted's other landscape designs, Riverside Park was an object of civic pride. Bellows's view of the park and the Hudson River, as seen from adjacent Riverside Drive, celebrates commercial and industrial elements, as well as impressive natural features. It suggests the press of the city toward its boundaries and the uneasy truce between urban development and much-needed recreational spaces.