Aside from his early portraits of street urchins in New York, and a few commissioned portraits, most of Bellows's human subjects feature his family and acquaintances. They include his parents and fellow artists, family friends and neighbors, and most important, his wife Emma (whom he married in 1910) and their daughters Anne and Jean. Although he is better known for his sporting scenes and pictures of New York City, his portraits were exhibited frequently and won a number of prizes. His depictions of women portray them at all stages of life and offer a compelling counterpoint to the essentially male world of his boxing paintings.
George Bellows (American, Columbus, Ohio 1882–1925 New York City). Emma at the Piano, 1914. Oil on panel, 28 3/4 x 37 in. (73 x 94 cm). Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia, Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr
Bellows's wife, Emma, was his lifelong artistic muse. They met as fellow students at the New York School of Art, shortly after Bellows arrived in the city, and were married in 1910. Bellows painted Emma in many guises, at times evoking the creative dimensions of their shared life. For example, Emma at the Piano unites visual and musical elements in ways that recall James McNeill Whistler's subtly orchestrated portraits, also painted with limited palettes. Expressing how central Emma was to his artistic identity, Bellows wrote to her early in their marriage, "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?"
George Bellows (American, Columbus, Ohio 1882–1925 New York City). Mrs. T in Cream Silk, No. 1, 1919. Oil on canvas, 48 x 38 in. (121.9 x 96.5 cm). Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, The Joseph H. Hirshhorn Bequest, 1981
Bellows painted two compelling portraits of Mrs. Mary Brown Tyler, a socialite in her late seventies whom he met in the fall of 1919 while he was teaching at the Art Institute of Chicago. Known for her old-fashioned attire and wit, Mrs. Tyler first posed for him in a lavish wine-colored silk dress, which heightened her complexion. At his request, she posed again (here) in her 1863 cream silk wedding gown, which emphasized her pallor. Both canvases call to mind portraits by Thomas Eakins, whose probing realism Bellows had inherited through Robert Henri and had seen firsthand in the 1917 memorial exhibition of Eakins's works at the Metropolitan Museum.