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George Bellows

November 15, 2012–February 18, 2013

Work and Leisure, 1910–16

Bellows once commented that "there is nothing I do not want to know that has to do with life or art." He drew equal inspiration from municipal workers removing snow from the city's streets, longshoremen loading and unloading cargo from ocean liners and freighters, and the ladies and gentlemen who created a rich visual pageantry as they enjoyed New York's parks. The variety of Bellows's urban subjects was matched by the range of palettes and techniques he employed, often on immense canvases. Few would have disputed a critic who observed of Bellows at the time of his death, "He was an adherent of 'wallop' in painting." In an astute bid for broad appeal, Bellows exhibited his works widely, attracting both critics—"There's been an awful lot written about me," he admitted—and patrons. His dramatic paintings of familiar subjects were acquired by major museums, important regional art centers, educational institutions, and prominent collectors, from the relatively adventurous to those with more conventional tastes. Both an active academician and a keen independent, Bellows was at home among diverse factions of the art world. Writing in 1913, the critic Forbes Watson noted his "curious appeal" to "the conservative and radical alike."

George Bellows (American, Columbus, Ohio 1882–1925 New York City). Blue Snow, The Battery, 1910. Oil on canvas, 34 x 44 in. (86.4 x 111.8 cm). Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio: Museum Purchase, Howald Fund

Bellows depicts Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan, under a blanket of fresh snow. Tugboats are barely visible in the distant harbor’s dark blue water. Bellows suggests a nearly rural quality, even in an urban setting, emphasizing smooth, flat expanses of space and a sense of emptiness, despite the presence of a few quickly painted pedestrians. This was one of eighteen oils that Bellows included in his first solo exhibition, in January 1911. Although one critic mocked its aggressive paint handling as "assault and battery," most others praised Bellows's technique. One wrote, "He suggests life and force by the swiftness of his brush stroke and the elimination of non-essential forms."

George Bellows (American, Columbus, Ohio 1882–1925 New York City). New York, 1911. Oil on canvas, 42 x 60 in. (106.7 x 152.4 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1986.72.1

Bellows generally preferred to paint Manhattan's periphery. In this unusual composite view of a midtown business district, which pertains most closely to Madison Square, he presents the city as a place in constant flux. Packing the scene with skyscrapers, billboards, and chimneys spewing smoke; an elevated train station and tracks; horse-drawn carriages and motorcars snarled in traffic; and sidewalks filled with men and women of all economic backgrounds, he denies the viewer's eye a resting place. New York's modern tumult, with countless details of sight and sound crowding in on one another, was as new and impenetrable to Bellows as it was to any of his contemporaries.