Tuesday, March 17, 2009

George Bellows - An Artist in Action

One of the most popular and successful painters of his day, George Bellows (1882-1925), himself a talented college athlete and semi-pro baseball player, is best known for his action-charged paintings of “fight club” boxing matches.

Together with Rockwell Kent and Edward Hopper, he was a star student of Robert Henri (known fondly to his students as “the Boss”). George Bellows is associated with the Ashcan School, which depicted the gritty reality of turn of the century urban America.

The boxing paintings have overshadowed his other work – landscapes, cityscapes, portraits and lithographs. As a student of Henri, all of his work is based on extensive sketches, studies and direct plein air work. The illustrations in this book show an interesting metamorphosis from a bravura mastery reminiscent of Sargent in his earlier work to a searching experimentalism in his later plein air paintings, more akin to Bonnard. The later are almost tentative, soft-edged, with close value ranges and bucolic subject matter - some with Fauvist tendencies (Mountain Orchard, 1922, oil on panel, 20 x 24, above), while the earlier are decisive, high-contrast images with “knock your socks off” large masses of deep, deep darks, hard edges, unconventional subject matter and challenging compositions (Forty-Two Kids, 1907, oil on canvas, 42 x 60, right), and Snow Dumpers, 1911, oil on canvas, 35 x 48, below).

His tragic death from a ruptured appendix at the age of 42 cut short the dynamic and evolving career path of a unique American painter.

Much of his work shares a close kinship with that of Edward Hopper and Rockwell Kent but with a more expressive, modernist edge, especially in his later work. At any rate, any plein air painter will find much unconventional inspiration in the pages of this handsome volume.

– Carl Judson

Haverstock, Mary Sayre, George Bellows: An Artist in Action London, 2007, 160 pages, 11 ½ x 10, hardcover.

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