Posts Tagged ‘George Bellows’

George Bellows- Blue Morning 1909


Try everything that can be done. Be deliberate. Be spontaneous. Be thoughtful and painstaking. Be abandoned and impulsive. Learn your own possibilities.

–George Bellows


George Bellows- Stag at Sharkey’s 1909

I’ve been an admirer of George Bellows’ work for a long time. He was a member of the Ashcan School, the group of painters from around the turn of the 20th century who painted gritty scenes set in the streets and buildings of urban America. He did a series of scenes with club fighters of the era that are favorites of mine, such as Stag at Sharkey’s here on the right, reminding me of my own grandfather who was a club wrestler of that same era.

My grandfather had numerous matches in the men’s clubs as well in the vaudeville theaters that were common in our hometown. He was called Shank for his ability to put a leghold on his opponents and hold it until they submitted. He had matches that lasted for several hours and had a pretty large local fanbase.

I can easily envision him at home in the dark scenes that were painted at that time by George Bellows.

While best known for his dark and gritty work, Bellows seemed to have paid attention to his own words of advice above. Though he died prematurely in 1925 at the age of 42 from peritonitis from a ruptured appendix, he stretched his work in many directions beyond his work as a member of the Ashcan group. He did portraiture, war scenes, landscapes and Maine seascapes and a host of other sorts of paintings in his prolific but short life. All were distinctly his own.

I wonder if he ever fully learned the extent of his own possibilities. While we may never know the answer, he left us a lot of hints as to what they might have been.

George Bellows- Love of Winter 1914

George Bellows- Big Dory 1913

George Bellows- Cleaning Fish

George Bellows- Haystacks and Barn

George Bellows- Massacre at Dinant (War Series) 1918

George Bellows- Shipyard Society 1916

George Bellows- Steaming Streets 1908

George Bellows- The White Horse 1914

George Bellows- Up the Hudson

George Bellows- The Fisherman’s Family 1923




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John Sloan Dust Storm Fifth AvenueI was going through a book of painting that focused on New York City and came across an image of the fabled Flatiron Building, its three sided structure which gives it the look of a ship’s prow making it one of the more iconic building in the city.  It has been photographed  and painted numerous times, enough so that there is probably a book of just Flatiron images floating around somewhere.  It’s a striking building and one that I always am intrigued by in images and in person.

But I hadn’t seen this painting by John Sloan, the American artist who was part of the Ashcan School that painted the reality of the urban experience in the early decades of the 20th century.  I am a fan of this loose-knit group of  painters that includes George Bellows, Edward Hopper and Robert Henri, among others.

The painting was titled Dust Storm, Fifth Avenue and was painted in 1906.  It was an image looking down Fifth Avenue to where the Flatiron’s prow stood proudly as a black cloud hovered above.  On the ground below, the people scurried about  in a panic as the wind blew up huge clouds of dust as it funneled down the canyons of the city.  There’s a tremendous amount of movement in the painting that gives it great impact.

It made me wonder how accurate the image was.  Were these dust storms a normal occurrence in old New York?  It turns out that the Flatiron was notorious for the winds that gathered around its base and buffeted the pedestrians who happened that way, taking hats and lifting women’s skirts, exposing their legs to leering young men who would gather on the corner of 23rd Street for just such a purpose. The police would regularly have to disperse the gawkers which is supposedly where  the term 23 Skidoo originated, it being the phrase they would shout to get the crowd moving.

It’s always interesting to see the story behind an interesting image like the one Sloan captured, to see the real history being portrayed.  It makes me appreciate this painting even more. Here’s a short film from 1903 that shows  the mischief that the wind played on the passing crowd.

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Bellows Stag at SharkeysThis is Stag at Sharkeys, painted by George Bellows in the early part of the 1900’s.  Bellows was part of the Ashcan group of artists who depicted the reality of the time in their paintings, creating gritty scenes of city life and all that this entailed- street scenes, nightclubs, tenements, etc.Bellows Both Members of this Club

I’ve always been drawn to Bellows’ work particularly his several scenes of club fights.  There is such great movement and rawness in these pieces that you get the real sense of the fury of the violence taking place.  This is enhanced even more by the high contrast between the brightness of the fighters’ skin and the great blackness of the open space above the ring.  It all creates a great feeling of drama.

These paintings always bring to mind my grandfather, Shank.  This was his time and this was his world.  He had been a club wrestler which was the predecessor to professional wrestling except that it was real wrestling where one competitor might put a leg lock on the other and hold it for a long time until his opponent gave in.  The matches could last an hour or more.  Shank later went on to be a stage manager at on of the many vaudeville theaters that once  populated our city.  I remember as a kid, going to play bingo at the American Legion and this old cop, Sailor Devlin, who was at the time the oldest active police officer in the country as recognized by Ripley’s Believe It or Not, would amble over to our table to talk with my dad.  He would always comment on Shank, who was at this point dead, calling him the toughest guy he ever met. That really resonated with me and I always valued toughness after that, putting high regard for those who  could, as they say, take it.

Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to these images.  The guys in these paintings can take it.

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