Tuesday, June 5, 2012

George Bellows Isn't Only About Boxing

  George Bellows? You mean that guy who did those famously ferocious paintings of boxers fighting it out in the ring? No, I mean Bellows the author of many stunning portraits, especially of women and especially the commanding oil of his wife Emma at the piano. A nude in purposeful imitation of Manet. And the "Little Girl In White.' Isn't that one a bit reminiscent of Sargent's austere lady in white?  Think again. Look carefully to find out she was a child laborer who did the laundry in his New York building. She is a young beauty who might have been posing prematurely for her debut.
Bellows died in 1934 - of appendicitis at age 42 -perhaps too soon for his reputation to be established as one of the country's great artists on a par with his friend Edward Hopper. He may even have been more versatile - certainly more accessible - than Hopper, both of whom, curiously enough, portrayed some of the more sober and dispiriting sides of urban life while finding personal solace in rural and oceanside retreats. The National Gallery of Art is doing its best to make amends with the first comprehensive collection of his work in decades now on its walls from June 10 to October 8.
 The banner advertising the West Wing show should rightly puzzle anyone who thinks of Bellows as mainly an 'illustrator' of fight scenes, masterpieces though they may be. His social conscience was as remarkable as his skill. He did many large groupings of the 'lower classes' at work and play -  yet he insisted that art should not be formed by political activism. He drew and painted what he saw around him with a refreshing intensity, the chattering (upper) classes - so prominent in his day - be damned.   For sheer empathetic horror, reflect on works illustrating the horrors of racism and war.

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