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Dempsey and Firpo

Artist: George Wesley Bellows
Created: 1924
Dimensions (cm): 160.7 x 129.5
Format: Oil on canvas
Location: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA



George Bellows was an American born in Ohio. He studied painting in New York and is considered to be the most important painter in a group that came to be known as The Ash Can School. Before he became a painter Bellows was an athlete. He had a career in college baseball. Perhaps because he was an athlete and used to being very physically active, Bellows was a very energetic painter. His paintings were a study in controlled power as we can see demonstrated Dempsey and Firpo. Bellows understood the energy and urgency needed when playing sports and was able to transfer this understanding on to the canvas. His painting of Demphsey and Firpo captures that pivotal moment in the fight when both men are struggling so hard to win and neither yet has the upper hand.

There is something very primal about this painting; it is as if the men are fighting for their very lives. He has captured the essence of the sport in this painting by painting men who it is easy to see have no other thoughts on their mind at the moment but to survive. The tension in the bodies of the two boxers is dramatic and stylized: we can almost feel them straining against one another. The audience has an eerie quality to it. The people’s faces are exaggerated and almost mask-like. They too are so caught up in the moment that they could not be dragged away. Bellows wielded his paintbrush with powerful strokes and probably would have achieved many more great works of art had he not died suddenly in 1924 at the age of forty-two.

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