American Realist painter and lithographer George Bellows was best known for his depictions of Urban America in the early 20th century. From portraits of boxers and boxing matches to New York City scenes that capture the character and spirit of the city; his works are both exciting and authentic.
George Wesley Bellows was born on August 12th 1882, in Columbus, Ohio, the son of an architect and building contractor. Although a star athlete in college, his talent for baseball was superceeded by a passion for art. He attended Ohio State University from 1901 until 1904, when in his senior year, he left OSU to attend the New York School of Art.
As Robert Henri’s prize student, Bellows was invited to become a part of the ‘Ashcan School’, a radical group of artists with a robust style of painting, well-recognized for their depictions of the less glamourous side of New York. Other names for this group were ‘The Eight’ and the ‘New York Realists’.
By 1906 George Bellows was renting his own studio where he produced some of his greatest works. His love of sports inspired paintings of amateur boxing fights that were dark and vivid in motion. Some of these included ‘Stag at Sharkey's’ and ‘Both Members of This Club’. From 1907 to 1914, he experimented with the creation of winter scenes that helped to develop his use of light and color and composition. During these years, the many summers spent in Maine featured his portrayals of the windswept landscapes and seascapes he admired so much. He won the National Academy’s first prize for the first landscape he had ever painted in 1908.
In 1909 George Bellows married Emma Story, daughter of a prominent businessman and classmate at the New York School. The couple had two daughters, Anne and Jean. A teaching job at the Art Students League from 1909 to 1911 led to his seat on the editorial board of the socialist journal, The Masses, to which he contributed many drawings and prints.
He was a member of the organizing committee for the famed Armory Show in 1913, and was later elected as an associate member of the National Academy of Design at the age of thirty, becoming the youngest artist ever to be elected. In 1918, he created a series of lithographs and paintings including ‘The Germans Arrive’, graphic depictions of the atrocities of war during the German invasion of Belgium.
George Bellows moved to the Chicago Art Institute in 1919 after accepting a teaching position. For a while he focused on lithography as he attempted to expand the use of the medium as fine art. During this time, he illustrated numerous books including several by H.G. Wells. A year after settling in Chicago, he bought a house in Woodstock, New York where he lived a part of each year focused on scenes of domestic life featuring his family as subjects.
In 1923, on assignment at the Polo Grounds for the New York Evening Journal, he captured the legendary fight between boxers Jack Dempsey and Luis Firpo. He marked the moment in one of his sketches ‘Dempsey and Firpo’, when Firpo sent his opponent over the ropes; the drawing became an American classic.
While preparing for an upcoming exhibition, George Bellows had an attack of appendicitis which hospitalized him for six days. He died at the age of forty-two on January 8, 1925, in his beloved city of New York. Although he passed away at the height of his career, he remains one of the leading artists of his generation whose fan base continues to grow long after he has gone.