George Bellows (1882–1925)

American Realist Painter

By Amy Spencer

An associate of the Ashcan school, Bellows is known for his urban realist style depicting subjects including street scenes, boxing matches, and the brutality of war.

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Notes
VII. Suggested Resources

I. Biography

With brilliant brushstrokes and original compositions, George Bellows painted the coarseness and chaos of working-class life, the rugged beauty of coastal landscapes, and tender family portraits. He also created illustrations that satirized the upper classes and was a pioneer in establishing lithography as a fine art medium. Over the course of his short career, which lasted barely two decades, Bellows cannily walked a tightrope between gaining conservative art institutions’ respect and innovation with the best of the artistic vanguard. He continually won the highest prizes at juried shows while simultaneously belonging to a progressive group of painters who sought to define themselves as “independent” from the establishment.

George Wesley Bellows was born in Columbus, Ohio on August 19, 1882. He attended Ohio State University from 1901 until 1904 where he excelled at athletics and took all available art classes. Bellows played on the school’s basketball and baseball teams and was a leading illustrator for the school yearbook, Makio. In the fall of 1904 Bellows left Ohio State University, a year before graduation, and moved to New York City to study art.

In New York Bellows became a student of Robert Henri, William Merritt Chase, Kenneth Hayes Miller, and John Sloan at the New York School of Art (now Parsons The New School for Design). It was Henri who had the greatest influence on Bellows’ career, teaching him to observe and paint life on the streets of New York City. Their teacher and pupil relationship developed into a father-son bond that would last for the rest of Bellows’ life.

In the third year of his studies Bellows painted River Rats (1906, Private collection) depicting a rocky cliff descending sharply from the grimy city streets to the East River below. This work was accepted by the jury for the National Academy of Design’s eighty-second annual exhibition. The same year Bellows exhibited Kids (1906, Private collection) at the Society of American Artists. After this success, Bellows left the New York School of Art and took a studio of his own in the Lincoln Arcade Building at 1947 Broadway.

While studying at the New York School of Art Bellows became closely aligned, both personally and stylistically, with members of what was subsequently called the Ashcan School. This group was primarily comprised of artists known as “The Eight”––Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, Henri, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan––who exhibited their work in the famous artist-organized Macbeth Gallery exhibition of February 1908. This exhibition was organized as a protest to perceived National Academy judging biases. Bellows did not exhibit any works in the Macbeth show as he was in Ohio at the time recuperating from a bad cold; however, he did exhibit a painting, Pennsylvania Excavation (1907, Private collection), and a boxing drawing, The Knock Out (1906, Private collection), in a similar independent exhibition with Henri’s circle in a loft on West Forty-second Street a month later. The New York Evening Mail dubbed this exhibition “‘The Eight’ Out-Eighted.” These “independent” exhibitions were hailed as a success after the National Academy became more opened-minded by selecting works by members of Henri’s circle. Through this association with the Ashcan School, Bellows’ artistic identity was brought to the fore; over the following years he continued to exhibit his works in nationally recognized juried exhibitions and “independent” shows.

From 1907 through 1915 Bellows executed multiple series depicting subjects such as the excavation of Pennsylvania Station, New York City under snowfall, and landscapes along the Hudson River; however, Bellows’ signature series from this period are his boxing paintings. The most well-known of these works are Club Night (1907, National Gallery of Art), Stag at Sharkey’s (1909, Cleveland Museum of Art), and Both Members of this Club (1909, National Gallery of Art). These boxing paintings emerged from Bellows’ experience visiting private boxing matches in the back room of Tom Sharkey’s saloon at a time when boxing was illegal in New York. They depict fierce amateur boxing battles using roughly lain brushstrokes to document the raw motion and feeling of the fights. Bellows exhibited Stag at Sharkey’s and Both Members of this Club in another important Ashcan exhibition held in 1910, “Exhibition of Independent Artists,” which was also organized by Henri.

In 1908 Bellows married his longtime girlfriend Emma Story. With a new wife to support, Bellows began working as an instructor at the Art Students League. He realized he was not fond of teaching and, following continued professional achievements, quickly returned to painting fulltime. (Bellows did return to teaching later in life, working as an instructor at the Artists Colony in Carmel, California; the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; and the Arts Student League in Woodstock.) Bellows and Emma had their first daughter, Anne, in 1911 and their second daughter, Jean, in 1915.

In 1911 Bellows became a founding member of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors and was involved in organizing the seminal Armory Show. Held in 1913, this exhibition introduced many new, abstract painting styles to American audiences. Bellows, who never traveled overseas, was intrigued by Cubism and found the work of Pierre-Auguste Renoir particularly exciting. While Bellows’ welcomed this fresh modern art, his own work (he exhibited five paintings and some drawings in the show) still demonstrated a respect for traditions of realism that were highly regarded by conservative American art institutions. As the Armory Show closed, the National Academy opened its eighty-eighth annual exhibition in which Bellows’ Little Girl in White (1912) won the annual Hallgarten prize. Shortly afterwards Bellows was elevated to the status of Academician by the Academy.

While Bellows’ received increasing institutional recognition and acceptance, he remained progressive in his political views and contributed his skills and time to various causes. Between 1913 and 1918 he submitted illustrations to accompany stories in the socialist publication The Masses, as well as the American Magazine, Century, Harper’s, and Hearst’s International Magazine. Bellows also marched in demonstrations for women’s rights and, during World War One, created images that illustrated the carnage of war.

As Bellows continued to publish his drawings he began to experiment with the printing process. In 1916 he installed a lithography press in his studio and hired George C. Miller to assist him with running the press and organizing the printing inks and chemicals. Bellows worked with Miller for two years producing memorable prints such as Benediction in Georgia (1916) and Dance in the Madhouse (1917). In 1917 Bellows became a founding member, along with twenty-seven other artists, of the Painter-Gravers of America, which sought to hold exhibitions of prints to educate the public about printmaking processes and support the use of the medium for the fine arts in America.

Miller joined the Navy in 1918 and, without a printing assistant, Bellows stopped producing lithographs until teaming up with lithographer Bolton Brown in 1921. Bellows and Brown collaborated over the next four years to produce more than one hundred images, with subjects ranging from social satire, portraits of friends and family, scenes from Bellows’ youth, and new versions of early paintings.

Bellows continued to paint his earlier themes while establishing his identity as a printer. In the last decade of his life he also began to receive portrait commissions from New York’s wealthy elite and took summer painting trips to Monhegan Island (1911, 1913, 1914), Ogunquit (1915), and Camden, Maine (1916). He spent every summer between 1920 and 1924 in Woodstock, New York where he built a house for his family and taught at the Art Students League Woodstock campus. In Woodstock Bellows painted many tranquil landscapes and intimate portraits of friends and family.

Bellows’ appendix ruptured on January 2, 1925 following months of erratic stomach pains. He was rushed to the hospital where it was safely removed; however, peritonitis had already poisoned his system. Bellows’ died on January 8, 1925 at age forty-two. In October of that year the Metropolitan Museum of Art honored him with a memorial exhibition.

Bellows’ contribution to art history can be summarized by artistic achievements that were always distinctly American. As a reviewer of his memorial show noted, “If it is important to have American art, Bellows is the most gifted figure our painting has produced. If the importance is to have art, without nationality, he ranks with half a dozen other of the first flight.”1 Whether Bellows’ subjects were the slums of the Lower East Side, the savagery of a backroom boxing match, or a bucolic landscape, his unconscious “nationality” allowed him a frank appreciation for an authentic vision of America.

II. Chronology

1882 Born August 12 in Columbus, Ohio
1901–04 Attends Ohio State University where he plays on the baseball team and creates illustrations for the yearbook
1904 Leaves Ohio State University and moves to New York
Studies at William Merritt Chase’s New York School of Art under Robert Henri
1906 Rents a studio in the Lincoln Arcade Building on Broadway
1908 Wins first award for painting at the National Academy of Design
Exhibits with Henri’s circle in the “Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Contemporary Americans” at West Forty-second Street
Teaches at the University of Virginia for six weeks over summer
1909 Takes a five-week winter vacation with Ed Keefe and Eugene O’Neill to the Sourland Hills in western New Jersey
Sells first work to a museum: North River (1908) to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Elected an Associate of the National Academy of Design (at age twenty-six, he is one of the youngest artists to receive this honor)
1910 Helps organize and exhibits paintings in the “Exhibition of Independent Artists”
Begins teaching at the Art Students League
Buys home at 146 East 19th Street
Marries Emma Louise Story
1911 Organizes exhibition of the “Independent Artists” in Columbus, Ohio
Has first solo exhibition, showing twenty-four paintings, at Madison Gallery, New York
Spends summer on Monhegan Island, Maine with Henri and Randall Davey
Daughter, Anne, is born
Up the Hudson (1908) enters the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
1913 As a member of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, helps organize the Armory Show and exhibits works in it
Wins Hallgarten prize at the eighty-eighth annual exhibition at the National Academy of Design
Elected Academician of the National Academy of Design
Spends summer on Monhegan Island, Maine
Submits illustrations to the magazine The Masses
1914 Spends summer on Monhegan Island, Maine
1915 Daughter, Jean, is born
Spends summer at Ogunquit, Maine
1916 Begins making lithographs with printer George C. Miller (until 1918)
Spends summer in Camden, Maine
1917 Spends summer working as an instructor at the Artists Colony in Carmel, California
Visits Mexico in the fall
1918 Helps form the New Society of American Artists
Spends summer in Middletown, Rhode Island
1919 Teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
1920 Spends summer in Woodstock, New York (also in 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924)
1922 Takes solo painting trip through the Catskills in New York
1921 Begins working with printer Bolton Brown on new series of lithographs
1923 Wins the Logan Purchase Prize at the Art Institute of Chicago
1925 Dies January 8 in New York following an emergency appendectomy
Memorial Exhibition held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

III. Collections

Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA
Amon Carter Museum, Forth Worth, TX
Art Institute of Chicago
Ball State Museum of Art, Muncie, IN
Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas, Austin, TX
Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, Chicago
Boston Public Library
Brauer Museum of Art at Valparaiso University, IN
Brooklyn Museum
Bruce Museum of Arts and Science, CT
Canton Museum of Art, OH
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Cedarhurst Center for the Arts, Mt. Vernon, IL
Cleveland Museum of Art
Columbus Museum of Art, OH
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AK
Currier Gallery of Art, NH
Dallas Museum of Art
Davis Museum and Cultural Center at Wellesley College, MA
Detroit Institute of Arts
Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, ME
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Five College Museums, Massachusetts
Frick Art and Historical Center, Pittsburgh
Harn Museum at the University of Florida, Gainesville
Harvard University Art Museums, MA
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC
Hunter Museum of American Art, TN
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Butler Institute of American Art, OH
Joslyn Art Museum, NE
Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel, MS
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Maier Museum of Art at Randolph-Macon Woman's College, VA
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, NY
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis
Milwaukee Art Museum, WI
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Museum of Modern Art, NY
National Academy Museum & School of Fine Arts, NY
National Art Museum of Sport at Indiana University, IN
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh
Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
Portland Museum of Art, ME
Princeton University Art Museum, NJ
Reading Public Museum, PA
Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College, CA
San Diego Museum of Art
Santa Barbara Museum of Art
Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, NE
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC
Springfield Museum of Art, OH
Telfair Museums, Savannah, GA
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago
The Huntington Library, CA
The Phillips Collection, Washington DC
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Spain
Toledo Museum of Art
U.S. Library of Congress, Washington DC
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, PA
Whitney Museum of American Art
Wichita Art Museum, KS
Williams College Museum of Art, MA
Worcester Art Museum, MA
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT

IV. Exhibitions

1907 National Academy of Design, NY
Society of American Artists, NY
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Art Institute of Chicago
1908 “Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Contemporary Americans,” West Forty-second Street, NY
Art Institute of Chicago
National Academy of Design
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
1909 National Academy of Design
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Art Institute of Chicago
1910 “Exhibition of Independent Artists,” West Thirty-Fifth Street, NY
National Academy of Design
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Corcoran Gallery, Washington DC
National Arts Club, NY
Art Institute of Chicago
1911 Carnegie Library, Columbus, OH
National Academy of Design
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Corcoran Gallery
Art Institute of Chicago
1912 National Academy of Design
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Corcoran Gallery
Newport Art Association, RI
Art Institute of Chicago
1913 Armory Show, NY
National Academy of Design
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Corcoran Gallery
Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA
Art Institute of Chicago
1914 “Seven special exhibitions: paintings by George Bellows,” Art Institute of Chicago
Montross Gallery, NY
National Academy of Design
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Corcoran Gallery
Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh
1915 “Special exhibition of paintings by Mr. George Bellows,” Cincinnati Art Museum
“Exhibition of paintings by George Bellows,” Detroit Museum of Art (traveled to Chicago and Los Angeles)
Panama-Pacific Exhibition, San Francisco
National Academy of Design
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Corcoran Gallery
Art Institute of Chicago
1916 Art Institute of Chicago
National Academy of Design
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Corcoran Gallery
1917 “New York: Paintings, Lithographs, Drawings, and Etchings by George Bellows,” Milch Gallery, NY
“First Annual Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists,” Grand Central Palace, NY
National Academy of Design
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Corcoran Gallery
Art Institute of Chicago
1918 National Academy of Design
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Corcoran Gallery
Newport Art Association
Carnegie Institute
Keppel Galleries, NY
Art Institute of Chicago
1919 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Corcoran Gallery
“Paintings by George W. Bellows,” Art Institute of Chicago
“Original lithographs by George Bellows,” Doll and Richards, MA
Knoedler Gallery, NY
1920 “Paintings and Drawings by George Bellows,” Montross Gallery
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Corcoran Gallery
Art Institute of Chicago
1921 “Exhibition of Original Lithographs by George Bellows,” Frederick Keppel and Company, NY
Art Institute of Chicago
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Corcoran Gallery
1922 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Corcoran Gallery
National Arts Club, NY
Carnegie Institute
1923 “Paintings, Drawings, and Lithographs by George Wesley Bellows,” Carnegie Institute
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Corcoran Gallery
1924 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Frank K.M. Gallery, NY
1925 “Last Canvases by George Bellows,” Durand-Ruel Galleries, NY
“Memorial Exhibition of the Work of George Bellows,” Metropolitan Museum of Art (traveled to the Memorial Art Gallery, NY;
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)
1926 “Memorial exhibition of the work of George Bellows, 1882–1925,” Buffalo Fine Arts Academy
1945 “George Bellows, 1882–1925: drawings and lithographs,” Phillips Memorial Gallery, DC
1946 “George Bellows: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints,” Art Institute of Chicago
1957 “George Bellows: A Retrospective Exhibition,” National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
“Paintings by George Bellows,” Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts
1972 “George Wesley Bellows,” Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, MA
1975 “George Wesley Bellows, 1882-1925: an exhibit featuring the gift collection of Mr. & Mrs. Carl L. Dennison,” Butler Institute of American Art, OH
1979 “George Wesley Bellows: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints,” Columbus Museum of Art, OH
1981 “Portraits by George Bellows: an Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery,” National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC
“George Bellows, works from the permanent collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery,” Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, NY
1982 “Bellows, the Boxing Pictures,” National Gallery of Art
“Homage to George Bellows: lithographs with selected drawings and paintings,” Metropolitan Museum of Art
1988 “George Bellows: The Artist and his Lithographs, 1916-1924,” traveling exhibition to Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth; Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis; National Academy of Design, New York; and University of Arizona Museum of Art, Tucson
1992 “The Paintings of George Bellows,” traveling exhibition to the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; Amon Carter Museum; and Los Angeles County Museum of Art
1997 “George Bellows: Love of Winter,” travelling exhibition to the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL; Newark Museum, NJ; and Columbus Museum of Art
1999 “An American Pulse: the Lithographs of George Wesley Bellows,” San Diego Museum of Art
2001 “With my profound reverence for the victims: George Bellows” Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, NY
2003 “Leaving for the Country: George Bellows at Woodstock,” Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Rochester, NY; Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago; Georgia Museum of Art, Athens; Vero Beach Museum of Art, FL
2007 “George Bellows: An Artist in Action,” Columbus Museum of Art
“The paintings of George Bellows,” Mennello Museum of American Art, FL
“The powerful hand of George Bellows,” Boston Public Library

V. Memberships

Association of American Painters and Sculptors
Boston Art Club
League of American Artists
Los Angeles Modern Art Society
National Academy of Design
National Arts Club
National Institute of Arts and Letters
New Society of American Artists
Painter-Gravers of America
Society of Illustrators
Society of Independent Artists
Woodstock Art Association
Woodstock Art Colony

VI. Notes

The Talk of the Town, “A Painter,” The New Yorker, October 10, 1925, p. 2.

VII. Suggested Resources

Atkinson, D. Scott. An American Pulse: The Lithographs of George Wesley Bellows. San Diego: San Diego Museum of Art, 1999.
Carmean Jr., E.A. Bellows, The Boxing Pictures. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1982.
Christman, Margaret C. S. Portraits by George Bellows: An Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, November 4, 1981 through January 3, 1982. Washington, DC: Published for the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, by the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981.
Doezema, Marianne. George Bellows and Urban America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.
Haverstock, Mary Sayre. George Bellows: An Artist in Action. London: Merrell, 2007.
Myers, Jane and Ayres, Linda. George Bellows: The Artist and his Lithographs, 1916–1924. Fort Worth, Tex.: Amon Carter Museum, 1988.
Netsky, Ronald and Searl, Marjorie B. Leaving for the Country: George Bellows at Woodstock. Rochester, N.Y.: Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, c. 2003.
Oates, Joyce Carol. George Bellows: American Artist. Hopewell, N.J.: Ecco Press, 1995.