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  • George BellowsThe Sketch Hunter
  • Kris Somerville

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[End Page 97]


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Preliminaries 1916, crayon, ink and wash on paper, Boston Public Library

In 1911, after establishing himself as "the boy with the bold brush" in New York City, George Bellows was invited by the art association in his hometown, Columbus, Ohio, to arrange a show at the Carnegie Library. His selection of 135 paintings emphasized the work of his peers, a group known as "The Eight." All of them had studied with Robert Henri at the New York School of Art and had famously exhibited their work at the Macbeth Gallery. Bellows persuaded his mentor to travel to Ohio to speak on the modern art movement at the opening. Once the librarians began unpacking the canvases, they were scandalized by Arthur B. Davies's nudes, John Sloan's etchings and Bellows's rendering of a boxing match called The Knock Out. They found them inappropriate and unsuitable. By threatening to boycott the event, Henri got all the work reinstated except for Bellows's prize-fight picture. The Knock Out was barred from public view, while Davies's and Sloan's pieces were displayed in a separate room dubbed mockingly by the artists the "Chamber of Obscenity." Security guards took bribes from men only for admittance. Though initially angry to be left out of an exhibition he had organized, Bellows returned to New York [End Page 98] City undeterred and continued a frantic pace of production in his cluttered studio a block from Gramercy Park. He also received some good news: the Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts offered him $1,000 for one of his polo paintings, Polo at Lakewood.


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Night at Petipas 1914, crayon and graphite on cream wove paper, Boston Public Library

Many of Bellows's friends described him as a man in a hurry. His artistic career bloomed early: at age twenty-six, five years after attending art school under the mentorship of Robert Henri and William Merritt Chase, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Design. At thirty he displayed his paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was elevated by the Academy to full Academician the next year and was considered the country's most accomplished lithographer—a meteoric rise by most artistic standards.

By 1919 Bellows was also a critical and financial success. His solo exhibition at the prestigious Knoedler Gallery brought in $10,000, equivalent to $100,000 in today's dollars. He was given one-artist exhibitions at museums in Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit and other major U.S. cities. He was also making more than a thousand dollars per portrait for commissions. His start, however, had been inauspicious. His early drawings did not show any special talent. When he was a young boy, his male classmates teased [End Page 99]


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Billy Sunday and the Sawdust Trial 1915, crayon, graphite, ink and wash on paper, Boston Public Library

him for his "sissy interest" and his lack of athleticism. Boys played basketball and baseball; they did not sit home with their mother and aunt drawing pictures of trains and parades. His elderly parents had their own aspirations for their only son. His mother wanted him to be a Methodist minister, [End Page 100] while his father hoped that George would take up his occupation as a contractor and builder. Both parents agreed that for their son to become an artist was an unrealistic, impractical career plan.


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Punchinello in the House of Death 1923, lithograph, Boston Public Library

While his parents thought George would grow out of his interest in art, at Central High School, a building designed and built by his father, George became more committed to his goal. He starred in his first oneman show at Baker's Art Gallery, Columbus's leading photography studio. The summer before college he took a job as an assistant illustrator for the Columbus Dispatch. At Ohio State University he worked on the university's yearbook, Makio, and other...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 97-109
Launched on MUSE
2009-12-17
Open Access
No
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