Art

George Bellows: A Mixed Bag

F. and I took advantage of Presidents’ Day to catch the tail end of the George Bellows exhibit at the Met. We walked away scratching our heads.

Like any good Clevelander interested in art, I grew up with this painting, “Stag at Sharkeys.”
stag at sharkeys

The dynamism, the violence, the motion, the characters in the crowd. Everything pulls you in.

So what happened in the decades between that painting, and this one?
Dempsey and Firpo 1924

This is why we were a little befuddled. Here are a few more that we saw.
1908-Noon

This one is genius, and the reproductions on the web do it no justice. This one, and Mohnhegan Island, rely heavily on the finish and texture of the paint.
George Bellows-Monhegan Island

The one above was F’s favorite.

He spent a lot of time with Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper, and their influence shows almost to the point of imitation.
homerish

light-house

But then he went through a period that looked to us like folk art. WTF? How many cliches can you fit into a canvas?
folk-art

Or this one. Who are these people, what are they doing, and why are they doing on the edge of a cliff?
1924 The Picnic

Then he recovers. Look at the characters and their postures, the old woman’s (his aunt) hands.
1920ElinorJeanandAnna

But still sometimes the work was just not very good. Compare and contrast:
older-couple

And again. The man on the right, above, with the girl in the center below:
Emma and Her Children

And the worst for last, this picture from Coney Island.
coney-island

It occupied a proud place in the show, and I don’t know why. The girl in the bottom left, who is supposed to be a focus of attention, looks like a face painted on a piece of paper. Her lover’s hand is a claw.

There was some really beautiful work here, but a lot of outtakes, as it were. Bellows died suddenly at the age of 42, of appendicitis. We wondered what he would have become if he’d lived a full life.

Tom
Tom McGee has been building web sites since 1995, and blogging here since 2006. Currently a senior developer at Seton Hall University, he's also a freelance web programmer and musician. Contact him if you have the need for a blog, web site, redesign or custom programming!

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