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.”

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?

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

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

And the worst for last, this picture from 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.

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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.

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