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George Wesley Bellows
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Columbus, Ohio
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
New York
Best known for his boxing scenes and other works depicting urban life, George Bellows was also an excellent painter of portraits, marine scenes and landscapes. His prodigious body of work includes over seven hundred paintings, over 170 lithographs and some two hundred drawings, created during an artistic career of about twenty years. Bellows was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1882, the son of an architect and building contractor. His parents encouraged his talent for drawing. A star baseball and basketball player at Ohio State University, he also drew for the campus magazine and yearbook. Bellows left college after his junior year and used earnings from summer semi-professional baseball, sports writing and cash prizes for his art from the Ohio State Fair to go to New York City in 1904, He studied under Robert Henri (1865-1929) at the New York School of Art, where he met Emma Louise Story, whom he would later marry. His 1906 painting of a group of boys swimming in the East River, River Rats (private collection), was accepted for the National Academy of Design’s 1907 exhibition. By this time Bellows had become very interested in boxing and frequently visited Tom Sharkey’s “Athletic Club” across the street from Bellows’s studio. Club Night (1907, Washington: National Gallery), depicting two fighters, was shown at the Academy’s 1907 winter exhibition. His North River (1908) won National Academy’s Hallgarten Prize in its 1908 exhibition and was purchased by the Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Bellows was elected an Associate Member of the very selective Academy in 1909. Later that year he painted his best known work, the boxing scene Stag at Sharkey’s (Cleveland Museum of Art). The following year he assisted Henri and others in organizing the non-juried Exhibition of Independent Artists in New York, featuring some 500 works by about 100 American artists, including three paintings and eight drawings by Bellows (he sold three drawings for the then-large sum of $500). His appointment as an instructor at the Art Students League and sales of his art led him to marry Emma Story in 1910, and with his father’s assistance he bought a three-story row house on East 19th Street near Gramercy Park. The following year Bellows organized an exhibition of works by him and his friends in his hometown of Columbus, causing a scandal as the local organizers found some of the works “unsuitable,” including a pastel by Bellows of a boxing scene. The offending works were put in a separate room to be viewed only by men. A patron purchased Up the River (1908) and gave it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1911. That summer Henri invited Bellows to join him on Monhegan Island, Maine, a sojourn that resulted in some fifty paintings and innumerable sketches, and return trips to Maine in later years. He was put on the planning committee for another exhibition late in the year, a show that became the famous Armory Exhibition of 1913. Illustration formed an important part of his work, particularly illustrations for the Socialist magazine “The Masses,” from 1912 to 1917, whose art editor was Bellows’s friend John Sloan (1871-1951 A solo exhibition of Bellows’s works opened to favorable reviews in Columbus in 1912, and traveled to Detroit and Toledo. He was elected a full member of the National Academy in 1913. He took up lithography in 1916, hiring George Miller (1894-1965), a commercial lithographer, to be his printer, using a press Bellows had installed in his third-floor studio. They published 28 lithographs that year, in editions of about fifty. After a summer trip to Carmel, California in May 1917 (to paint a portrait on commission) and to Santa Fe to visit Henri and his wife, Bellows returned to New York to create more lithographs with Miller, including A Stag at Sharkey’s (M. 46), a print version of his oil. He created sixteen war lithographs in 1918, harshly depicting atrocities committed during the 1915 German invasion of Belgium, as well as five oil paintings based on the prints. A solo exhibition at New York’s Knoedler Gallery in 1919 was very successful, as was an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. The Bellows family began spending summers in Woodstock, N.Y. in 1920 and many of his works created there over the next four years are sunny landscapes and portraits. He began making lithographs again in 1921 with the expert printer Bolton Brown (1864-1936). Brown’s technical suggestions greatly improved the quality of the prints, achieving a silvery quality and tonal richness comparable to drawings. They produced about sixty lithographs in 1921 alone. Bellows suffered a ruptured appendix in early January 1925 and died a few days later in New York City. The Metropolitan Museum held a memorial exhibition that fall. (TNB 11/2014) Selected bibliography: Brock, Charles, et al. George Bellows. Exhibition catalog. Washington: National Gallery of Art in association with New York: DelMonico Books/Prestel Publishing, 2012. Haverstock, Mary Sayre. George Bellows: An Artist in Action. London and New York: Merrell Publishers Limited in association with the Columbus Museum of Art, 2007. Myers, Jane and Linda Ayers. George Bellows: The Artist and His Lithographs, 1916-1924. Exhibition catalog. Ft. Worth: Amon Carter Museum, 1988.