Retrospective of George Bellows features best of U.S. artist

NEW YORK Wed Nov 14, 2012 8:14pm IST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Paintings of boxers, gritty tenements, waterfront workers, as well as bucolic parks, portraits, and scenes of domestic tranquility form a new retrospective of the works of George Bellows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The exhibition, which includes 120 works by the man who was regarded as one of America's finest artists when he died at the age of 42 in 1925, opens on Thursday and runs through February 18.

"He was a painter's painter and a printmaker's printmaker," said Barbara Weinberg, the museum's Alice Pratt Brown Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture.

"I can't think of another artist in his circle who was so multi-faceted in his vision, who was so experimental, and who accomplished so much in such a short time," she added in an interview.

Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Bellows moved to New York City in 1904 to study art with the influential teacher Robert Henri. He was the star of the so-called Ashcan School, a group of artists whom Henri inspired to strive for realism.

"The power of his brush when he paints, the power of his crayon when he draws, and his work in lithography is really extraordinary," said Weinberg.

Bellows' realism frequently revealed the economic disparities in American society. In one drawing, Bellows shows people on a hot, overcrowded city street in a poor neighborhood. In a pointed barb toward the monied class, he titles the picture, "Why Don't They Go to the Country for Vacation?"

FIGHT SCENES AND MORE

Bellows' iconic works are his fight paintings. "Stag at Sharkey's," a 1909 oil on canvas depicts two boxers at a sporting club in Manhattan. The fighters' bodies fly into each other but remain suspended, leaving their struggle unresolved.

"Bellows is known for the fight pieces, but there's so much more," Weinberg said.

In "The Studio," which was painted in 1919, he shows his wife, two children and mother-in-law in his New York home and studio -- showing the interplay between his familial and artistic lives.

Bellows contrasts his drawings of teeming tenements with his 1910 painting "Blue Snow, The Battery," a work in which people are seen traipsing through a snow-covered park. It was one of 18 oils Bellows showed in his first solo exhibition in 1911.

The riverfront sometimes served as a dramatic landscape for Bellows as it did in "North River," but it was also a stage for human activity.

He depicted longshoremen in his 1912 painting, "Men of the Docks," and showed workers in "Snow Dumpers" emptying horse-drawn carts of snow into the river.

"Bellows was always looking for something else to consider; there was nothing to which he was indifferent," said Weinberg. "He appealed to the realists and the modernists."

"Easter Snow" captures people at leisure, walking through Riverside Park in Manhattan after an early spring snowfall, and in "Beach at Coney Island" Bellows shows an amorous couple and people either seeking shade under a tent or playing in the waves.

The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Royal Academy of Arts in London, where it will be on view from March 16 through June 9, 2013.

(Reporting By Ellen Freilich; editing by Patricia Reaney)

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