GEORGE BELLOWS was the most popular painter of his time, and the best of
his work has survived the embarrassing adulation bestowed upon his purely
In his college days in Ohio, he was a baseball
player and a professional cartoonist; in New York, before he was thirty, he
had won all the honors-and a national reputation as an artist. His popularity
was not an accident: in spirit he was essentially American, boisterous and
sentimental, exhilarated by the riotous and gaudy, the physically obvious and
richly colored aspects of his background.
He was almost excessively talented;
he worked strenuously and with athletic enjoyment; life to him was a pageant
with the abounding vitality of a circus poster.
Bellows, by intuition, understood the importance of subject matter. He had
a genius for the right thing, and he discovered glamorous material for his
brush in a hundred different quarters. He painted social studies, prize fights,
political sessions, river fronts, revival meetings, landscapes, nudes, and in
He was not afraid of criticism or of making a mistake;
he offered his work for what it contained and with a full measure of honesty
he meant what he said.
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Unfortunately, he was susceptible to influences which
inveigled him into painting by rule and formula, to the detriment of his natu
rally vigorous expression. He was also the victim of his early training: he
was taught to believe that an artist who reflected on his work was mechanical
or old-fashioned; that one should paint in the first heat of emotion, boldly and
And no man ever painted more boldly, or at times, with
greater damage to his true capacities. His prize fights and nudes, for example,
are crudely put together, and saved from nullity by his unbridled confidence
and his huge, undisciplined, muscular enthusiasm.
The pictures of his last years, WIth a few exceptions, are brilliant com
mentaries on American life.
In this 1924 portrait of his daughter whom he
painted many times, he surpassed himself. In Lady Jean Bellows forgot the
grand manner and prestidigitation, and confined his energies to the demands
of the subject.
Here, painted simply in a decorative setting, is a portrait of a
child, and here also is the wondering make-believe, the spirit of fantasy,
common to all children.