Background: George Wesley Bellows was born on August 12, 1882 in Columbus, Ohio. Bellows was an American realist painter known for his bold depictions of urban life in New York City, becoming, according to the Columbus Museum of Art, “the most acclaimed American artist of his generation”.
Education: Bellows attended The Ohio State University from 1901 until 1904. He worked as a commercial illustrator while a student and continued to accept magazine assignments throughout his life. Despite these opportunities in athletics and commercial art, Bellows desired success as a painter. He left Ohio State in 1904 just before he was to graduate and moved to New York City to study art.
Bellows was soon a student of Robert Henri at the New York School of Art, and became associated with Henri’s “The Eight” and the Ashcan School, a group of artists who advocated painting contemporary American society in all its forms. By 1906, Bellows was renting his own studio, on Broadway.
Achievements: Bellows first achieved notice in 1908, when he and other pupils of Henri organized an exhibition of mostly urban studies. While many critics considered these to be crudely painted, others found them welcomely audacious and a step beyond the work of his teacher. Bellows taught at the Art Students League of New York in 1909, although he was more interested in pursuing a career as a painter. His fame grew as he contributed to other nationally recognized juried shows.
Bellows’ urban New York scenes depicted the crudity and chaos of working-class people and neighborhoods, and also satirized the upper classes. From 1907 through 1915, he executed a series of paintings depicting New York City under snowfall. These paintings were the main testing ground in which Bellows developed his strong sense of light and visual texture. These exhibited a stark contrast between the blue and white expanses of snow and the rough and grimy surfaces of city structures, and created an aesthetically ironic image of the equally rough and grimy men struggling to clear away the nuisance of the pure snow. However, Bellows’ series of paintings portraying amateur boxing matches were arguably his signature contribution to art history. These paintings are characterized by dark atmospheres, through which the bright, roughly lain brushstrokes of the human figures vividly strike with a strong sense of motion and direction.
Paintings and prints by George Bellows are in the collections of many major American art museums, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, and the Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and The Hyde Collection, in Glens Falls, New York. The Columbus Museum of Art in Bellows’ hometown also has a sizeable collection of both his portraits and New York street scenes. The White House acquired his 1919 painting Three Children in 2007, and it is now displayed in the Green Room.