American Master, George Bellows

If you reside or travel near the District of Columbia, you have until 8 October to visit the National Gallery of Art for an immensely gratifying retrospective of work by the great American painter, George Bellows.

“Both Members of This Club”, 1909. NGA, Washington, Chester Dale Collection.

Even despite the fact he died at 42 years of age in 1925, George Bellows is one of the greatest artists our country has produced. He was an American original: weened on Methodism and baseball in Ohio, he dropped out of college in 1904 and commenced studying art and painting in New York City. He learned from William Merritt Chase and Ashcan School founder Robert Henri. As a pioneering American artist, his restless spirit compelled him ever onward into new subject matter and methods of expression. He painted, among so many subjects, New York City’s transformation into a city of skyscrapers and immigrants.

His fascination with the City’s immense construction sites interests me on many levels: as a lover of that City, as a student of American history and culture, and as a descendent of folk who lived in that metropolis. My great-great-grandfather, John C. Rodgers, was an Irish immigrant and Civil War veteran who rose to prominence in New York City as a major contractor.

“Pennsylvania Station Excavation”, 1909. Brooklyn Museum, A. Augustus Healy Fund.

Around the time of Bellows’ arrival, John C. Rodgers & Company was building the foundations to the Manhattan Bridge towers, parts of the subway, the continuation of Riverside Drive, and the recently replaced Willis Avenue Bridge. Bellows painted Riverside Park, as well as areas near the Manhattan Bridge. I like the idea that my contractor-ancestor and this great artist may have crossed paths in Gotham.

And thinking of ancestry, I had the good fortune of photographing the gala opening of the Bellows exhibition. Fifteen of his descendants attended. Some of them were his grandchildren, so I photographed them before paintings Bellows did of their mothers while little girls. As I spoke with them, one might point to their brother and say–now this one here, he looks so much like George! What a great gift–to see the art and progeny of a true (to many) American hero.

I also photographed folk who loaned works to the exhibition or otherwise are benefactors of this show, or of the museum. The National Gallery of Art, made as a gift to the American people during the Great Depression, is truly one of the greatest museums in the world. Go see it at anytime, but particularly now.

Here are images made by Bellows, and photos from the opening. Images of paintings are courtesy the National Gallery of Art and the lending collector. Images from the gala were produced for American Fine Art Magazine.

George Bellows, “A Morning Snow”, 1910. Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mrs. Daniel Catlin.

George Bellows, “The Lone Tenement”, 1909. NGA, Washington, Chester Dale Collection.

Grandchildren and great-grandchildren of George Bellows standing before paintings of the artist’s daughters and wife.

Standing before a painting of their mother, done by their grandfather.

Descendants with a later boxing painting by Bellows, “Dempsey and Firpo”, 1924. Dempsey, as discussed in the very interesting documentary movie that accompanies the exhibition, went on to win the fight despite this seeming catastrophe of being knocked from the ring. Bellows stated the temporarily hapless boxer nearly landed in the artist’s lap.

Frances & James McGlothlin of Virginia stand with the loaned painting, “Kids”, 1906. An early masterwork by Bellows, you can see the influence of earlier social-commentator / painter, Daumier.

John & Dolores Beck, with their daughters, flank a view of their Bellows piece called “Lillian”, 1916. This was painted by Bellows on Monhegan Island, Maine.

From right: Alexander Nyerges, Director, Virginia Museum of Fine Art; Franklin Kelly, Deputy Director, National Gallery of Art; Kathryn Gray (Mrs. Alexander Nyerges).

Dining in the courtyard.