Wednesday, June 27

George Bellows, American Master

I was in Washington, D.C. again last week and, as always, there is more art to see and more museums to do than time allows. So I had to choose.

I chose the George Bellows Exhibition at the National Gallery of Art (Sixth St. and Constitution Ave. NW). The National Gallery almost always has at least one exhibition I want to see when I'm in town, and this trip was no exception.

George Bellows is one of those painters whose name I knew, or thought I knew, but one with whom I was not all that familiar. I knew he was American and painted way back when, but that was about all. I learned he was a contemporary of Edward Hopper, who you know, if you are a regular viewer of OrbisPlanis, is one of my favorite painters.

As the exhibit proved, Bellows (1882-1925) was quite prolific even in his relatively short lifetime--he died from a ruptured appendix at age 42. Too bad, because it's hard to imagine how many more paintings he would have done--I didn't count but I'm guessing there were well over 100 works spread out in several galleries on the second floor.

While viewing the exhibition I also learned he was a student of Robert Henri, and his early works were typical of the Ashcan School of realistic city scenes in the early 20th century. His friend and gallerist was Alfred Steiglitz. Bellows painted with, but was not a member of, a group called The Eight, which included William Glackens and John Sloan. Bellows became known for his large, realistic paintings of prize fights and fighters (e.g. The Sawdust Trail), which many viewers at the time considered crude in their content.

What impressed me most about Bellows is the wide variety of motifs he painted as his career progressed and not just gritty cityscapes. He proved himself an equal master with landscapes and portraits. There a more than a few paintings of his wife, Anna, and their two daughters in the exhibit as well as other portraits, all beautifully rendered. 

He used light source excellently, in my opinion, to heighten the drama in both landscapes and portraits. His painting, Blue Snow The Battery, with its bright sun and blue shadows on snow, is a masterpiece.

If you are in Washington, D.C. this year, don't miss the Bellows exhibition which runs through October 8, 2012.

Keep On Painting

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