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George Bellows achieved the goals of the "Ashcan school" and "The Eight" but differed in the sense that he painted with an expressionist boldness yet kept modernist ideals. George Bellows was an American painter known for his bold depictions of New York City, and according to some was "the most acclaimed American artist of his time." (Columbus Museum of Art) One of Bellows' philosophies on art is perfectly portrayed in this quote, "the ideal artist is he who knows everything, feels everything, experiences everything, and retains his experience in a spirit of wonder and feeds upon it with creative lust." (artinthepicture.com) George Bellows had two main subjects that he loved; they became the target of many of his works. He had a one of a kind eye for seeing even the slightest changes in the colors of a snowfall and perfectly portrayed that into his paintings. He also was fascinated with violence, which led him to paint many amateur-boxing matches. He typically saw the boxing matches as having a dark ominous feel, accompanied by minimal change in the tone of the colors used.
George Bellows was born in Columbus, Ohio in August 1882. He attended The Ohio State University from 1901 through 1904 where he played baseball and basketball. He was encouraged to pursue a professional career in baseball but lacked the motivation and instead wanted to become a famous artist. While in school he did illustrations for the Makio, which was the schools' student published yearbook. He worked as a commercial illustrator through school and continued to accept magazine assignments throughout his career. Bellows left Ohio State in 1904 just before graduation and moved to New York City to study art. In New York, Bellows attended the New York School of Art under Robert Henri. This is when he became associated with "The Eight" and the Ashcan school, which consisted of artists who advocated the painting of American society in all of its forms. By 1906, Bellows began leasing his own studio.
George Bellows first achieved notice in 1908 when along with a few other students of Henri; they organized an exhibition of mostly urban studies. While many were very critical of his work, others found it very welcoming and even a step beyond his teacher (georgewesleybellows.com). Bellows taught at the Art Students League of New York in 1909, but he was more interested in chasing his career as a painter. He continued to many internationally juried shows and gained popularity by doing so. Gaining a higher status in the artistic community brought about some changes to his work. Though he continued to create paintings as he always had, he began to receive portrait commissions from those among New York's wealthy audience. He also received social invitations to paint tranquil seascapes in Maine. Bellows' urban New York depictions focused on the chaos of the working-class and neighborhoods. From 1907 through 1915 he focused on a series depicting New York during snowfall. During this time, Bellows developed his keen sense of visual light and visual textures. His winter paintings all play off of a sharp contrast between the blue lowlights and white highlights of the snow and the rough surfaces of city structures. He created an ironically equal image of the rough grimy men as they tried to clear away the burden of the winter's snowfall. A particular painting that portrays all of the typical characteristics of a Bellows winter landscape is Winter Afternoon, Riverside Park, New York.
Although Bellows' works are considered to be American realist, he painted with a strong sense of expressionism. American realism is the capture of ordinary day-to-day life. American realism was a turn of the century movement. By the beginning of the 20th century people began to move from the countryside to the more urban city life. The Ashcan school was a realist art movement the came about in the early 20th century. Typically the painting subjects were that of New York's lower class and poor neighborhoods which brought about criticism from many art critics of the time. The Ashcan school perfectly represented the goals of American realism by showing subjects for what they truly were, without any tension or color to create emotion. American realism meant keeping any emotion out of the work allowing the viewer to see the painting for what it truly was. The Ashcan school consisted of five painters who were lead by Robert Henri that studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and joined with three others to form what would later become known as "The Eight." The group acquired the name after a show Henri put on consisting mostly of landscape works by the eight artists. The name of the show was "The Eight."
Although a large portion of his life was spent creating stylized depictions of winter landscapes, Bellows may arguably be attributed to his contribution to art history by his series of paintings portraying amateur-boxing matches. Bellows was a realist painter and the goal of the American realism movement was to show the subject of the painting without emotion. This meant that the artist would paint only what they saw and wouldn't make artistic changes to allow the viewer to think a certain way after viewing the painting. Bellows fascination with violence, which led him to paint boxing matches, was found to be a contradiction to the artistic movement of which he was such a large part. These paintings are typically very dark, through which the bright, roughly lain Winter_Afternoon_1909brushstrokes of the human figures vividly show a powerful sense of direction and motion. Painting such different subjects between his winter landscapes and amateur-boxing matches is almost like Bellows had two different styles or painting personalities that he kept apart from one another. In Winter Afternoon Bellows shows everything in true form just as any realist painter would. He uses shades of blue in contrast with white to make the snow appear realistic as if it had the glow of a fresh snowfall. He keeps all emotion out of the painting by showing everything just as his eye sees. However in the boxing paintings, his slight obsession with violence hinders him from painting as a true realist. He brings emotion into boxing paintings weather he wants to or not because of his love of the violent beatings one man bestows on the other. Winter Afternoon shows Bellows love for the winter snowfall early in his career. Later in his career, Bellows drifted from the landscapes in New York and concentrated more on the boxing matches such as Dempsey and Firpo in 1924. As Bellows grew older he matured as an artist and began to show his diversity as a painter.
In many ways George Bellows achieved the goals of the "Ashcan school" and "The Eight" but differed in the sense that he painted with an expressionist boldness yet kept modernist ideals. As he grew older as a person his paintings became more stylized and continued to stay within the guidelines of an American realist artist. By trying to keep emotion out of painting he ultimately studied subjects that conveyed a certain sense of emotion weather it was portrayed on purpose or not. By choosing to do so many paintings on two main subjects that are so different, Bellows brought about new ideals for the realist artistic movement. George Bellows was not just an American realist painter but also a visionary for the future of painting in the United States and throughout the world.