Bellows, a painting genius

I was curious to see George Bellows at the Royal Academy, having learnt at the Hopper’s Grand Palais exhibition that Hopper and Bellows shared the same art teacher: Robert Henri. Henri was a leader of the Ashcan art movement, which was a New York-based urban realist school of art. He urged his students to “go out there” and paint their contemporary environment. Bellows himself was a key figure of the Ashcan movement’s second generation and the term ‘Ashcan School’ originated from a drawing by Bellows Disappointments of the Ash Can. Bellows visited poor neighbourhoods, clandestine boxing clubs and other urban landscapes to paint his reality. Interestingly, Manet, who also had a strong desire to depict modern life, was held in particularly high esteem by Bellows.

Bellows is a life drawer; his style is quick on-the-spot painting, using energetic brushstrokes and hachure, adapted to his street fighting and boxing scenes. His life drawings first made me think of him as a US equivalent of Lucian Freud. However, I was equally enthralled by the fine details of Bellows’ snow and river paintings without really knowing why. On some reflection, I was able to see that it was his different techniques of applying paint that appealed to me. Long palette-knife strokes for the snow or rain, short palette-knife touches for the river’s waves, application ranging from fluid/thin to heavy/glue-like – as if squeezed out of tubes! To me, he explored all possibilities of painting technique. The exhibition runs until 9 June.

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4 responses to “Bellows, a painting genius

  1. I can definitely see the comparison to Freud, there’s something so similar in the look of the figures, and yet these are so filled with action and it sounds like painted with haste, in natural settings, in contrast with Freud’s approach of long, multiple sittings, by a static model, in a studio setting. I like them both!

    • Very good contrasting point, which I didn’t think of and agree with.
      I also think the resemblance is due to the impasto, a technique involving the thick application of paint, which Bellows used in some of his works.

      Thanks again for reading me and for your insightful comments!

  2. Thanks for this post! I didn’t know about this show but I am going to try to find some time to see it before it closes!

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