Friday Inspiration: George Bellows @ NGA


I had always been aware of the graphically strong paintings of boxers by George Bellows, but I did not know that these masciline scenes of strength and violence were only a small part of his portfolio. This point of view changed on Monday when I had a change to visit the special exhibit of George Bellows at the NGA in Washington, DC.

The exhibit brings together the different genres of Bellows work, all in one place, where it is possible to move from room to room, being delighted and surprised by his mastery of all subjects, be they be landscapes or figurative work. Bellows as a student of Robert Henri and was influenced by Henri’s belief that art should be a reflection of the times, that imitation of nature is not the goal instead the artist should strive to express the idea that captured his imagination.

Each man must take the material that he finds at hand, see that in it there are the big truths of life, the fundamentally big forces, and then express in his art whatever is the cause of his pleasure. ~Robert Henri

In the first room of the exhibition that are several drawings and early paintings that depict different gritty street scenes fo New York city in the early 19th century. Then you move into a room dedicated to landscapes, all compositionally strong, while also recording the rapidly changing environment of NYC. I think the most vivid representation of the changing times are the series on the excavation of Penn Station.

the Penn Station excavation

Later in the exhibition a softer side is presented in his portraits of women and his family.

Overall I was struck by the versatility of his skills and the ability to adapt his technique depending on what he was striving to convey. Despite this variation of application there is a unifying theme in all of his work, a sense of emotive reaction to the world around him. He seemed to FEEL his subject. The energy and desire to convey his thoughts are present in each piece.

You will never draw the sense of a thing unless you are feeling it at the time you work. ~Robert Henri

I came away from the show inspired to think more about how I can impart the energy and emotion I feel towards a particular scene. And I hope this post inspires you to look around your world and think about how all the aspects of it add color and interest to your life.