Columbus Connection: George Bellows
New CMA exhibit highlights how George Bellowsâ€™ hometown shaped his groundbreaking art
The in-your-face boxing paintings of George Bellows don’t exactly scream “Columbus, Ohio”—but those who study his work insist his background comes through in spades. “He always acknowledged Columbus, always went back to Columbus, and I think his experience there was formative in many ways,” says Charles Brock, who curated a recent Bellows retrospective at the National Gallery of Art. Starting Aug. 23, the Columbus Museum of Art will unveil its own show of about 40 paintings, drawings and prints—an all-encompassing survey that emphasizes the effect Central High art classes and Ohio State athletics had on Bellows’ extraordinary career.
Doodling in Class
Bellows (1882-1925) went to Central High School, an environment that nurtured his drawing. “At the time, Central High had one of the most developed art curriculums in the country,” says Melissa Wolfe, CMA curator of American art, noting he also held a summer cartooning job with The Columbus Dispatch and contributed caricatures to Ohio State’s Makio yearbook. After leaving school for New York, he leaned on his instincts as an illustrator. “He’s really good at capturing in his portraits this sort of instantaneous caricature or quality—a presence in that person,” Wolfe says.
He wasn’t a natural athlete but played baseball and basketball at OSU. “He just sort of made himself,” Wolfe says. “He did it by sheer dint of will.” The influence of his athletic pursuits (which included time at the Downtown YMCA) can be seen not only in the subjects of “Stag at Sharkey’s” or “Polo at Lakewood,” but also in their style, Wolfe observes: “The brushwork is so physical, and it’s so active. It’s like he’s kind of battling the canvas. He isn’t afraid to sort of move around a lot and really push the paint around.”
Aug. 23-Jan. 4
Columbus Museum of Art
480 E. Broad St., Downtown
Home Sweet Home
Bellows won fame with tough-fisted sports paintings, yet portraits of wife Emma and daughters Anne and Jean, such as “Emma and Her Children,” reflect his affection for his Midwestern, family-oriented beginnings. (Ironically, his parents discouraged his art, though his father was a prominent architect.) Brock adds: “He poured all of his ambition and all of his skill and everything he could bring to bear to paint those portraits, as much as he did with the boxing images.”