The Amon Carter Museum of American Art has acquired a key painting by 20th-century artist George Bellows (1882–1925). The Fisherman (1917) is the first painting by Bellows to enter the Amon Carter’s collection. The museum already holds a full set of 230 lithographs by the artist. The painting will be on view beginning Dec. 21 alongside a lithograph of the artist’s iconic 1909 boxing scene, A Stag at Sharkey’s.
According to the biography on the website devoted to his work, Bellows is “still ranked as one of the giants of American art – a figure whose tough-minded realism rivals that of [Thomas] Eakins, whose technical virtuosity rivals that of [John Singer] Sargent.”
“This painting is one of the museum’s most significant acquisitions in the last 10 years,” says Andrew J. Walker, executive director of the Amon Carter. “Bellows is perhaps most famous for his gritty depictions of early 20th-century New York urban life, but he was equally adept at depicting the powerful force of the American landscape. This fascinating painting adds invaluable depth to our collection and will surely become a visitor favorite.”
Bellows began painting seascapes in 1911, creating more than 250 paintings inspired by the water, which he referred to as his “eternal subject.” In 1917, he spent the summer visiting the scenic outlooks of Big Sur and Point Lobos in Carmel, California. While there, he created The Fisherman, considered “one of the last important oils of the sea” by Bellows according to the scholar Michael Quick.
“In this bold, dramatic painting Bellows used his signature exuberant brushstrokes and thick oil paint along with a palette of brilliant hues to depict the raw power of the ocean,” said Shirley Reece-Hughes, curator of paintings and sculpture. “The subject of the lone fisherman trying to harness nature suggests the ethos of the physical and ideological manhood of Bellows’ generation that stemmed from President Theodore Roosevelt’s belief in the ‘strenuous life.’ ”
The painting fills a gap in the Amon Carter’s painting collection between the 19th-century realist tradition and the 20th-century modernist movement, said Brett Abbott, director of collections and exhibitions. “Bellows embraced traditions of 19th-century realism, yet infused them with vigorous dynamism and experimental color theories that aligned with the avant-garde,” said Abbott. “The acquisition of The Fisherman follows the Amon Carter’s history of collecting exceptional artworks created by artists during westward sojourns; it represents the first painting of a West Coast scene to enter the collection by a key figure in the history of American art.”
Tim Harding, assistant professor of art at Tarleton State University, said Bellows is typically known for his scenes of urban life on the East Coast, but this painting is a bit of a departure because it was painted during a visit Bellows made to the West Coast.
“Bellows come out of the tradition of the group of what is called the Ashcan School of painters in the early 20th century,” he said. “They were interested in painting the reality of the post-i9ndusrial life in New York City and the communities in New York City and day-to-day living situation.”
Some of Bellows most famous paintings are of boxing matches and urban street scenes, Harding said. “This painting captures that same sense of drama,” Harding said. “It’s very exciting the Amon Carter was able to acquire this work.”
The museum is open Tuesday–Saturday from 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Thursdays until 8 p.m., and Sunday from 12–5 p.m. Closed Mondays and major holidays.
George Bellows background
(Source: The Phillips Collection)
George Bellows was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1882. After attending The Ohio State University from 1901 to 1904, he enrolled in the New York School of Art, where he studied under William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri; Edward Hopper and Rockwell Kent were fellow students. While in school, he supported himself by contributing illustrations to popular magazines such as Vanity Fair. In 1906, he established his own studio in New York and two years later won a prestigious award from the National Academy of Design for a landscape painting. Championed equally by the conservative arts faction related to the National Academy of Design and the more progressive artists, Bellows maintained a curious, and perhaps enviable, position in the American art world. Both radicals and conservatives alike praised his expressive, boldly brushed landscapes, urban scenes and portraits for their “American temperament.” He was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1909, the youngest member in its history, and became a full member four years later. In 1910, he began teaching at the Art Students League and soon after had his first solo exhibition at the Independent Artists Gallery in New York. Bellows was among the artists who helped organize the avant-garde Armory Show in 1913, and some of his works were exhibited there. Despite his involvement in the Armory Show and its commitment to promoting the most advanced styles of art, Bellows was able to straddle both the academic and progressive movements. His art encompassed less conventional subjects such as boxing scenes and political events, as well as more traditional images such as portraits and leisure activities.
In 1916 he began to experiment with lithography, an interest he pursued for the rest of his life. His lithographs show dramatic contrasts of light and dark similar to the interplay of light and shadow seen in his paintings, particularly his scenes of boxing matches. And the dynamic and free brushwork of his painted images is carried over into the broad sweep of the lithographic crayon in his prints. In 1922, Bellows moved to Woodstock, New York, where he remained until his death in 1925.