Columbus’ own George Bellows (1882-1925) is being celebrated this season in two exhibitions.
The first is the Columbus Museum of Art’s George Bellows and the American Experience, running through Jan. 4. The other is Keny Galleries’ Independent Spirits, Columbus Artists: The Forefront of Modernism, Sept. 20 through Nov. 15. Last year, there was a major retrospective of Bellows’ work exhibited in Washington D.C., New York and London.
In this painting, we have a fine example of Bellows’ later career, when he focused more on family portraits and the Maine and Woodstock, N.Y. landscape. Bellows lived half of each year in Woodstock from 1915 until his death at the age of 42. This home was the setting for this tender depiction (57” by 42”, oil on canvas) of the older of his two daughters, Anne.
Bellows’ technique moved away from the heavier paint handling to a more indirect method. This was based on his increasing interest in methods of the Dutch and Italian masters.
The indirect method is a procedure whereby one first makes a drawing, working out values and design, then building up the forms in more neutral tones (sometimes called “dead coloring”). Finally, one adds color in layers. This method can produce a smoother surface.
Bellows was always interested in the underlying geometry of composition and various color systems. Take a look at the curves of Anne’s left arm, her large mass of hair, the large hat in her hand and the bend in the large tree in the distance. All relate to one another.
The color is restrained everywhere but in the bright landscape beyond the door. You might interpret this as a young girl going out into a bright future from the warmth of her home.
Some of these experiments worked better than others, and a number of people feel Bellows’ later work doesn’t quite stand up to his early promise. However, if you look at his work in context of other American painters at the time, this smooth surface quality shows up in the work of such diverse artists as Georgia O’Keeffe, Thomas Hart Benton and Bellows’ close friend Leon Kroll. This is the realist tradition taking on a more modernist tendency.
The Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh has always had a focus on collecting contemporary art. Bellows won prizes in the prestigious Carnegie International three times; 1913, 1914 and 1922. The next Carnegie International opens Oct. 5 and runs through March 16, 2014.
Nationally renowned local artist Michael McEwan teaches painting and drawing classes at his Clintonville area studio.