Fine Pictures: Bellows at NGA

George Bellows: Blue Morning

The George Bellows show at the National Gallery has already gotten lots of comment. So no need to add my bit, beyond saying for anybody who loves American art and taking in the whole of a varied career, it makes for a rewarding afternoon.

The NGA show has the iconic Bellows canvases of course: the fight paintings like “Stag at Sharkey’s,” something to see in person, and those sinewy urban impressionist images of New York, like “Blue Morning” (above), one of a series about building Penn Station that focus on forms and people, not monumental architecture. But he also did many portraits, most of women, vast amounts of political art (varied in quality), including covers for the socialist monthly The Masses. An interesting, but disturbing, room is given over to his anti-German lithographs from the WWI era. They are violent and ham-fisted propaganda (if you go with the kids skip that gallery).

All these pop with energy and people, but he also did some stunning landscapes, including of Monhegan Island (inevitable, perhaps, since his teacher was Robert Henri who painted there.) His take on Monhegan’s neighbor island, Manana, (below) is a high point of the NGA show. The painting captures the enveloping mystery of looking at this uninhabited rock, and is also a side of Bellows that is quiet and still (although not without a hint of menace).

George Bellows: An Island in the Sea

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