Published: October 21, 2003
Bellows never went abroad, focusing his art on the pageant of America. In line with Henri’s advice, he roamed the bustling streets of New York, sketching all manner of activities among all classes. His powerfully painted portrayals of skinny kids swimming in filthy rivers, snowy views along the Hudson River, excavation sites for buildings and vignettes of pugilists duking it out in Manhattan clubs captured the excrdf_Descriptionent and energy of life in the Big City. Bellows’s violent “Stag at Skarkey’s,” 1909, is considered by many to be the greatest boxing painting of all time and helped make him famous. His work resonated with that of Henri, George Luks, John Sloan and others of the Ashcan School, reflecting the gritty realities of contemporary urban existence.
Bellows was an early success, becoming — at age 26 — the youngest member ever elected to the National Academy of Design. His works sold well. He found time as well to help organize and display his own paintings in the trailblazing Armory Show of 1913 that introduced European modernism in America.
Bellows married fellow art student Emma Story in 1910. They established a home/studio at 146 East 19th Street in Manhattan, today a private home marked with a Bellows plaque. Two daughters, Anne and Jean, who later served as frequent models, were born in the next few years.
At Henri’s suggestion, Bellows spent several summers in Maine, starting in 1911, on Monhegan Island (where he painted the power of the sea) and around Camden (where he painted construction of a ship and views of his family). Outraged by the atrocities committed by German invaders of Belgium in World War I, he created a series of grim, hard-hitting depictions of the brutalities of war.
Bellows first came to Woodstock to visit Elsie and Eugene Speicher, the latter a painter who had studied under Henri at the Chase School. Bellows loved the rural atmosphere, recognizing its potential for landscape painting, and liked the presence of so many other artists in the town’s growing art community.
During the summers of 1920 and 1921, he rented the commodious home of Dr James Shotwell, with grand mountain views and space to entertain artists and other friends. In 1922, Bellows built a home on what is now Bellows Lane, in a compound of houses owned by his artist friends Charles Rosen and Speicher. Utilizing Jay Hambridge’s theory of Dynamic Symmetry, which he also applied to composing paintings, Bellows designed the house, doing much of the carpentry work himself. The result is immortalized in a beautiful oil, “My House, Woodstock,” 1924.
“By the time he came to Woodstock in 1920 [at age 38], he was no longer a brash young painter of urban scenes,” writes Mecklenburg, “but a contemplative man seeking something more profound, more universal than the crowded streets and shifting light of a fast-moving city.” A man of boundless energy and restless creativity, Bellows explored many subjects and styles and to the end was always searching for ways to improve his art.
By 1920, Woodstock was well on its way to becoming an important mecca for creative people. In 1903, wealthy heir Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead had established the Byrdcliffe Arts and Crafts colony, and the spin-off Maverick art community was also underway. The summer school of the Art Students League attracted a steady stream of artists to Woodstock. The Woodstock Artists Association (WAA), which was formed just before Bellows arrived, is still very active in the community.
The WAA exhibited both traditional and avant-garde styles. Rosen, Speicher and Leon Kroll adhered to more conventional work, while Konrad Cramer, Andrew Dasburg and Henry Lee McFee led the modernist contingent. All were Bellows’s friends.
To give added context, the exhibition includes examples of work by others in Woodstock. The highlight is German-born Cramer’s “Barns and Corner Porch,” 1922, a colorful masterpiece of cubism applied to a rural scene. It is in the WAA collection.
Bellows enjoyed philosophizing and discussing art with his fellow painters, and often went on sketching excursions with Rosen and Speicher. Deft Bellows drawings of John Carroll, Rosen, Speicher and others, sketched during frequent poker games at the Rosen house, reflect the camaraderie among the close-knit art colonists.
During his first summer in Woodstock, Bellows completed two of his finest portraits: “Anne in White,” 1920, a tenderly poignant likeness of his 9-year-old daughter, seated in a house with a Catskill Mountains view over her shoulder, and “Elinor, Jean and Anna,” 1920, contrasting the perky youth of his younger daughter in a white dress, flanked by her black-garbed, elderly grandmother and aunt. Aunt Fanny (Elinor) gestures toward Jean in a pose reminiscent of Old Master paintings. “Emma and Her Children,” 1923, is another standout in the exhibition.
The verdant fields, looming mountains, lakes and streams, humble farms and farm animals around Woodstock reignited Bellows’s interest in landscape painting. His earliest landscape, “Woodstock Bridge,” 1920, a vigorously brushed, dramatically lit scene, presaged many of his later depictions of the area. Among the early highlights in the show, all painted in 1920, are “Trout Stream and Mountains,” “The White Fence,” “Hudson at Saugerties” and “Pigs and Donkeys.”
The brilliantly hued “Autumn Brook,” 1922, recently acquired by the Memorial Art Gallery, served as the foreground for a more expansive landscape, “Cornfield and Harvest,” 1921.
In a similar vein, “Sunset, Shady Valley (Bogg’s Road),” painted in October 1922, provided the setting for the enigmatic surreal masterwork, “The White Horse,” completed in November 1922. The latter is a fascinating panorama featuring a white horse gazing at a dramatic horizon in which light streams through white clouds. They “stand as mute and mysterious observers of a landscape’s unfolding evocative power,” according to art historian John Wilmerding.
Another puzzling painting with surreal touches, its composition dictated by precepts of Dynamic Symmetry, is “The Picnic,” 1924. It offers a distorted, bird’s-eye view of Woodstock’s scenic Cooper Lake, with Bellows himself fishing, friend Speicher napping, wife Emma laying out a picnic and his daughters playing on improbably sharp peaks.
In “My House, Woodstock,” showing the painter’s substantial white home nestled below Overlook Mountain, the scene is suffused with the vivid colors of autumn. “The Picket Fence,” 1924, a closeup view of a country house, was on Bellows’s easel when he died, and was completed by Speicher. Writer Joyce Carol Oats has noted that the painting “seems literally to glow with a pale yellow light.”
“These works,” writes co-curator Netsky, “…contain a vibrancy of color and an urgency of stroke indicative of an artist with an undiminished need for new challenges.” At the same time, notes Netsky, Bellows was ambivalent about some of the directions in which avant-garde art seemed to be heading. Nevertheless, he observes, while Bellows “clearly maintained his interest in realism [and in depicting the life around him], his Woodstock landscapes reveal an artist searching for a new direction.”
The same search can be discerned in Bellows’s Woodstock portraits, particularly two unforgettable oils, “Mr and Mrs Phillip Wase,” completed in September 1924, and “Two Women,” finished in October 1924.
The Wases are presented as an aging couple, visibly detached from each other, seated on a Victorian loveseat that came from the painter’s mother’s home in Columbus. They are, as Oates has observed, “an elderly married couple who appear to inhabit contiguous but not intersecting emotional worlds.” This is a static, yet masterful, example of hard-edged realism.
Bellows’s last figure painting, “Two Women,” showing a nude female sitting on the Victorian loveseat next to a fully clothed woman with identical features, has perplexed observers for years. It appears to be modeled on Titian’s celebrated “Sacred and Profane Love,” although set in Bellows’s Woodstock house. The mysterious, romantic quality of this canvas makes one wonder what portraiture lay ahead for the artist had he lived longer.
Throughout his career, critics emphasized Bellows’s vigor, vitality and even his athletic ability. Many were concerned when, in the wake of the Armory Show, he embraced the aesthetic theories of Hambridge and Hardesty Maratta, which they felt curbed his instinctive authenticity.
Between 1920 and 1924, Bellows created well over 100 paintings in Woodstock. Many were executed in conformity with Maratta’s color theories, a complex system involving blends of primary and secondary colors. They also incorporated Hambridge’s Dynamic Symmetry, a compositional system involving orderly grids dividing the picture plane.
Other observers never flagged in their high regard for Bellows’s Americanness and ability to communicate his art to the man in the street. Overall, his popularity remained high in his last years — and thereafter. In 1999, his animated painting “Polo Crowd” was sold to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates for the highest price ever paid at auction for the work of an American artist.
Curator Searl suggests that in his Woodstock years Bellows was coming to “terms with the tensions and bonds of youth and age, parent and child, the erotic and the platonic.” She writes that, “Having staked his claim as an urban realist when he was much younger, now was the time to reassess where he had been and where he was heading; now was the time to consider some of the bigger questions of life, to respond to them and to move his work to a new plane.”
After suffering from what was thought to be “chronic indigestion” during the summer of 1924, Bellows returned to New York where he busied himself with pressing projects. Continuing to ignore the pains, he died in January 1925 of complications from a ruptured appendix. He was only 42.
There is no telling to what heights Bellows’s art would have gone had he lived longer. He was clearly moving in fresh and exciting directions, blending Old Master discipline with modernist tendencies after 1920.
In his abbreviated career, Bellows established himself as one of America’s finest painters. He will always be remembered for his down-to-earth depictions of life in New York, his stirring portrayals of boxing contests — and now, thanks to this exhibition, for the bold landscapes and masterful portraits of his final years.
The 112-page, fully illustrated catalog is attractive and informative. It includes chapters by co-curators Searl and Netsky, by Woodstock historian Alf Evers, and by Bellows authorities Mecklenburg and Mark Andrew White. Published by the Memorial Art Gallery, this valuable contribution to scholarship about American art is available for $29.95.
The Terra Museum of American Art is at 664 North Michigan Avenue. For information, 312-664-3939.
In keeping with Beaudelaire’s admonition, the painter early on sought to capture the spectacle of life around him in Paris with festive leisure scenes and, later, with views of horse races. “One must,” Manet observed, “be of one’s time and paint what one sees.”
With his father’s death in 1862, Manet became independent and financially secure. The following year he married Dutch-born Suzanne Leenhoff, the Manet family’s music teacher.
Manet disliked history painting, but did try to adapt Old Master compositions to portrayals of contemporary life. In “Dejeuner sur l’herbe (The Picnic),” 1863, based on Raphael’s picture of mythological figures, he showed a naked woman picnicking with two clothed men. The modernity of this canvas shocked many viewers, who considered it an affront to morality, criticized it for using Old Master imagery for a current scene, and disparaged its broad, flat composition.
That same year Manet painted “Olympia,” inspired by Titian’s “Venus of Urbino,” 1538. A firestorm of criticism erupted when the modern version was exhibited in 1865. Today one of the greatest treasures of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris — a major repository of Manet’s art — this portrayal of a very real model, probably a prostitute, in a challenging pose and mood was condemned for its forthright nudity and brazen subject.
During this period Manet was vilified by the French art establishment for mocking traditional art, for his unconventionally candid images and for the harshness of his painting technique. Much against his will, he was regarded by many as the leader of the avant-garde. It was a low point for a young artist anxious for the respect and esteem of the art-loving public.
Having been rebuffed and castigated at the Salon of 1864, Manet set out to regain public respect by painting a contemporary event of historic significance. He chose the naval engagement between two protagonists in the American Civil War that had recently been fought off the coast of France.
From the outset of the war, the South, recognizing that its small navy was no match for that of the North, sought to demoralize the Union by devastating its merchant fleet. Several armed Confederate raiders roamed the high seas, boarding unprotected Union commercial vessels, seizing cargo and often sinking the ships.
The most famous raider, CSS Alabama, built in England for Confederate agents, was commanded by the flamboyant Captain Raphael Semmes. Semmes and his ship gained worldwide celebrity for sinking 65 Union merchant vessels in 22 months. When Alabama stopped in Cherbourg harbor for repairs and supplies, a Northern warship, USS Kearsarge blocked its exit, leading to the battle just outside French territorial waters.
The superior marksmanship and maneuverability of the Union vessel carried the day; after an intense duel, Alabama sank to the bottom of the harbor. The confrontation, witnessed by many spectators from the shore, was headline news around the world, with eyewitness reports augmented by diagrams of the battle.
Manet did not witness the fight, but relied on press reports and depictions in illustrated newspapers to quickly compose his celebrated “The Battle of the USS Kearsarge and the CSS Alabama,” 1864, now a prized possession of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. So anxious was the artist to capitalize on the event that less than a month after the fight, his large canvas of it was exhibited in a Paris gallery.
This magnificent painting is especially significant for its great expanse of foreground water, its high horizon line and the seemingly haphazard placement of the vessels. The brilliant greens of Manet’s sea add to the drama of the innovative composition. As Alabama sinks in front of Kearsarge in the upper left, ships to the left and right speed to rescue survivors.
Soon after, on family holiday, Manet visited the victorious Kearsarge as it lay at anchor off Boulogne-sur-Mer and recorded several interesting views of the scene. “The Kearsarge at Boulogne,” 1864, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, shows the Union ship in profile and off-center, surrounded by smaller boats. It and related seascapes by Manet stand out for their bird’s-eye perspective, elevated horizons and reduction of sea and sky to flat bands of color.
Manet’s paintings of the battle and its aftermath were the subject of an absorbing exhibition, “Manet and the American Civil War,” earlier this year at the Met. Many of the marinescapes from that show are stars of the expanded exhibition on view in Chicago.
The first exhibition devoted to an important but little-studied aspect of his career, “Manet and the Sea” examines the artist’s seascapes – created between 1864 and 1881 – and their role in the evolution of marine painting. Using Manet’s boldly innovative canvases as a point of departure, the show traces complex interrelationships that link Manet to such predecessors as Eugéne Delacroix and Gustave Courbet and to contemporaries and successors like Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot and James McNeill Whistler.
With nearly 100 works by 16 artists, “Manet and the Sea” unites 40 marinescapes by Manet with examples of works on similar subjects by other painters. Included are six works by Courbet, for example, 15 by Monet and five by Whistler.
“Manet and the Sea” will be at The Art Institute of Chicago through January 19, and then travels to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (February 15-May 30), and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (June 18-September 26).
In Chicago, the exhibition is curated by Douglas Druick, Searle curator of European painting, and Gloria Groom, curator of Nineteenth Century painting. In Philadelphia, the curators are Joseph J. Rishel, Gisela and Dennis Alter senior curator of European painting and sculpture, and John Zarobell, assistant curator of European painting and sculpture. Leading Manet authority Juliet Wilson-Bareau is consulting curator for the show and a major contributor to the catalog.
As documented in the exhibition, by the 1860s, Dutch painter Johan Barthold Jongkind and Frenchman Eugéne Boudin were exploring fresh ways to capture the atmosphere of light and air around ships in harbors and views of social life at such French coastal resorts as Trouville and Deauville. New rail lines linking Paris and the shore made the seaside accessible to middle-class as well as affluent vacationers, a phenomenon later recorded by Manet, Monet and other Impressionists.
On the other hand, the leading realist of the day, Courbet, was more interested in the power of the ocean, which he conveyed through thickly painted canvases of churning water, such as “Fishing Boat,” 1865, and “The Wave,” 1871.
When Whistler accompanied Courbet to Trouville in 1865, however, the young American used a high horizon line, thin layers of pigment, flat planes of color and simplified outlines of boats, an approach suggesting his debt to his friend Manet and Japanese aesthetics.
Both Manet and Whistler were captivated by Japanese prints, which influenced the spatial organization, unscripted placement of objects and flattened surfaces in their work. The exhibition offers interesting comparisons among Manet’s “Departure from Boulogne Harbor,” “The Kearsarge at Boulogne” and “Steamboat Leaving Boulogne,” all 1864, and Whistler’s “Crepuscule in Flesh Colour and Green: Valparaiso” and “Trouville (Gray and Green, the Silver Sea),” both 1865.
Claude Monet was the artist who was most influenced by the sea. Having been raised in coastal Le Havre, the Impressionist leader said he “remained faithful to the sea in front of which I grew up.” Although Manet was initially annoyed when Monet’s marine paintings at the Salon of 1865 were mistakenly identified as his own, the two soon became friends and admirers of each other’s work.
Each had an impact on the other’s art. After spending time with Monet in the early 1870s, Manet employed a brighter palette applied with fragmented brushstrokes in his work. Both painters shared an interest in depicting the movement of the ocean, docks and other harbor structures and seashore visitors.
It is hard to tell which of the two painters, for instance, created Manet’s “The Steamboat, Seascape with Porpoises,” 1868, and Monet’s “The Green Wave,” circa 1866-67, so closely do they resemble each other in composition, color and feel.
Monet’s “The Beach at Trouville,” 1863, and Manet’s “The Jetty of Boulogne-sur-Mer,” 1868, and numerous beach scenes at Boulogne, where his family summered, reflect the presence of increasing numbers of vacationers on the coast.
It is generally agreed that Monet’s exposure to the vivid hues and lofty horizon of Manet’s “Kearsarge” paintings encouraged Monet to employ similar methods in his memorable, glorious “Garden at Sainte-Adresse,” 1867.
Manet, in turn, was prompted to paint outdoors and to use more brilliant colors by his association with Monet, whom he called the “Raphael of water.” This is most vividly reflected in Manet’s gorgeously hued, shimmering masterpiece, “The Grand Canal, Venice (Blue Venice),” 1874.
Another artist who encouraged Manet to paint out of doors and whose art he greatly admired was Berthe Morisot, his former student and frequent model. Her Impressionist canvases utilizing loose brushstrokes to capture the atmosphere effects of light and water in coastal subjects, such as “The Harbor at Lorient,” 1869, owe a debt to both Manet and Monet.
The exhibition concludes with two versions of Manet’s “The Escape of Rochefort,” 1881, immortalizing the rescue of the famous journalist-politician from the French prison colony on New Caledonia in the Pacific. Depicting a small boat being rowed across a wide expanse of ocean toward a distant ship, its sense of isolation is heightened by the artist’s gestural brushwork and bright palette.
These unforgettable canvases were completed with great difficulty by Manet, who was by then ill with locomotor ataxia, a degenerative disease of the spinal chord that weakened his control over muscular movements. The bedridden artist had a gangrenous leg amputated in 1883, and died a few days later. He was buried in Passy cemetery in Paris, with Monet and writer Èmile Zola among the pallbearers.
It not only sheds new light on Manet’s innovative approaches to marine painting, but also provides tangible evidence of his influence on the sea-inspired works of his contemporaries. With the assistance of the exhibition catalog, the show offers glimpses into rivalries and friendships among a stellar group of Nineteenth Century painters, whose dialogue helped transform and modernize the tradition of marine painting.
Manet’s paintings marked a turning point in the history of art and paved the way for Impressionism. As art historian Gilles Neret has written, “The great adventure of modern painting, freed of anecdote and false connections, begins with Manet.”
The 260-page catalog is exceptionally well done. It contains chapters by Wilson-Bareau and other leading scholars that illuminate and place in context the sea paintings of Manet and his followers. There are 110 color and 70 black and white reproductions in this volume, published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Art Institute of Chicago is at 111 South Michigan Avenue. For information, 312-443-3600.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is on Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 26th Street. For information, 215-763-8100.
Another current Manet show is worthy of note. Manet’s deft engraved illustrations for Stéphane Mallarmé’s 1875 translation of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” are featured in an intriguing exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art. “Haunting Visions of Poe: Illustrations by Manet, Matisse & Gauguin” is on view through January 11. It offers prime examples of the graphic art of these three titans of French art.
The Baltimore Museum of Art is at 10 Art Museum Drive. For information, 410-396-7100.
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