Published: March 11, 2003
The Work of George Bellows at Harvard
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. – The Harvard University Art Museums presents “George Bellows: ,” on view through May 11 at the Fogg Art Museum. The exhibition features 32 objects, including drawings, etchings, lithographs and one painting.
In the early Twentieth Century, George Bellows (1882-1925) emerged as one of the best-known American artists of the period. In 1918 he responded to reports of German atrocities in Belgium by creating, in just six weeks, a series of 14 lithographs titled “War (The Tragedies of the War in Belgium)” that chronicled the horrific acts of the invaders.
The same year, Bellows painted five large-scale oils based on images in the lithographs. One of the paintings, “The Germans Arrive,” is the focal point of the exhibition. Bellows followed Goya’s lead in his “Third of May” and Manet’s in his “Execution of Maximilian” in employing the usually heroic genre of history painting to protest horrifying demonstrations of inhumanity. The artist’s prints and paintings received high acclaim upon their debut but have seldom exhibited over the last half-century. In fact, this exhibition is only the third time that “The Germans Arrive” has been on public view.
Bellows’ merciless renderings of the atrocities in Belgium were unprecedented in American art. Instead, he joined a long European tradition of directly confronting the horrors of war, a tradition going back to Callot’s “Miseries of War” and Goya’s “Disasters of War” and extending forward to Otto Dix, who fought for Germany in World War I, and to Picasso. The exhibition will include several of their works, as well as prints embodying related themes by Daumier, Manet and others, drawn from the print collection of the Fogg’s Mongan Center.
“The exhibition celebrates our acquisition, made possible by a gift from Diane and Michael Maher, of the last set of ‘War’ lithographs remaining in the Bellows estate. It also honors the recent deposit of Bellows’ painting ‘The Germans Arrive’ at the Fogg Museum by an anonymous lender,” said Marjorie B. Cohn, acting director of the Harvard University Art Museums. “The Art Museums offers this complex exhibition to engage our various audiences, young and old, and to extend an opportunity for all to deal with this difficult subject matter in the quiet of our galleries.”
“Bellows meant for these works to address universal themes of inhumanity and suffering and some of the images were also used as pro-war propaganda for World War I,” said Kimberly Orcutt, assistant curator of American art. “The acquisition of the lithographs comes at a time when war is once again a crucial issue. Seeing these works in the current climate will highlight the ways that art can speak in different voices to different generations and how we as viewers create new layers of meaning for works of art as we integrate the artist’s intentions with our own experience and beliefs.”
Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1882, Bellows became a leading American artist of the early Twentieth Century. In 1904 he moved to New York City and studied painting at the New York School of Art under Robert Henri. Henri, the leader of the controversial Ashcan school of urban realism, inspired the artist to concentrate on scenes of city life. Bellows worked as an illustrator for newspapers and magazines, but he quickly became established as a painter and was particularly noted for his boxing scenes. He was also recognized as a pioneer of lithography in the United States. His later work is predominantly in portraiture. He taught at the Art Students League in New York and at the Art Institute of Chicago. Bellows enjoyed critical and financial success until his death of appendicitis at the height of his career, at the age of 42.
A gallery talk, “George Bellows: ,” will take place on Saturday, March 15, 11:30 am, and Saturday, April 12, 11:30 am presented by Kimberly Orcutt, assistant curator of American art.
The Fogg Art Museum and the Busch-Reisinger Museum are at 32 Quincy Street. For information, 617-495-9400 or artmuseums.Harvard.edu.
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