You are here:   Civilisation >  Art > Painter of the Strenuous Life

In paintings such as New York (1911) and Men of the Docks (1912) he portrayed Roosevelt's strivers as part of the daily ebb and flow of the city. He employed a rough and rapid technique; not the en plein air method of the Impressionists but a hybrid version. Bellows would walk the streets, building sites and wharves watching intently before returning to his studio and painting from memory. So spontaneous were his impressions that he could finish a picture in six hours. So while his paintings lack surface finish they pulse with energy instead.

He did, though, share many of the Impressionists' and their derivatives' themes. Like them he wanted to be Baudelaire's "painter of modern life", so where Degas and Seurat painted Parisians at the races and Sunday bathing, Bellows showed New Yorkers at the same pursuits with Lakewood and the Hudson river taking the place of Longchamp and the Seine. Indeed Bellows was more in touch with the European tradition than is at first apparent. Echoes of Goya, Manet and Daumier are rife in his paintings while his pictures of urchins recall the examples of Velázquez and Caravaggio.

By the time of his death from peritonitis at 42 he had painted cityscapes and landscapes, genre scenes, war subjects (largely propagandist) and portraits as well as producing a body of graphic work for magazines. He never settled and stuck with one theme and it gives his art a transitory edge, as though the hubbub of the time was carrying him along with it. He was no dry and theoretical Modernist but someone who stood within sniffing distance of his subjects. As he put it: "A work of art can be any imaginable thing, and this is the beginning of modern painting."

A different type of Modernism is on show in the bucolic surroundings of the Henry Moore Foundation at Perry Green in Hertfordshire, just an hour from the Royal Academy. Dotting the grounds and filling Moore's barns alongside his own pieces are those of Auguste Rodin — the first major British showing of his sculpture in a landscape setting.

View Full Article

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.