Loading Spinner

George Wesley Bellows (1882 - 1925)

Lot 13: GEORGE BELLOWS 1882-1925 THE KNOCK OUT Measurements: 21.75in. by 28in. Alternate Measurements: (55.2 by 71.1 cm) signed Bellows, u.r.; also inscribed Geo Bellows/1947 Broadway/N.Y./"A Knock Out" on the reverse pastel and ink on paper Executed in

Sotheby's

December 1, 2004
New York, NY, US

More About this Item


Description

GEORGE BELLOWS 1882-1925 THE KNOCK OUT Measurements: 21.75in. by 28in. Alternate Measurements: (55.2 by 71.1 cm) signed Bellows, u.r.; also inscribed Geo Bellows/1947 Broadway/N.Y./"A Knock Out" on the reverse pastel and ink on paper Executed in 1907. Provenance: Mrs. Charles W. Clark, San Mateo, California, 1916 (acquired from the aritst) Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania The Philip H and A.S.W. Rosenbach Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1952 Davis & Long Company, New York Acquired from the above, 1976 Exhibited: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Fellowship of The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Eighth Annual Exhibition, October-November 1907 New York, 42nd Street Gallery, Exhibition of 16, 1907 New York, American Fine Arts Galleries, 41st Annual Exhibition of the American Water Color Society, April-May 1908, no. 350, p. 34 (as A Knock-out) New York, New York Water Color Club, 1908 Chicago, Illinois, Chicago Water Color Club, 1909 New York, Exhibition of Independent Artists, April 1910, no. 185 (as A Knockout) Columbus, Ohio, Gallery of Fine Arts and Art Association of Columbus, Ohio, Exhibition of Paintings by American Artists, January 1911, no. 70 (as A Knock-out) New York, Powell Gallery, 1912 City Club, 1912 San Francisco, California, Panama Pacific Exhibition, 1916 Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, George Bellows: A Retrospective Exhibition, January-February 1957, no. 73, pp. 24, 110, illustrated Wilmington, Delaware, Delaware Art Center, The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Exhibition of Independent Artists in 1910, November-December 1960 New Orleans, Louisiana, Isaac Delgado Museum, New Orleans Museum of Art, World of Art in 1910, November-December 1960 Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Bellows: The Boxing Pictures, September 1982-January 1983, no. 7, pp. 47, 51, 52, 53, 83, illustrated in color pl. 6, also illustrated fig. 52 Fort Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum, American Paintings, Watercolors, and Drawings from the Collection of Rita and Daniel Fraad, May-July 1985 New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Painters in Pastel: A Survey of American Works, April-June 1987, no. 61, p. 65, illustrated Literature and References: The artist's record book A, p. 38 Charles H. Morgan, George Bellows: Painter of America, New York, 1965, pp. 76, 77, 128, 129 Donald Braider, George Bellows and the Ashcan School of Painting, New York, 1971, pp. 42, 68-69 Arts Magazine, December 1982 Marianne Doezema, George Bellows and Urban America, New Haven, Connecticut, 1992, pp. 18, 82-83, 86, 88, 154, 214n74, 214n76, illustrated p. 84, fig. 38, also illustrated in color pl. 7 Metropolitan Lives: The Ashcan Artists and Their New York, Washington, D.C., National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 1995, pp. 81-82, 182, 188, illustrated in color p. 185, fig. 202 George Bellows (1882-1925): Lithographs from the Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Harold Rifkin, New York, Adelson Galleries, 1999, p. 18 Note: Marianne Doezema writes, "George Bellows came to New York from Columbus, Ohio, in 1904, with the intention of becoming an illustrator. Having spent years copying magazine illustrations by Charles Dana Gibson and Howard Chandler Christy, he was already a facile draftsman. He enrolled in classes at the New York School of Art and sketched in Central Park, the subject of a number of paintings by one of his teachers, William Merritt Chase. But in a few short months, Bellows' methods and his notions about art began to change. He quickly fell under the influence of Robert Henri, one of the most dynamic and persuasive personalities at the school. "Henri made it quite clear that life was more 'real' in the tenement district than it was in Central Park. He sent his students to the Lower East Side, to the asylum, to the Bowery, and to the prizefight arena ' in places like these they would find subjects unencumbered by the social conventions of bourgeois society. He encouraged his students to ignore artistic conventions and formulas, to paint from fresh visual apprehension, and, most importantly, to paint the real life they saw around them every day. "Bellows took his mentor's instruction to heart During the first decade of his career, he produced a stunning series of urban pictures related to his explorations of and his efforts to comprehend his adopted city. Though he also painted portraits and landscapes throughout his career, it was these vigorously brushed early paintings'of life in the tenement districts of New York City, prizefights, and excavations for the new Pennsylvania Station'that established Bellows' reputation and professional identity. "For these urban paintings Bellows tended to select prominent, often newsworthy subjects that were discussed and pictured in the media. As a result, his images evoked particular associations in the minds of his contemporaries. For example, Bellows' depictions of the Lower East Side made use of pictorial conventions widely familiar from reform- minded expose photography that was widely reproduced in the media. But images of poverty were far from commonplace in exhibitions at the National Academy of Design. Some saw these paintings, which brought the daily activities of New York City's largely foreign-born working classes into the rarefied realm of fine art, as oppositional gestures. To their critics, these subjects implied a deliberate rejection of academic idealism and the tradition of cultural authority associated with it. "At the turn of the century, prizefighting shared in the burgeoning popularity of urban spectator sports but not in their recently gained respectability. The prize ring and its attendant rituals'the laying of bets, the display of excitement, and the fighters' stripping down to their trunks as if peeling off the accoutrements of civilized life'symbolized a realm beyond the rigid rules of middle-class social decorum. Elliott Gorn in his history of bare-knuckle prizefighting in America has demonstrated that the adulation of antibourgeois values was part of the conflicted sentiments surrounding the sport already by the mid-nineteenth century A loosening of conventional morality was sanctioned in the magic ring "Thus, for much of the nineteenth century, prizefighting connoted the breakdown of traditional social convention. But after 1880 the rise of immigration, particularly into urban centers like Boston and New York, fostered a change in perspective. The middle class now saw blood sports, gambling, and drinking as existing at the center of a matrix of vices that hampered the assimilation of the underclasses and non- Anglo-Saxon ethnic groups into the social order. The saloon, and prizefighting in particular, came to represent an immigrant, working- class lifestyle alien to the predominant ethic based on self- discipline, productivity and moral earnestness. "Even so, Teddy Roosevelt was among the privileged supporters of pugilism. He loved the sport and he boasted of his friendships with some of the champions But his lofty vision of pugilism was set in the context of amateur sportsmanship and the spacious respectability of arenas like the Broadway Athletic Club, where Roosevelt had frequently attended bouts. And there was considerable discussion in the press of the pros and cons of the issue. Although prizefighting continued to be in large part associated with the working classes, sporting news appeared in a growing number of newspapers. The New York Times and the New York Tribune joined the ranks of workingmen's dailies that covered fights. The press catered not just to sport fans but also to the taste for the sensational. An enormous amount of boxing coverage was laced with lurid details, which was in turn consumed by an eager audience. After public contests were outlawed in New York State in 1900, fights took place in 'private' clubs, in secret, on floating barges, and in the backrooms of saloons. It was not difficult to buy memberships to these clubs. One of them, Sharkey's Athletic Club, was across the street from Bellows' studio on Broadway. His boxing paintings are based on recollections of what he saw there. "Sharkey's was always on the list of spots included in guidebooks published for uptowners and tourists who enjoyed 'slumming.' Throughout the nineteenth century the boxing audience crossed class lines. Its supposed basis in animalistic impulses and its appeal to baser instincts aligned it with cock fighting, rat bating contests, and other entertainments of that sort. All these attractions drew a certain upper-class audience ' men who desired an escape from their routinized, civilized, bourgeois existences, to make contact with something that felt authentic, to get a revivifying taste of 'real life.' "Throughout the first decade of the century, boxing resisted the pressure toward organization and modernization associated with spectator sports such as baseball. It was continuing to thrive in the sporting underworld, still not far removed from dogfights and rat-baiting contests, when feature writer and dialect comedian Joe Welch wrote a column for the 3 April 1910 issue of the New York American about his recent one-night adventure at Sharkey's Athletic Club: 'I was never in a place like that before in my life.' Assuming the pose of a na‹ve, he feigned wonderment at being 'identificationed' to gain entry, at the appearance of the participants only in 'little under-drawers,' and, after the bout commenced, at seeing 'red water' running from a fighter's nose and mouth 'all over his body.' The piece appealed not only because of the humor but also because of the sensationalism of the subject. "Bellows produced The Knock Out during July 1907, in his studio, as an immediate response to a specific event ' perhaps his initial exposure to Sharkey's backroom. The claustrophobic space, the surging mass of eager spectators, the eerie light, and the lean vulnerable body of a wounded fighter were all fresh memories. The intensity of those memories, the jarring mixture of repulsion and attraction, are, however, somewhat submerged beneath the rich surface of an artfully composed, superbly finished drawing. The theatrical poses and exaggerated facial expressions strongly suggest familiarity with the general conventions of illustration but also, possibly, with recently published drawings by William Glackens. "The seasoned illustrator was hired to produce drawings for a mawkish tale, 'A Sucker,' published in the May 1905 issue of Cosmopolitan. The publishers, well aware that illustrations helped sales, wanted authentic-looking and dramatic drawings. As Glackens was a well-known artist and an associate of Henri, it is likely that Bellows knew his Cosmopolitan illustrations. It may not have been coincidence, then, that Bellows chose in his own drawing to make the fallen fighter's trunks white and the victor's dark. He may have noticed that in Glackens' A Right-Hand Hook (figure 2), the use of white trunks helped to unify visually the prone figure with the floor of the ring while greater value contrast focused attention on the still-standing hero. "The pastel medium of The Knock Out also served to subdue the brutality of the subject. The inherent 'softness' of the drawn and smeared pastel line, even in Bellows' hand smoothed somewhat the biting edges of tough, angular shapes. The drawing is thus not only painterly but also quite elegant, especially in passages that describe the referee's striped trousers and rumpled shirt. Furthermore, the composition is essentially adapted from the traditional, shallow stage-set format. There are three basic spatial areas: the one established by the foreground figures, the one occupied by the boxers themselves as well as the conspicuous cluster of fans who intrude into the stage space, and the space for the crowd beyond the ring. But only the white floor of the fighting area marks out any real, substantial depth. The row of spectators along the lower edge of the picture exists as little more than a line of silhouettes. (One of these figures recalls another convention by mimicking the role of translator or intercessor, beckoning and gesturing toward the viewer.) The audience, packed between the ropes and the back wall of the room and treated as stacked rows of heads, functions as a stage drop. The conceit of removing a section of the ropes, which would otherwise have crossed the composition in front of the fighters, reinforces the stage like setting. "Thus, selective borrowing from various sources and compositional conventions influenced the development of Bellows' first boxing picture. His subsequent treatment of the subject was undertaken only one month later. Club Night (figure 1), which was originally called A Stag at Sharkey's, was executed in oil and in the deep, dark pigments familiar from such works as Frankie, the Organ Boy and Pennsylvania Excavation. The room is airless and claustrophobic as it was in the pastel, but Bellows has evoked those conditions with different means in the darker oil. The rear wall, distinctly marked in The Knock Out by two paned windows, is now invisible in the murky blackness of Sharkey's backroom. What light there is dramatically cuts through that darkness to highlight garishly the boxers' muscled bodies and seems to hover, especially at the left midsection of the picture, as if caught in the blue-green thickness of smoke-filled air. "Bellows has also adjusted the vantage point from which the action is seen. In Club Night the viewer is positioned among the spectators rather than slightly above them, as in The Knock Out. It is as if the artist, and thus the viewer, has moved down from the highest row at the back of the room, into the madding crowd. The boxers are centered in the composition, placed above the viewer's head, and so close to the foreground plane that the ropes offer little in the way of separation. Club Night implicitly assigns the viewer a position virtually at the edge of the ring. From there the towering images of the brutish fighters must be confronted at the level of their kneecaps. "The world of Sharkey's backroom was, in a sense, Bellows' Wild West, a place where he was emotionally and spiritually challenged. The Knock Out and Club Night are important early documents of the artist's rapid development as one of the most talented painters of the period." Marianne Doezema is the Florence Finch Abbott Director of the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, Massachusetts.

Request more information

For Sale from Sotheby's