Friday arts: The boxing art of George Bellows

Just as I’ve been enjoying digging into literature and art on boxing comes plenty of rave reviews about an exhibition of the work of American realist painter George Bellows. This summer the tour began at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and currently is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Bellows, an “Ashcan School” peer of Edward Hopper and who died in 1925, painted a vast array of topics. But he’s considered one of the best American sports artists there’s ever been, and his boxing work even inspired the likes of noted boxing observer Joyce Carol Oates to pen a tribute.

More recently, his work is examined by sports historian Allen Guttmann in his wonderful 2011 book, “Sports and American Art,” which I wrote about recently.

The current Met exhibition, which continues through Feb. 18 before moving on to London’s Royal Academy of Arts, features the centerpieces of Bellows’ boxing art: “Club Night” (1907), “Stag at Sharkey’s” (1909), “Both Members of This Club” (1909), and “Dempsey and Firpo” (1924).

All four are examined in the National Gallery-produced video below featuring former world light welterweight and super welterweight champion Sharmbá Mitchell.

In The New York Review of Books, Sanford Schwartz writes that Bellows’ pugilistic renderings “epitomize an era when a degree of brute, barely regulated force colored many aspects of American life.”

Eric Gibson, in The Wall Street Journal, goes further:

“The deeper subject in many of these paintings is conflict. Sometimes not so deep, as in the the boxing pictures he painted between 1907 and 1909. Elsewhere, in paintings of the excavation of foundations for Penn Station, or of a pile driver amid a sparkling Hudson River landscape, Bellows depicts the Herculean efforts involved in building the modern city. Sometimes, as in his later seascapes, his subject is man pitting himself against the forces of nature.”

More reviews from The New York Times, Reuters, The Economist, and, as the exhibit opened in Washington in June, Peter Schjeldahl of The New Yorker.

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