George Bellows (American, 1882-1925) Two Women 59 1/4 x 65 1/2in (Painted in 1924.)
Lot 19
George Bellows
(American, 1882-1925)
Two Women 59 1/4 x 65 1/2in
Sold for US$ 1,265,000 inc. premium

American Art

19 Nov 2014, 14:00 EST

New York

Lot Details
Property from the Collection of Karl Jaeger, Karena Jaeger and Tamara Jaeger
George Bellows (American, 1882-1925)
Two Women
signed 'Geo Bellows' (lower right)
oil on canvas
59 1/4 x 65 1/2in
Painted in 1924.

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    The artist.
    Estate of the above, 1925.
    Emma S. Bellows, the artist's wife, by descent.
    Estate of the above, 1959.
    With H. V. Allison & Co., Inc., New York.
    Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1967.

    Exhibited
    New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Memorial Exhibition of the Work of George Bellows, October 12-November 22, 1925, p. 98, pl. 61, illustrated.
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, World's Fair, Paintings, Sculpture and Prints of the Department of Fine Arts: Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition, 1926, n.p., no. 32, illustrated.
    Venice, Italy, XVIIIth Biennial International Art Exhibition, 1932.
    (Possibly) Chicago, Illinois, The Art Institute of Chicago, A Century of Progress: International Loan Exposition of Fine Arts, June 1-November 1, 1933.
    Columbus, Ohio, Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Thirty-Six Paintings by George Bellows, 1940.
    New York, H.V. Allison & Co., Inc., Paintings by George Bellows, May 3-28, 1960, n.p., no. 14.
    Portland, Maine, Portland Museum of Art, on extended loan, 1987-2011.
    Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and elsewhere, The Paintings of George Bellows, February 16-May 10, 1992, pg. 88, 95 n.74, 228-29, fig. 55, illustrated.
    Rochester, New York, Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, and elsewhere, Leaving for the Country: George Bellows at Woodstock, April 13-June 22, 2003, pp. 40-42, 86-87, 104, fig. 36, pl. 37, illustrated.
    Madrid, Spain, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Mimesis. Modern Realism 1918-1945, October 11, 2005-January 8, 2006, p. 107, 118, cat. 33, illustrated.
    Portland, Maine, Portland Museum of Art, The Powerful Hand of George Bellows: Drawings from the Boston Public Library, April 10-June 1, 2008, n.p., no. 61.
    Brooklyn, New York, Brooklyn Museum, and elsewhere, Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties, October 28, 2011-January 29, 2012, pp. 16-19, 116, 278n13, fig. 1, illustrated.
    New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and elsewhere, George Bellows, November 14, 2012-February 18, 2013, pp. 18, 274-75, 281-82, 292, 326n17, 326n44, pl. 147, illustrated.


    Literature
    Artist's Record Book C, p. 21.
    E.S. Bellows, The Paintings of George Bellows, New York, 1929, n.p., no. 140, illustrated.
    G.W. Eggers, George Bellows, New York, 1931, pp. 26-27, illustrated.
    P. Boswell, Jr., George Bellows, New York, 1942, p. 22.
    C.H. Morgan, George Bellows: Painter of America, New York, 1965, pp. 278, 290.
    J.C. Oates, George Bellows: American Artist, Hopewell, New Jersey, 1995, pp. 7-8, 22-23, 46, 49-53, illustrated.

    To be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the paintings of George Bellows being prepared by Glenn C. Peck. An online version of the catalogue is available at www.hvallison.com.

    During the summer of 1924, the last productive season of George Bellows' short career, the artist completed two monumental paintings, each measuring over five feet wide. The first, Dempsey and Firpo, captures a spectacular moment in a prize fight, during which one boxer is literally knocked through the ropes and falls upon a raucous crowd. The second and the subject work, Two Women, portrays two female subjects sitting on a sofa in a modest interior setting. Although seemingly simple, the work has an unusual twist in that one subject is fully clothed while the other is shown in the nude. While both works of art are visually arresting, their respective narratives seem at first glance to have vastly different intentions. Sadly, Bellows' untimely death in January of the following year precluded any thoughtful exchange between the artist and his critics regarding this provocative picture. In the absence of any statement by the artist about the painting, one seeking to draw conclusions about Bellows' thought process must review the course of his life and career for clues about the influences that shaped the work.

    George Bellows was the son of an architect; the stern and purposeful George Sr. had started his career in Brooklyn, New York prior to being sent on assignment to Columbus, Ohio as a young man. He settled in Columbus, eventually marrying his first wife, Lucilla, and becoming father to Laura, a daughter. When Lucilla passed away in 1879, George Sr. quickly remarried, and his second wife, Anna, gave birth to George Wesley Bellows Jr. in 1882. At the time of their son's birth, George Sr. was 53, and Anna was 44; their relatively late age as parents would subsequently shape much of Bellows' approach to life and art.

    Though Bellows could not initially paint, he was a talented illustrator. He regularly submitted drawings to the local newspaper, the Columbus Dispatch, and as a student at Ohio State University, he created numerous sketches for the Makio, the college yearbook. Armed with this portfolio of drawings, Bellows signed up for classes at the New York School of Art under the direction of Robert Henri (1865-1929). Henri was both a logical and a fortuitous choice of instructor, since his background included many years in Philadelphia and a close association with four newspaper illustrators: William Glackens (1870-1938), George Luks (1867-1933), Everett Shinn (1876-1953) and John Sloan (1871-1951). As artists who had successfully transitioned from commissioned illustration to painting works of fine art, they were perfect models for young George. Bellows quickly learned how to paint, and combined this talent with a keen eye for interesting subject matter.

    During the early 1900s, New York was a constantly evolving cityscape, providing the artist with an abundance of subjects to pursue. Over the first few years of his life in the metropolis, the incessant civic construction projects - including both bridges and skyscrapers - found their way into Bellows' large canvases, creating memorable and dynamic compositions reflecting his fascination with the city. Bellows had a knack for transcribing the city's hustle and bustle, while simultaneously transforming this chaos into a pleasing panorama. Both critics and viewers applauded his work. The canvases seemed to show a fresh take on life in the everyday Gotham, which was for Bellows truly magnificent in its sheer scale.

    As a painter, Bellows received favorable press and was viewed by many as the successful embodiment of an artist; in reality, however, his commercial success was limited. When George Bellows first arrived in New York City in the fall of 1904, he was just 22 and had little means to support himself. He had come east from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio to become a professional artist, lacking any prior studio training or knowledge about painting techniques, so he was lucky to survive thanks to an allowance from his father. Even by 1910, when he married at the age of 28, he began to raise a family in a brownstone that had been purchased by George Sr. Bellows was an industrious painter, but without help from his family, he would not have been able to develop his talents so freely.

    During his first decade in New York, Bellows spent a considerable amount of his time exploring discrete themes that appealed to him. These themes often evolved into series based on their successes. For example, a painting of the polo field would lead to the production of two more paintings of the same subject, if the first had been received well by his patrons and he had enjoyed working on it. This trend of repeatedly exploring the same subject also extended to works that depicted fight scenes and those pertaining to the excavation of Pennsylvania Station, New York. The nature of his early work was a constant study of composition. He continually endeavored to refine the basic building blocks in a scene, gradually building tension between the competing elements. The fruit of this period is a body of compelling and vibrant art that was visceral and importantly self-explanatory, i.e. art of the masses that was accessible to the masses. One of the most iconic examples of Bellows success with this formula is Riverfront no. 1.

    As a recorder of everyday life in New York, Bellows was equally as interested in the bad times as he was the good. Where he had previously been drawn to scenes of joy and industriousness, the dawn of a new era, including the advancement of World War I, would significantly impact Bellows' output from that period. Noticeably, the "Great War" occupied darker realms of the artist's imagination, and demanded of him deeper reflection. In attempting to portray the shock of the war, Bellows found no relevant guidance in the work of his contemporary painters. Rather, he turned to the work of earlier masters, such as Francisco Goya (1746-1828) and El Greco (1541-1614) to feed his artistic prowess. This came as no surprise, as Bellows had previously been a devotee of other noteworthy artists, as evidenced by photographs of paintings by Frans Hals (1582/3-1666) and Edouard Manet (1832-1883) that he had taped to the walls of his first studio. Bellows first respected these painters as more of a guide on how to paint, rather than what to paint, but developing inside of him was a desire to express more than just the beauty around him. This evolution of thinking would dominate his future output in many unsuspected ways - and his paintings would soon hold a more substantially heroic import.

    On September 14, 1923, at the invitation of the New York Evening Journal, George Bellows attended the heavyweight boxing championship between Jack Dempsey and the Argentinean contender, Luis Firpo. The fight was held at the New York Polo Grounds, where over 90,000 fans had gathered to watch. Dempsey was the clear favorite, but Firpo was a large, muscular contender. The match lasted only three rounds, with Dempsey knocking Firpo down over a dozen times - clearly demonstrating his superiority. Yet, when Bellows drew the illustration he had been commissioned to execute and painted the subsequent canvas depicting the fight, he chose to interpret a moment halfway through the first round, when both fighters were near the edge of the ring. Dempsey and Firpo had been exchanging equal blows; in a flash Firpo landed a powerful left hook that knocked Dempsey off balance, sending him through the ropes of the ring. The moment happened quite suddenly, and Dempsey was back in the ring within seconds. Yet, compositionally, Bellows was riveted by this single moment and its vibrant content. In Dempsey and Firpo, the crowd, the boxers, and the referee are all captured on a wonderfully choreographed stage. The painting captures a fleeting moment, allowing Firpo to live on forever as a hero, literally and figuratively.

    Poignantly, sandwiched between Dempsey and Firpo and Two Women in Bellows' Record Book of paintings for 1924 was Lady Jean, the definitive painting of his younger daughter, then age nine. In this painting, she is costumed in an antique dress, her blue eyes staring out at the viewer. Bellows renders his daughter teetering between her still-emerging self-confidence and the unmistakably keen curiosity that she possessed about the life ahead of her. Precocious as she was, it is not surprising that Jean eventually had her own star turn as an actress on Broadway. Although Bellows had proven with Dempsey and Firpo that topics of historical importance were well within his capabilities, family portraits and personal subjects continued to be a lynchpin of his life as evidenced by this probing canvas of his little girl.

    While Bellows was putting the finishing touches on Dempsey and Firpo during the summer of 1924, and Lady Jean had also seen completion, a painting of a much different origin was percolating in his mind. This work, Two Women, had for its inspiration not a contemporary event or close family member, but a timeless Italian Renaissance masterpiece, Titian's iconic Sacred and Profane Love. At first, it seems an odd choice of inspiration, as Bellows had never seen Titian's painting firsthand; the work was and remains as part of the Borghese Family Collection in Rome, and Bellows had never traveled abroad. Yet Bellows knew the image from illustrations, and it must have stirred his urge to create history paintings. Sacred and Profane Love is a sumptuous composition that portrays two symbolic visions of the female form. Painted in approximately 1514 in Venice, Italy by Titian (c. 1485-1576) to commemorate the marriage of Nicolò Aurelio and Laura Bagarotto, the work of art pays homage to corporeal beauty as well as the intellectual investment that came with the betrothal. Titian lived in an age where symbolism in literature and art was effectively multi-layered, and scholars have ascribed many meanings to the presence of the nude. Some have theorized that she may be a goddess such as Venus, idolized and eternal in her loveliness; others feel that she may represent the fleeting moment of youth that is only present at the beginning of marriage. Similarly, the fully-clothed subject may represent a woman on the verge of her marriage. Alternatively, she may symbolize the historic ideal of chastity, a female removed completely from the sexual aspect of love. The world of Titian reveled in this type of ambiguity, and the true intended meaning of the work remains elusive. The key to understanding this work as great art, as Bellows did, is not answering the questions presented by such an allegorical composition, but rather recognizing the questions themselves.

    There is little doubt that when Bellows composed his Two Women, it was a direct reflection on Titian's painting. Indeed, he initially titled the work as Sacred and Profane Love in his Record Book. His focus, however, was exclusively on the two women and their relationship, as opposed to the myriad other details evident in the Renaissance oil that had inspired it. Bellows sets the stage in Two Women by placing the figures in an almost fully balanced composition. Each sits on an end of the tufted sofa of purple and green, which is further bookmarked by an end table containing still-life elements. The green drape in the upper left corner of the painting is complimented by the arched doorframe at center, and then again almost organically continued with the mirrored reflection of a window facing the sitters. This equilibrium of form is then expanded to color - with the presence of two dogs in the foreground, one black and one white. These opposites continue to repeat in other ways, including the obviously un-shaded window reflected at right and the opposing shaded window at center back, yet probably most significantly in the dressed and undressed figures at center. Bellows' choice of details in the women's attire, or lack thereof, helps the viewer to deduce his meaning in a fascinating way. His nude is draped across the midriff, similar to the figure in Titian's work, and holds in her left hand a necklace of stones. It is possible that the necklace is a gift to the woman who is fully clothed save for one ungloved hand, yet it might also be interpreted as more than a simply decorative item and instead specifically a rosary, symbolizing chastity and prayer. This theory would, of course, imbue the gift with a radically different meaning. Further examination of the clothed woman elicits more questions than answers. She wears her hat and coat, and holds her bag in her left hand. Has she just arrived, or is she about to depart? In all likelihood, Bellows wanted each viewer to draw his or her own conclusions to these questions, just as Titian had left his patrons to explore the intricacies of Sacred and Profane Love without an explanatory narrative. The answers would have been inconsequential to the artist, as long as the journey of the viewer's personal exploration was extensive.

    At the time that Two Women was completed, Bellows could not have known that he would not live out another year. Where would his thoughts have taken him next? Perhaps he would have tackled more historical and religious themes. He was, after all, the only one of his peers to paint a scene of the Crucifixion in 1923. It is also possible that he would have traveled abroad and further enhanced the rich diversity of the world in the second quarter of the twentieth century. Either would have proved an interesting development in the artist's oeuvre. Almost regardless of these theories, it is certain that Bellows' love of art and life would have ushered him into the future while also allowing him to echo art history's past with deeper exploration. By this phase of his career, he had developed a greater appreciation of what could inspire an artistic composition, and what imaginative and analytical processes a work of art could in turn arouse. Firpo could now and forever be victorious in his moment; the ladies in Two Women could charm - their essence either remote or accessible, depending upon the viewer's own personal interpretation, and Bellows would leave a legacy spanning a few short decades of diverse, thought-provoking output. George Bellows found love in his world - a love that can be detected throughout all of his works, regardless of subject.

    Glenn Peck, 2014
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