George Bellows exhibit @ Royal Academy of Arts, London, 28 March 2013
I was knocked out by George Bellows’s “Stag at Sharkey’s” when I came across that painting on the web a few months ago (ref to my original blog post => HERE), so I it was rather exciting to be given the chance to see it “in the flesh” @ the Royal Academy. And I wasn’t disappointed: all of his boxing fights paintings and lithographs on display are mesmerising — I love Bellows’s gritty realism… I’m less keen when he tries to rub brush strokes with the New York upper class (a couple of of rooms in the exhibition made me cringe).
Self Hating Hipster:
Bellows rubbed elbows with artists like John Sloan, Everett Shinn, George Luks and Reginald Marsh; this group of artists were referred to collectively as the Ashcan Painters because of the crude, unbridled depiction of urbanity in both its glory and filth. Instead of a lush, pastoral landscape or an impressionistic portrait of a woman with a parasol, these artists were painting hold-ups, kids bathing in the Hudson, burlesque shows, train tracks, dive bars, circuses, Coney Island…and boxing matches.
George Bellows on boxing:
I am not interested in the morality of prize fighting but let me say that the atmosphere around the fighters is a lot more immoral than the fighters themselves.
I don’t know anything about boxing. I am just painting two men trying to kill each other.
Interesting bits about a few of the boxing paintings:
Dempsey and Firpo (1924):
via Self Hating Hipster:
The painting is a snapshot of a title fight between Jack Dempsey and Luis Firpo. Luis Firpo, a promising world-class heavyweight, challenged the then champion, Jack Dempsey and the bout was booked for September 14th, 1923 at the Polo Grounds in NY. As the story goes, Firpo dropped Dempsey in the beginning of first round; Dempsey got back to his feet and knocked Firpo down seven times (predating the 3KO limit per round and the rule prohibiting you from downing a half-downed opponent…Jesus).
At the very end of the first round, Firpo backed Dempsey up against the ropes and rocked Dempsey’s chin sending him through the ropes and out onto the press table. Hell of a first round!
[Bellows based his oil on a lithograph titled “Dempsey Through the Ropes” from the year prior which now goes for north of $100,000 at auction. This image has been facsimiled by the likes of the U.S. Armed Forces and The Simpsons.]
The White Hope (1921):
This litho recalls an event of 11 years earlier: the heavyweight title fight held in Reno, Nevada, on 4 jul 1910, in which the legendary African champion Jack Johnson decisevely defeated the former champion Jim Jeffries.
Before the fight, promoters exploited racist attitudes by touting Jeffries as “the great white hope”.
Preliminaries (to the big out) (1916):
Boxing had been made legal by 1916 but this Madison Square Garden fight is the first ever attended by women.