Sunday, January 6, 2013

George Bellows and Montauk

We went to the fabulous George Bellows show at the Met last week. The exhibition is a major retrospective of Bellows work and a great opportunity to view seldom seen work held in collections all over the world. I am familiar with his boxing paintings. His 1909 "Stag at Sharkey's being one of his iconic works of that genre.
Stag at Sharkeys, 1909
36 1/4" x 48 1/4"
Cleveland Museum of Art
I was unfamiliar with his coastal paintings. A piece entitled simply "Shore House" caught my eye. Was it? Yes it was - Montauk! Bellows painted it from a sketch that he did on his honeymoon there.
Shore House, 1911
40" x 42"
Private Collection (shown in Washington & New York only)
Notes in the the catalogue about Shore House mention that according to Henry Osmers, historian at the Montauk Point Lighthouse, no dwellings existed near Montauk's bluffs in 1910, and the area had no electricity or telephone service until 1926 (footnote 8, page 322). Bellows painted an imaginary house and telephone pole on the Montauk bluffs? Possibly. He certainly did honeymoon there.  In "George Bellows, Painter of America" by Charles H. Morgan there is a charming account of Bellows and Emma Story's wedding day in September of 1910. 

"By subway, then by trolley, they journeyed for an hour and a half to St. George's Church in Williamsbridge (Bronx) where Arthur Ketchum, a one-time actor, performed the brief service that made George Bellows and Emma Story man and wife. Once on the trolley again the small party decided that the pace was too slow, and at the subway station the best man and maid of honor dipped into their cash reserves, miraculously found a taxi among the hansom cabs; and principals and entourage drove in crowded splendor to the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park where George had ordered ice cream, cake, and coffee....  George had picked his train well. They had finally rejected the idea of breaking the journey at Sag Harbor and went straight through to Montauk Point while it was still daylight. He had arranged, with rare forethought, to be met at the station. Emma never forgot the drive into the darkness surrounded by sand dunes and autumnal red grasses. They arrived at their boarding house "under a sky spilling over with stars."
Emma at the Piano, 1914
28 3/4" x 37"
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk
What was the Sag Harbor connection? George Bellows mother, Anna Smith Bellows, was originally from Sag Harbor and the daughter of a whaling captain. Bellows must certainly have kept in touch with his Sag Harbor family. This watercolor from the the Guild Hall East Hampton collection depicts a scene there.
Road with Barn, Sag Harbor, 1899
9 7/8" x 15"
Guild Hall Collection

George Bellows' Catalogue Raisonne' listed by H.V. Allison also has a photo of a piece called "Montauk Light and Point" September 1910. Another painting listed surely looks like Montauk. It  is titled "Spring Sunshine/verso" 1910.  Neither of these pieces are in the Met show. Perhaps George was in Montauk scouting out honeymoon locations that spring.
Spring Sunshine/verso 1910
14 1/4" x 15 1/4"
Williams College
The Bellows took up residence at 149 East 19th street near Gramercy Park. This beautiful painting of the park (also from a private collection) was in the Met Museum show.
Gramercy Park
34 x 44 1/4"
Private Collection
The Bellows Exhibition is currently on at the Met until February 18th. If you can, go see it when the Met opens at 10:00, after viewing the exhibition, take the Lexington Avenue subway from 82nd street south to 23rd street and have a walk past the National Arts Club. Across the street from the club, look through the gates at New York's only private (Gramercy) park.
Gramercy Park

Then take a walk over to 149 E. 19th street. There is a plaque out front with George Bellows name on it. Pete's Tavern is close by at 18th and Irving Place for refreshments!

Pete's Tavern, established 1864
Some nice reviews of the Bellows exhibition here:
Wall Street JournalSag Harbor ExpressNew York TimesFinancial Times

George Bellows, 1882-1925
photograph c.1920 by Nickolas Muray
photo from here

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