|Forty-Two Kids, 1907.|
|Cliff Dwellers, 1913.|
|Stag at Sharkey's, 1907.|
|Little Girl in White|
|Paddy Flannigan, 1908.|
Also visually arresting are his depictions of the preliminary construction work on Penn Station. "Pennsylvania Excavation," for one, depicts an enormous pit being dug for the station's foundations with the city's buildings portrayed as if they are at a distance----it's as if the excavation is taking place outside of the city----outside of civilization itself. The site workers and equipment look puny in comparison----ant-like: Little, black brush marks against a pale gray, gaping hole! The pit almost seems to swallow them, like some sort of monstrous, primordial maw. This, and Bellows' other portrayals of construction projects, emphasize New York's transitional, ever-changing aspect. This city is no museum piece frozen in time: Instead, it's a living, breathing behemoth!
|Pennsylvania Excavation, 1909: The excavation consumes the fore and middle|
grounds, while the city itself appears at a distance.
But that wasn't the worst of the show. The worst was his propaganda paintings, which depict reputed atrocities in a way that look stilted and histrionic, to boot. (These paintings show German troops slaughtering Belgian civilians in WW I.) That the atrocities shown turned out not to have occurred, turns the paintings into outright embarrassments. As the show's accompanying text points out, Bellows obviously had no personal observations to rely on for these paintings----in contrast to his other works, which could explain why they seem so stilted.
I was also taken with the Maine seascapes, or coastal paintings. (Since many of these paintings are really closeups of rocks and waves----without a horizon line, perhaps "seascape" is a misnomer.) Some, in the show, depict waves crashing against rocks as seen from the perspective of someone standing on an elevation. The perspective is vertiginous, one false step or stumble and the scene's observer will fall headlong onto the rocks below! That sense of danger adds a human element to the already turbulent scene of waves crashing against rock.
|Churn and Break, 1913.|
All in all, I thought the show was really interesting as much for revealing Bellows' weaknesses as a painter, as for showing his strengths: The sheer physicality he brought to many of his early paintings----as evidenced in his bravura brushwork----was a plus, but his apparent inability to combine a range of colors with a strong contrast of values was a real weakness. One senses from the show, that the young painter was incredibly confident, cocky even----just like some of the street urchins he painted, but that the more mature painter may have suffered through periods of self-doubt. But then, don't we all!