Every summer from 1911 until 1916, George Bellows searched out cooler climates to escape the heat of New York. Maine was his favorite destination, and he would spend up to three months there on extended vacations, visiting either coastal communities such as Camden or Ogunquit, or ferrying out to the islands of Moneghan and Matinicus. While these excursions could be considered times of leisure, the artist spent hours every day painting. Moneghan was an idyllic island. It has the massive cliffs of Blackhead and Whitehead towering above the sea on its eastern edge, a charming fishing harbor on its western side and several hills in the center that allow for sweeping vistas of the ocean and mainland ten miles distant. Bellows explored every hill and dale of this place and took great interest in the surf below the cliffs on the east end. The rugged ocean on the eastern side could look inviting, but the local fisherman knew its risks and cautioned everyone to choose their footings on those outcrops carefully.
Out of the Calm portrays the expansive sea below the cliffs. As the title would suggest, the tide is going out, and the water looks at first glance to be relatively benign. On closer inspection though, one can see that the artist has deliberately removed the sky and foreground vantage points and even suggests a sense of unease, coupled with the life energy of the rumbling surf which he did his best to convey. The moment is primordial, dating back to life's earliest formation when little but rocks and sea existed.
Bellows was essentially modern in his approach to his seascapes. The painting is devoid of classical components such as a solid foreground of land or rocks, the framing of a composition with a tree, or the formal recession of space characteristic of the Hudson River School. In these works, he is aligned more closely with Winslow Homer, whose elemental and powerful seascapes suggest many levels of interpretation, as do the later works by Bellows. Indeed, Bellows' seascapes were seen in his day as a natural outgrowth of the elder master, and as one critic noted: "Mr. Bellows has been spending some time on the rocky Maine coast and no doubt the same things that operated on Winslow Homer's mind have operated on his." (Unidentified clipping, January 1914, George Bellows Papers, box 4, folder 13, Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library, Massachusetts)
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.
Special thanks to Mr. Glenn C. Peck for his assistance with the cataloguing of this lot.