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George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925)
The Collection of Kippy Stroud
George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925)

Rock Bound

Details
George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925)
Rock Bound
signed 'Geo Bellows.' (lower left)
oil on panel
18 x 22 in. (45.7 x 55.9 cm.)
Painted in 1913.
Provenance
The artist.
Mrs. George Bellows, Sr., Columbus, Ohio, gift from the above, 1915.
Estate of the artist, 1925.
Emma S. Bellows, wife of the artist.
Estate of the above, 1959.
[With]H.V. Allison & Co., Inc., New York.
Dr. & Mrs. J.B. Yasinow, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, acquired from the above, 1968.
Private collection, Baltimore, Maryland, by descent.
Christie’s, New York, 2 December 2004, lot 50, sold by the above.
Acquired by the late owner from the above.
Literature
Artist's Record Book A, p. 266.
E.S. Bellows, The Paintings of George Bellows, New York, 1929, n.p., no. 43, illustrated.
C.H. Morgan, George Bellows: Painter of America, New York, 1965, p. 171.
D. Braider, George Bellows and the Ashcan School of Painting, New York, 1971, p. 89.
C.A. Green, George Bellows: Works from the Permanent Collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, exhibition catalogue, Buffalo, New York, 1981, pp. 6, 11n6.
Exhibited
New York, H.V. Allison & Co., Inc., George Bellows, May 7-29, 1968, no. 5.

Lot Essay

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.


Every summer from 1911 until 1916, George Bellows searched out cooler climates for new artistic inspiration away from the heat of New York City. Maine was his favorite destination, and he would spend months there on extended vacations, visiting either coastal communities such as Camden or Ogunquit, or ferrying out to the islands of Monhegan and Matinicus. Bellows first traveled to Monhegan during the summer of 1911 at the invitation of his close friend and fellow artist, Robert Henri. Though only three miles long and one-half mile wide, the isle's raw beauty, dramatic coastline and roiling sea provided the ideal scenery for Bellows’ direct, bravura style. He explored every hill and dale and was captivated by the variety of pictorial possibilities, writing, "The Island is endless in its wonderful variety. It's possessed of enough beauty to supply a continent." (as quoted in S. Cash, "Life at Sea, 1911-1917" in C. Brock, et al., George Bellows, Washington, D.C., 2012, p. 160) Bellows was so inspired by the distinctive character of the topography and its inhabitants that he returned two summers later, painting some of the most vibrant and visceral depictions of nature of his career.

On his first trip to Monhegan, Bellows primarily painted sketches on small panels measuring 11 by 15 inches, which would often provide inspiration for large studio canvases upon his return to New York. When he returned in 1913, Bellows instead chose to work on a larger scale, which still allowed him to carry his easel around the island to work en plein air, but also permitted grander compositions that were final works in their own right. He executed about 100 panels measuring 15 by 20 inches as well as a few even larger panels at 18 by 22 inches, including the present work. Indeed, Bellows boasted in a letter to gallerist William Macbeth, "I am…getting some very complete pictures...I am delighted with some of them...These panels are twice as big as the old ones and a long way removed from quick sketches." (as quoted in F. Kelly, "Bellows and the Sea," The Paintings of George Bellows, New York, 1992, p. 152)

While the size of Bellows' compositions became dramatically larger on the 1913 trip, their scope became much smaller than his earlier panoramic views of the island; as a result, the best of the 1913 panels, including Rock Bound, present isolated views of coastline, evocative of the violent seaside but also magnified and cropped almost to the point of abstraction. Sarah Cash expounds, “he generally shifted his focus from depicting large forms of the island to painting inventively designed vignettes describing patches of shore and fishermen at work. The crash of surf on rocks, however, became his favored subject; these dynamically composed views, executed with correspondingly vigorous and loaded brushwork, attest to the continuing influence of Homer, particularly his late seascapes.” (as quoted in S. Cash, "Life at Sea, 1911-1917" in C. Brock, et al., George Bellows, pp. 161-62)

In the present painting, Bellows captures foamy, crashing waves sweeping through a rocky inlet. Rich purples, blues and black create the imposing, craggy rocks of the Maine shoreline, while wisps of cool white and sea-foam green represent the spray of the ocean currents. These strong, bright colors, perhaps inspired by the Fauvist and Expressionist works recently seen at the seminal Armory Show, are another advancement in Bellows’ 1913 panels. Bellows himself asserted the importance of color in his work from this summer, writing, "I painted a great many pictures and arrived at a pure kind of color which I never hit before. And which seems to me cleaner and purer than most of the contemporary effort in that direction." (as quoted in M. Quick, "Technique and Theory: The Evolution of George Bellows's Painting Style," George Bellows, Fort Worth, Texas, 1992, p. 43)

Yet, while the foreground of the present composition is composed of these rich hues and sharp, angular forms, the background recedes into smoother brushwork and more muted tones that shroud the scene in a foggy atmosphere. This moody contrasting element brings into play the motif of the overwhelming power of nature, which is often found in Bellows’ best work. Here, the artist has deliberately removed the sky, and really any normative vantage points, creating a sense of uneasy displacement along with emphasizing the life energy of the rumbling surf. Ironically, due to these modern compositional devices, the moment becomes primordial, seeming to date back to life's earliest formation when little but rocks and sea existed. As embodied by these large and expressive Monhegan panels, such as Rock Bound, "This series may represent Bellows's purest attempt to isolate natural forces and to suggest through the clashing of rock and sea the ebb and flow of man's eternal struggle with life's challenges." (J.M. Keny, "Brief Garland: A Life of George Bellows," Timeline, vol. 9, nos. 5-6, October-December 1992, p. 25)

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