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George Bellows (1882-1925)
Property from the Estate of Eleanor Searle Whitney McCollum
George Bellows (1882-1925)

Gramercy Park

Details
George Bellows (1882-1925)
Gramercy Park
signed 'Geo. Bellows' (lower right)
oil on canvas
34 x 44 in. (86.4 x 111.8 cm.)
Provenance
Estate of the artist, 1925.
Mrs. Emma Bellows, his wife, New York.
Decorators Picture Gallery, New York.
Mr. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, New York, 1938.
By descent in the family to the present owner.
Literature
E.S. Bellows, The Paintings of George Bellows, New York, 1929, no. 96, illustrated
G.W. Eggers, George Bellows, New York, 1931, no. 40, illustrated
P. Boswell, Jr., George Bellows, New York, 1942, p. 46, illustrated C.M. Morgan, George Bellows: Painter of America, New York, 1965, pp. 236-237, p. 354, illustrated
M. Quick, "Technique and Theory: The Evolution of George Bellows's Painting Style" in The Paintings of George Bellows, New York, 1992, pp. 74, 77, p. 75, illustrated
Exhibited
New York, Montross Gallery, 1920
New York, Feragil Gallery, Paintings by the late Thomas Eakins and the Recent Works of George Bellows, March, 1921
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Institute, Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Lithographs by George W. Bellows, February 26-March 31, 1923, no. 17
Chicago, Illinois, The Art Institute of Chicago, Special Exhibition of Paintings by George Bellows, Leon Kroll, Eugene F. Savage, Walter Ufer, Paul Bartlett, Edgar S. Cameron, H. Amiard Oberteuffer and George Obertwuffer, December 23, 1924-January 25, 1925, no. 18
Worcester, Massachusetts, Worcester Art Museum, Exhibition of Paintings by George Bellows, February 22-March 8, 1925, no. 7
Boston, Massachusetts, Boston Art Club, Exhibition of Paintings by George Bellows, Charles Hopkinson, Eugene Speicher, March 11-28, 1925, no. 12
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Memorial Exhibition of the Work of George Bellows, October 12-November 22, 1925, no. 38, p. 78, illustrated, (as Spring, Gramercy Park)
Rochester, New York, The Memorial Art Gallery, Memorial Exhibition of Paintings by George Wesley Bellows, December, 1925, no. 14 (as Spring, Gramercy Park)
Buffalo, New York, Albright Art Gallery, The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Memorial Exhibition of the Works of George Bellows, January 10-February 10, 1926, no 15 (as Spring, Gramercy Park)
San Diego, California, The Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, Memorial Exhibition of the Work of George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925), November 10-December 15, 1926, no. 10 (as Spring, Gramercy Park)
Columbus, Ohio, Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Important Paintings by George Wesley Bellows, January-February 1931, no. 267
Venice, Italy, Biennale, XVIII Esposizione Biennale Internationale d'Arte, May-November, 1932
Chicago, Illinois, The Art Institute of Chicago, George Bellows: Paintings, Drawings and Prints, January 31-March 10, 1946, no. 42, p. 60, illustrated
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, George Bellows: A Retrospective Exhibition, January 19-February 24, 1957, no. 43
Columbus, Ohio, Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Paintings by George Bellows, March 21-April 21, 1957, no. 46
New York, The Gallery of Modern Art Including The Huntington Hartford Collection, Twenties Revisited, June 29-September 5, 1965
New York, The Gallery of Modern Art Including The Huntington Hartford Collection, George Bellows: Paintings, Drawings, Lithographs, March 15-May 1, 1966, no. 56
New York, Berry-Hill Galleries, George Bellows (1882-1925), December 2, 1993-January 15, 1994
Houston, Texas, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, American Painters and the Age of Impressionism, 1994
Houston, Texas, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1995

Lot Essay

Gramercy Park from 1920 is part of an important body of work executed after World War I that has been regarded as poignant images of Bellows's self-confidence and exuberance as a mature artist. In the spirit of his Ashcan roots, Bellows throughout his career investigated many areas throughout New York where people lived and congregated, including various parks such as Riverside Park, Central Park and Gramercy Park. Gramercy Park, executed with bold and confident brushwork and a lush palette, illustrates the artist's predilection for observing the comings and goings of people in a quiet, natural oasis within a bustling city.

After receiving money from his father, Bellows in 1910 moved into a house at 146 East 19th Street where he also renovated a space for his painting studio. Later that same year he married Emma Story and they had two daughters, Anne, born in 1911 and Jean born four years later in 1915. The family lived in close proximity to Gramercy Park, a private park that was restricted to tenants occupying the surrounding buildings. The original property, which was a swamp the Dutch called 'Krom Moerasje,' or 'little crooked swamp,' was purchased by Samuel B. Ruggles in 1831. Ruggles drained the land and over time transformed the area into a bucolic setting in which trees such as elm and willow were planted along with rose and lilac bushes. Ruggles planned forty-two residential lots surrounding the park, but potential buyers felt the location was too remote and only two lots had been sold by 1845. Over the years, Gramercy Park and the surrounding area became home to a host of well-known political figures and financiers as well as writers and artists. In 1906 the historic Samuel Tilden Mansion located at 15 Gramercy Park South, designed by the famed architect Calvert Vaux (who worked with Frederick Law Olmstead on Central Park), became the new home for The National Arts Club. Boasting members such as William Merritt Chase, Frederic Remington and Augustus Saint- Gaudens, The National Arts Club attracted many artists to the neighborhood including Bellows and his mentor and close friend, Robert Henri. Henri moved to 10 Gramercy Park South in 1909, a year before Bellows moved to East 19th Street. By the 1920s, Bellows's immediate neighborhood, East 19th Street, between Irving Place and Third Avenue, had transformed into an informal art colony for writers and artists.

Gramercy Park was for the Bellows family a sanctuary in which to escape daily urban activities. Charles H. Morgan recounts, "Just around the corner from 146 East Nineteenth Street, Gramercy Park spread its broad block of fenced-in trees and shrubs, an attractive place for the Bellows daughters to skip rope and play with the neighborhood children. From time to time their father would walk them there for an airing, usually to find an agreeable crony with whom he could argue while keeping an inconsistent watch on the antics of the little girls. (George Bellows, Painter of America, New York, 1965, pp. 236-237). Gramercy Park depicts the park, on a sunny afternoon, quietly inhabited by groups of people seated on benches and strolling down the paths along with children playing among the trees. The painting also includes several dogs which were never allowed in the park. The central figure in white is Bellows's older daughter Anne and situated just behind her in a purple frock is Jean. Bellows, in the present work depicts the corner of the park bordering Gramercy Park South and Gramercy Park West. The columns that make up the imposing Tuscan facade of the theater club known as The Players located next to the National Arts Club at 16 Gramercy Park West are just visible along the left edge of the composition. Facing the viewer in the background beyond the iron fence are the row of brownstones that line Gramercy Park West. Numbers 3 and 4 Gramery Park West are notable for having ironwork attributed to Alexander Jackson Davis, one of the country's preeminent architects of the 19th century.

Gramercy Park was executed in May, 1920. The month prior, Bellows had made his first trip to Woodstock, New York to visit his friend Eugene Speicher. Bellows was immediately enthralled with the surrounding landscape and would summer in Woodstock with his family until his death in 1925. His time spent in Woodstock would have a profound impact on his art for the rest of his career. Bellows returned to New York the following month and produced Gramercy Park. Charles H. Morgan notes, "The setting [Gramercy Park] reminded him [Bellows] of his pleasant visit in Woodstock with the Speichers." (George Bellows, Painter of America, p. 237) Invigorated by the visual splendor of Woodstock's natural environment, Bellows approached familiar subjects with a renewed sense of vision and awareness of his surroundings. In Gramercy Park, Bellows keeps at bay the encroaching city buildings with a 'New York' landscape of verdant and looming trees, lush swatches of grass and copiously planted flowers beds bathed in warm afternoon light. Nestled among the trees and flowers, Bellows intersperses small vignettes of humanity performing leisurely activities such as reading a newspaper, making conversation, or blissfully enjoying childhood games. The freshness of Gramercy Park is further underscored by Bellows energized palette. Bellows at this time exhibited a renewed interest in color, its value and intensity. Utilizing rich emerald greens, mustard yellows and velvety mauves, Bellows orchestrates his color to create a series of intense visual pitches throughout the work. Bellows, however, dramatically punctuates the work with the central figure, Anne, dressed in a luminous white dress.

Bellows was a master draftsman and frequently completed preparatory drawings for important works in oil. In 1918 he became interested in Jay Hambridge's theory of dynamic symmetry which was in essence a revival of ancient principles of design that touted sound composition could be reduced to a basic geometric law. Bellows frequently applied this theory to paintings of this period and in his preparatory drawings employed geometrically arranged compositional lines. Bellows did execute a preparatory drawing for Gramercy Park, yet he chose not to employ the ancient design theory to his composition. The preliminary drawing for Gramercy Park remains a spontaneous and fresh rendering. Composed of deftly executed lines of varying intensities and textures, the preparatory drawing is the genesis from which Bellows created his master work Gramercy Park. In the final oil, Bellows painted directly onto the canvas which allowed the artist a certain flexibility. He made some compositional modifications from the drawing in order to shift greater importance to the central figure, Anne. This change is most prominently seen in the artist's decision to rework the figure who was originally walking her dogs in the drawing, so that she is seated on a nearby bench behind her in the final oil. As a result, working from the drawing without the hindrance of compositional theories or laws enabled Bellows to enrich and freely improve upon his painting. This liberation allowed the artist to evoke in Gramercy Park an innate and powerful response to area that was very much a part of the artist and his family.

Gramercy Park since its execution has been regarded as one of the artist's most important works. Gramercy Park was included in the prestigious memorial exhibition of Bellows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1925. Perhaps more importantly, the work was once owned by Mr. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney. The extended Whitney Family were prominent patrons of the artist and were owners of some of his most important paintings. Cornelius's mother and Bellows's foremost supporter, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, owned Floating Ice (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) and Nude with Pears (Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut). John Hay Whitney, Cornelius's cousin, owned Polo Crowd (Private Collection), Club Night (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC) and Introducing John L. Sullivan (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC).

Bellows at his death in 1925 was celebrated as an artist who truly transformed American art. Frank Crowninshield, in the catalogue for the memorial exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of art declared, "We believe that the work of this painter-when the full panorama of it has been unrolled and estimated-will take its place beside the poetry of Whitman and the marines of Homer, and that the three will then be seen to constitute the most inspiriting, the most native and the most deeply flavored performances in American art." (Memorial Exhibition of the Work of George Bellows, New York, 1925, p. 21) Gramercy Park along with other masterworks such as Tennis at Newport (1920, Private Collection), and Anne in White (1920, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) remains as a visual testament to Bellows's heralded abilities as a mature and ingenious American artist.

This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonne of the artist's work being compiled by Glenn C. Peck in cooperation with the artist's daughter and grandchildren. We are grateful to Mr. Peck for his assistance with this catalogue entry.
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