George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925)
George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925)
George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925)
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George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925)
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Modern Icons: Property from an Important Private Collection

Evening Blue (Tending the Lobster Traps, Early Morning)

Evening Blue (Tending the Lobster Traps, Early Morning)
bears inscription 'Geo. Bellows/E.S.B.' (lower left)
oil on panel
18 x 22 in. (45.7 x 55.9 cm.)
Painted in 1916.
The artist.
Estate of the above, 1925.
Emma S. Bellows, wife of the artist.
H.V. Allison & Co., Inc., New York.
William W. Hoffman, New York, 1957.
James Graham & Sons, New York.
Private collection, Midwest, acquired from the above, 1987.
Christie's, 22 May 2018, lot 10, sold by the above.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
Artist's Record Book B, p. 77 (as Tending the Lobster Traps. Early morning).
New York, H.V. Allison & Co., Inc., George Bellows, May 1-31, 1957.
New York, H.V. Allison & Co., Inc., George Bellows, May 7-31, 1963.
Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Columbus, Ohio, Columbus Museum of Art; Fort Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum, The Paintings of George Bellows, February 16, 1992-May 9, 1993, pp. 44, 253, fig. 39, illustrated.
Post lot text
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

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

Lot Essay

Painted on Matinicus Island during George Bellows’ last summer in Maine, Evening Blue of September 1916 reflects the artist’s deep connection to the landscape of the Maine coast, while also exemplifying his boldly modern experimentations with color during this period of his career. Bellows had co-organized the seminal Armory Show of 1913 and had the opportunity to study the work of the European Expressionists and Fauvists that were exhibiting in New York for the first time. He particularly admired Cézanne and began to employ a similarly strong color palette in his own paintings. Reflecting on the powerful impact of Bellows’ works from this time, Michael Quick describes, “The visual and emotional force of their gorgeous color, which achieves a dazzling opulence exceeded in the work of few American painters of the period, makes the paintings of 1916 and 1917 among the most handsome and enjoyable that Bellows ever produced…The delightful paintings of these periods demonstrate not only his exceptional gifts in using color, but also, in the spirit of the modernists, his joy in doing so.” (“Technique and Theory: The Evolution of George Bellows’s Painting Style,” The Paintings of George Bellows, exhibition catalogue, Fort Worth, Texas, 1992, p. 63)

Every summer from 1911 until 1916, Bellows searched out cooler climes for new artistic inspiration, and Maine was his favorite destination. He would spend months on extended vacations, visiting either coastal communities like Camden or Ogunquit, or ferrying out to the islands. Only two miles long with a total area of 720 acres, Matinicus is one of the most remote islands along the New England coast, located twenty miles from the shore of Rockland, Maine. A close-knit community of sailors and fishermen, the island was seen by Bellows as an escape from the busy tourism of nearby Monhegan Island. He first visited in the summer of 1913, when he and his wife Emma ventured over from Monhegan and spent the night in a fisherman’s house. The couple returned in September 1916 and stayed for about a month, during which Bellows produced approximately thirty paintings of Matinicus and the neighboring island of Criehaven.

Evening Blue is one of only a few pictures of the sea from Bellow’s 1916 stay, as he focused primarily that summer on the island’s landscape and farms, for example in Ox Team, Wharf at Matinicus (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Here, the viewer peers down from the rocky shoreline to spy lobstermen hard at work hefting large traps into their dinghies. While known as Evening Blue, the present work was most likely referred to in Bellows’ record book as Tending the Lobster Traps. Early morning, reflecting the usual routine of the fishermen who would check their traps shortly after dawn rather than at night. The gradation of the sky from dark to light, suggesting perhaps the misty fog of the early morn, sets the daybreak scene. The present work is also notable among Bellows’ Maine oeuvre for its relatively large scale; his plein air paintings were typically executed on 11 x 15 or 15 x 20 inch size panels, while this painting is executed in a larger format of 18 x 22 inches.

By 1916, Bellows was pushing his color play further than ever, as seen in the harmonious rainbow of hues present in just the rocky cliffs of the present work; rich blues and reds represent shadows, and oranges and yellows signify the sun-exposed stone. The exceptionally vivid blues of the sea and sky are derived from an intense color palette, which makes even the darkest shades employed seem vibrant and fresh. Bellows wrote to his mentor Robert Henri that summer “that he was doing ‘extra fine work’ and continuing his experiments with color.” (as quoted in F. Kelly, “So Clean and Cold’: Bellows and the Sea,” George Bellows, New York, 1992, p. 162) He further described his almost imaginative use of color while in Matinicus, writing, “I have done a number of pictures this summer which have not arrived in my mind from direct impressions but are creations of fancy arising out of my knowledge and experience of the facts employed. The result…has nevertheless evolved into very rare pictures.” (as quoted in Toward an American Identity: Selections from the Wichita Art Museum Collection of American Art, Wichita, Kansas, 1997, p. 94)

While taking a boldly modern approach with his strong use of color, Bellows’ subject matter of fishermen along the harsh Maine coastline in Evening Blue famously follows in the tradition of nineteenth-century American painter Winslow Homer. As in Homer’s powerful depictions of Prout’s Neck, Maine, in the present work Bellows captures that uniquely symbiotic yet challenging relationship of man with the sea. In Evening Blue, the chaotic coastal flora with tall, spindly trees, encroaching roots and uneven rocky cliffs emphasize the tough nature of the environment in which these men must labor. Similarly, the amalgamation of greens, deep blues and whites in the near water, and the sharp upturned angle of the green boat, indicate that the waves and tides of the Atlantic Ocean are an obstacle to face, even during the calm hours at the start of the day.

Masterfully capturing this classic theme of the complex relationship between man and nature along the coast of Maine, and employing the thoroughly modern, expressive color palette of his last summer there, Evening Blue exhibits the expressive fervor and bold experimentation which established Bellows as an icon of American Modernism.

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