George Bellows made his first visit to the island of Monhegan, Maine during the summer of 1911 with fellow artists, Robert Henri and Randall Davey. Though only three miles long and one-half mile wide, the island contained some of the most spectacular scenery to be found anywhere along the Maine Coast. Bellows was so inspired by Monhegan's crashing waves, craggy shorelines and local residents that he returned two summers later with his wife and two-year-old daughter for an extended four month stay.
On his first trip to Monhegan, the artist had painted mostly small sketches, measuring eleven by fifteen inches. Henri had encouraged the use of small panels so that the artists could explore the island and paint with relative ease. When he returned in 1913, Bellows chose to work on a larger format of fifteen by nineteen and one-half inches. The new size still allowed him to carry his easel around the island, while permitting grander compositions.
The paintings from this visit, including Cloud Shadows, retain the artist's distinctive and sensual handling of paint augmented by a relatively new use of strong primary hues. Without question the seminal February 1913 Armory Show in New York that introduced Expressionism and Fauvism to the New York artist's society had its impact on Bellows, as well. In Cloud Shadows Bellows applies thick and generous strokes of paint with a palette knife, creating a three dimensional surface effect that dramatizes the scene portrayed. The architecture and figures along the shore are depicted using quick, confident strokes of primary reds, yellows, blues and whites. The rolling hills are pure yellows and greens, and the sky, water and rocks create an organic jumble of blues and blacks. There is a genuine immediacy of emotion so eloquently transcribed that it vividly captures that summer day nearly a century ago.
Bellows wrote of his body of work from the summer of 1913: "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." (M. Quick, "Technique and Theory: The Evolution of George Bellows's Painting Style," George Bellows, Fort Worth, Texas, 1992, p. 43) Bellows also wrote to Robert Henri: "I have been working with the colors and not much hue (more neutral color) and find a lot of new discoveries for me in the process.' (George Bellows, p. 44) Bellows was in fact so pleased with this group of paintings of Monhegan that he organized an exhibit of many of them in January 1914 at New York's Montross Gallery. Critics of the show compared them to seascapes of Homer: "Following in Winslow Homer's footsteps, Bellows, like Rockwell Kent, has translated with crude colors, oftentimes, but...with remarkable strength and sympathy, the scenery, the sea and the humans of the stern and rockbound Maine Coast." ("George Bellows at Montross," American Art News 12, January 24, 1914) The intimacy of Cloud Shadows, underscored by the direct application of paint that creates a thick impasto on the surface and the overall visually engaging quality of the scene, are hallmarks of some of the artist's strongest works during this period.
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.