Featured artwork: George Bellows,
New York, 1911
When we began the search for this year's featured artwork, we found ourselves drawn immediately to the "Ashcan School", that loose confederation of early 20th century New York-based artists who, under the leadership of Robert Henri chose as their principle subjects scenes of every day life, especially of the urban working class. Of those in that movement that we have always found of special interest is George Wesley Bellow (1882 - 1925). It is his 1911 depiction of New York from the National Gallery that we have chosen to represent the spirit of Irving Berlin's America.
Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Bellows attended Ohio State University before moving to New York City in 1904 and undertaking studies at the famed New York School of Art under Robert Henri. But while he has always been closely associated with the Ashcan School and the group of Henri-influenced artists known as "The Eight" (indeed because of the paintings he
did during the early 1910s like New York, The Cliff Dwellers, and his famous boxing series), Bellows was far too individualistic and ecclectic in his aesthetic throughout his professional career to be categorized to that movement exclusively. His subjects and techniques varied widely from poor to rich, from urban to landscape, from pastoral and domestic to political activism.
On this level, he was like Irving Berlin -- a keen observer of American life in all its dimensions who was unabashed and confident in the pursuit of what he saw of his world and of his interpretation of and stamp on the same. Each man and his work reflects, in his own way, the best spirit of an increasingly confident, self-defining polyglot nation on the eve of its coming into its own during the early decades of what many historians aptly call "The American Century".
Beyond that, these two artists were in very different worlds. We juxtapose their art as we have always done: in our strong sense that two artists living in contemporary but non-crossing--and even remarkably divergent--milieu reveal to us far more of their age than we could otherwise see.
We thus open our 10-day festival of exploration and celebration of "Irving Berlin's America" with an evening in consideration of the America of George Wesley Bellows.