Exhibition: George Bellows: Modern American Life

"He's not very good at faces, is he?". Yes, fellow visitor to the RA George Bellows exhibition, that's what I thought. They're creepy as hell. Exhibit A:

His body is a mismatch of youth and old age. The Organ Boy, as he is called, has the hands of an old man and the face of a (scary) child. His shoulders and legs seem small, his torso large. He may be in an exhibition of 'modern American life', but this boy is Dickensian in the darkness. Weird. Unsettling. But Bellows (who I'll admit I'd never heard of before) apparently revelled in the ugly. His paintings weren't of flowers, or haystacks; he showed muscle fighting muscle:

To me, it looks a bit like someone has slapped two raw steaks together. But that's what these illegal sportsmen were: meat for the spectator. If you can get close enough at the RA, look at the mania in the audience. This 'Stag at Sharkey's' was painted in 1909, when boxing was illegal in America.

When boxing was legalised, his style changed completely:

The smooth application of paint and the harsh lighting shows a new culture round the sport. It's brilliant - but I definitely prefer the grittiness of the previous painting. What do you think?


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