Outside the Big Tent1912
30 in. x 38 3/16 in. (76.2 cm x 97 cm)
Similar in subject matter to his images of boxing and polo matches, the paintings are evidence of Bellows's fascination with human interaction and his passion for the life around him.
I was always very amused with people who talk about lack of subjects for painting. The great difficulty is that you cannot stop to sort them out enough. Wherever you go, they are waiting for you. The men of the docks, the children at the river edge, polo crowds, prize fights, summer evening and romance, village folk, young people, old people, the beautiful, the ugly… It seems to me that an artist must be a spectator of life; a reverential enthusiastic, emotional spectator…There are only three things demanded of a painter: to see things, to feel them and to dope them out for the public.3
Bellows's brisk and dynamic brushwork, coupled with his predilection for painting from life, give the impression that his canvases were created spontaneously in the heat of the moment. However, Bellows did not produce either of the Addison's circus pictures on the spot, but rather from memory later in his studio. In fact, most of Bellows's paintings are the result of careful planning rather than impulse. Geometrical structuring was a hallmark of his style and he employed various compositional and color theories at different times throughout his career.4
Shortly before these paintings were made, Robert Henri introduced Bellows to the color and compositional theories of Hardesty G. Maratta, a paint manufacturer and theorist. Maratta’s compositional system involved the equilateral triangle and mathematical proportions found in nature as well as in ancient art and architecture. In employing this system, the artist would develop his composition over Maratta's "web," or grid, of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines, which could be shaped into a variety of geometric forms. In aligning his elements of design with points of the web and organizing them accordingly, the artist could achieve an overall harmony and unity in his painting.
The grid of tiny pinholes in the canvases of both The Circus and Outside the Big Tent suggests Bellows's use of Maratta's compositional web.5 The grid on each canvas is composed of rows of holes spaced 41/2 inches apart horizontally and 4 inches vertically. These rows are arranged to create a diamond pattern on which equilateral triangles can be drawn between any three contiguous pinholes. The pinholes penetrating the paint, ground, and canvas appear as tiny bumps on the surface of the painting, signifying that they were made while the paint was wet. Design elements, such as the large triangle of the ferris wheel in Outside the Big Tent and the top of the bareback rider's head in The Circus, coincide with these pinholes. It seems reasonable to suppose that Bellows began by drawing a grid onto his canvas and then inserted pins or tacks at intersecting points of the grid so that the pattern would remain visible as paint began to cover it; but infrared examination reveals no underdrawing to connect the pinholes. Possibly he plotted their location by means of a compass or some sort of template.6
Bellows's use of this compositional system, which seems to be restricted to the paintings created in 1912 and the first half of 1913,7 is particularly successful in The Circus. The slashing brushtroke and blurred figures convey the whirl of motion in the circus ring as well as the excitement of the crowd. Underlying the movement and energy is a strong sense of stability and balance. The entire canvas is bursting with action, yet the focus is clearly on the bareback rider. Framed on either side by the strong verticals of tent poles and acrobats, she is anchored to the center of the canvas by an equilateral triangle which can be drawn from the top of her head down to the shoulders of the two women in the foreground. A carefully considered work of art, The Circus is a masterful blend of exuberant activity and controlled order.
Allison Kemmerer, Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, A Selective Catalogue (Andover, Massachusetts: Addison Gallery of American Art, 1996), pp. 323-24
1. Emma Bellows to Richard Bassett, 29 October 1948, Charles Morgan Papers, Box V, Folder 2, Special Collections Department, Amherst College Library, Massachusetts.
2. Unidentified newspaper clipping in Bellows’s scrapbook, Bellows Papers, Special Collections Department, Amherst College Library.
3. Quoted in “The Big Idea: George Bellows Talks About Patriotism for Beauty,” Touchstone I (July 1917), pp. 270-75.
4. For an extensive discussion of Bellows’s painting technique, see Michael Quick, “Technique and Theory: The Evolution of George Bellows’s Painting Style,” in Michael Quick et al, The Paintings of George Bellows (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1992), pp. 9-95.
5. Ibid., pp. 40-41.
6. According to a 1992 conservation report in the Addison Gallery Archives, Bellows used a compass to create the ferris wheel in Outside the Big Tent.
7. See Quick, p. 41. In addition to the Addison’s two paintings of 1912, these are: Cliff Dwellers (May 1913, Los Angeles County Museum of Art); Portrait of Dr. T.C. Mendenhall (May 1913, Ohio State University, Columbus); A Day in June (June 1913, The Detroit Institute of Arts); and Approach to the Bridge at Night (June 1913, Chazen Museum of Art (formerly Elvehjem Museum of Art), University of Wisconsin Madison).
This object was included in the following exhibitions:
- Terms of Criticism Addison Gallery of American Art , 00/00/00 - 5/10/1965
- Opening Exhibition of the Lyman Allyn Museum Lyman Allyn Art Museum , 3/3/1932 - 4/10/1932
- George Bellows: Paintings, Prints and Drawings The Art Institute of Chicago , 1/31/1946 - 3/10/1946
- Amerika Schildert [America Paints] Stedelijk Museum , 6/16/1950 - 9/10/1950
- Opening Exhibition of the Birmingham Museum of Art Birmingham Museum of Art , 4/8/1951 - 6/3/1951
- Amerikanische Malerei: Werden und Gegenwart American Federation of Arts , 9/20/1951 - 10/5/1951
- Exhibition of Paintings from The Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass Western Canada Art Circuit , 11/15/1953 - 6/3/1954
- Off for the Holidays Wadsworth Atheneum , 4/14/1955 - 6/6/1955
- Vassar College Exhibition Vassar College , 5/1/1957 - 5/27/1957
- An American Viewpoint: Realism in 20th Century American Painting The Cincinnati Art Museum , 10/12/1957 - 12/29/1957
- Loan to Governor Dummer Academy Governor Dummer Academy , 9/16/1959 - 6/19/1961
- Birmingham Museum of Art Tenth Anniversary Exhibition Birmingham Museum of Art , 4/28/1961 - 5/31/1961
- Art in American History Addison Gallery of American Art , 7/22/1962 - 10/28/1962
- Modern American Painting: 1915 The Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego/The Fine Arts Society of San Diego , 12/6/1962 - 1/6/1963
- Terms of Criticism Addison Gallery of American Art , 7/26/1963 - 12/23/1963
- Selections from the Addison Gallery of American Art William Crapo Gallery , 10/27/1965 - 11/23/1965
- George Bellows: Paintings, Drawings, Lithographs Gallery of Modern Art , 3/15/1966 - 5/1/1966
- Terms of Criticism Addison Gallery of American Art , 7/15/1966 - 10/3/1966
- Terms of Criticism Addison Gallery of American Art , 7/18/1969 - 10/19/1969
- The Works Addison Gallery of American Art , 11/7/1969 - 2/22/1970
- The Split-Up: The Beginning of a New Art in America Addison Gallery of American Art , 3/13/1981 - 4/12/1981
- Masterworks of American Art from the Addison Gallery Collection Hirschl and Adler Galleries, Inc. , 10/6/1981 - 10/31/1981
- American Masters of the Twentieth Century Oklahoma Art Center , 5/7/1982 - 9/15/1982
- At Work and Play: Selections from the Permanent Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 5/15/1987 - 7/31/1987
- Faculty Choice Show: Paintings, Drawings, Prints, Photographs and Sculpture from Addison Gallery of American Art , 7/5/1988 - 7/31/1988
- Masterworks from the Permanent Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/29/1993 - 1/9/1993
- George Bellows: Selections from the Permanent Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 3/15/1994 - 4/18/1994
- Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/13/1996 - 7/31/1996
- Sculpture in Context Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/17/1999 - 7/31/1999
- Foundations: Building the Addison Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 1/12/2001 - 4/1/2001
- Explorations: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints in the Addison Addison Gallery of American Art , 9/4/2001 - 1/13/2002
- Art, Artists, and the Addison: Building a Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 3/30/2004 - 7/31/2004
- Eye on the Collection: Copley to Hopper Addison Gallery of American Art , 12/21/2004 - 6/12/2005
- Eye on the Collection: West to Hopper Addison Gallery of American Art , 6/17/2005 - 10/16/2005
- George Bellows: A Ringside Seat Mead Art Museum , 9/5/2006 - 12/10/2007
- Mix and Match: A Conversation between Paintings and Works on Paper Addison Gallery of American Art , 1/23/2007 - 4/8/2007
- Life's Pleasures: The Ashcan Artist's Brush with Leisure, 1895-1925 Detroit Institute of Arts , 8/2/2007 - 5/25/2008
- Eye on the Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/27/2013 - 7/31/2013
- Street Talk: Chris Daze Ellis in Dialogue with the Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 5/3/2014 - 7/31/2014
- Night Vision: Nocturnes in American Art, 1850 -1960 Bowdoin College Museum of Art , 6/27/2015 - 10/18/2015
- [permanent collection, 101-105] Addison Gallery of American Art , 6/25/2022 - 1/29/2023
This object has the following bibliographic references:
- Night Vision—Nocturnes in American Art 1860-1960 . Bowdoin College Museum of Art. 6/2015
- Ellen Hardy. Non Sibi Calendar . Phillips Academy. 11/2006
- Life's Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists' Brush with Leisure . Detroit Institute of Arts. 2006
This object is a member of the following portfolios:
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