Opening Exhibition of the Birmingham Museum of Art
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This object is a member of the following groups (click any group name to view all objects in that group):Periods and Styles: The Ashcan School & Urban Realism
Themes: MLC Portfolio: Visualizing Poetry
Themes: MLC Portfolio: Visualizing Music
In the summer of 1912, George Bellows's wife, Emma, helped organize a charity circus in her home town of Montclair, New Jersey. According to Emma, the circus "played to capacity audiences and was a lot of fun but financially a big flop… I always said George got more out of it than anyone else."<sup>1</sup> The benefit circus inspired Bellows to produce two powerful paintings—<i>Outside the Big Tent</i> and <i><a href="http://accessaddison.andover.edu/Obj3547">The Circus</a></i>. While <i>Outside the Big Tent</i> was quickly sold, The Circus remained in the artist's possession and was extensively exhibited before being acquired by a private collector in 1919. Bellows submitted <i>The Circus</i> to the Armory Show in 1913, where it was praised for being "a brilliant bit of drama, full of action and gayety.”<sup>2</sup> In that same year the painting won the 1st Honorable Mention at the Carnegie International Exhibition.
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>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.</i><sup>3</sup>
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.<sup>4</sup>
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 <i>The Circus</i> and <i>Outside the Big Tent</i> suggests Bellows's use of Maratta's compositional web.<sup>5</sup> 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 <i>Outside the Big Tent</i> and the top of the bareback rider's head in <i>The Circus</i>, 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.<sup>6</sup>
Bellows's use of this compositional system, which seems to be restricted to the paintings created in 1912 and the first half of 1913,<sup>7</sup> is particularly successful in <i>The Circus</i>. 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, <i>The Circus</i> is a masterful blend of exuberant activity and controlled order.
Allison Kemmerer, <i>Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, A Selective Catalogue</i> (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,” <i>Touchstone</i> 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, <i>The Paintings of George Bellows</i> (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 <i>Outside the Big Tent</i>.
7. See Quick, p. 41. In addition to the Addison’s two paintings of 1912, these are: <i><a href="http://collections.lacma.org/node/228840">Cliff Dwellers</a></i> (May 1913, Los Angeles County Museum of Art); <i><a href="http://collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?q=record_ID:siris_jul_6512">Portrait of Dr. T.C. Mendenhall</a></i> (May 1913, Ohio State University, Columbus); <i><a href="http://www.dia.org/object-info/82f9be1b-4e32-4e2e-83c7-4da046833463.aspx">A Day in June</a></i> (June 1913, The Detroit Institute of Arts); and <i><a href=“http://embarkkiosk.chazen.wisc.edu/Obj700">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
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