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George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925)
George Wesley Bellows was born in Columbus, Ohio. Bellows' urban New York scenes depicted the crudity and chaos of working-class people and neighborhoods, and also satirized the upper classes. He served on the editorial board of the socialist journal, The Masses, to which he contributed many drawings and prints beginning in 1911.
Cliff Dwellers
Club Night
Winter Day
Business Men's Bath


Cliff Dwellers, 1913
Oil on canvas
40 3/16 x 4201/16 in.

George Wesley Bellows studied with the influential painter Robert Henri at the New York School of Art starting in 1904. Although not one of the Eight, the group of American artists allied with Henri in a rebellion against academic painting, Bellows was associated with them and shared their preoccupation with vigorous execution and urban subjects. Talented and widely recognized, Bellows at age twenty-seven became the youngest artist ever designated associate of the National Academy of Design, but he continued to support the avant-garde, and in 1913 (the year he gained full academician status) Bellows exhibited in the pivotal Armory Show, which he helped organize.

Because of its urban subject matter, Cliff Dwellers has been interpreted as a critical social statement. Its meaning was confused by the fact that Bellows made a similar study with the editorializing title, "Why don't they go to the country for a vacation?" In fact Bellows and most artists of his group stopped short of overt polemics in their work. The true subject of his painting is the vitality and pleasures of the urban poor, not their deprivation or oppression. The mother ascending the staircase is reminiscent of works by Honoré Daumier and Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin that depict women as the mainstays of family life. The group of young men, women, and tussling boys sets a tone of innocent joie de vivre. Behind the sunlit foreground, shadowed tenements with their populated balconies form a stagelike backdrop of vignettes suggesting the spontaneity and complexity of the dwellers' lives.
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