Throughout his childhood in Columbus, Ohio, George Bellows divided much of his time between sports and art. While attending Ohio State University, he created illustrations for the school yearbook and played varsity baseball and basketball. After college Bellows rejected an offer for a professional athletic career with the Cincinnati Reds baseball team, instead pursuing a career as an artist.
In opposition to his father's wishes, Bellows enrolled in the New York School of Art in 1904. There Bellows elected to study not with the popular and flamboyant William Merritt Chase, but rather with the unorthodox realist Robert Henri. Henri led a radical group of artists, including John Sloan and William Glackens, who exhibited under the name "The Eight." Although Bellows was elected to the National Academy of Design, he rejected the superficial portrayal of everyday life promoted by the academies. Instead he and his colleagues emphasized the existing social conditions of the early twentieth century, especially in New York. Because their subjects were considered crude and at times even vulgar, critics dubbed them the Ashcan school. Bellows never became an official member of The Eight, but his choice of subjects--docks, street scenes, and prizefights--were typical of the group. Unlike the members of The Eight, Bellows' enjoyed popular success during his lifetime, particularly with the boxing images that demonstrate his passionate interest in sports and a bold understanding of the human figure.
[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art.]