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John Wilmerding Symposium on American Art 2018, Part 7: “You put your self in his place”: George Bellows and the Limits of Bodily Knowledge

John Fagg, lecturer, department of English literature, University of Birmingham. Robert Henri was referring to a cadaver he and his brother had just dissected when he confessed in an 1886 diary entry: “You put your self in his place.” Over the next two decades Henri developed and taught an approach to painting the body that emphasized breathing, feeling, and moving with one’s subject in reciprocal exchange. George Bellows, one of his students, embodied Henri’s theories in his fleshy, intuitive art, drawing on the experience of his own athletic body to picture the raw physicality of street kids, workers, and boxers. Speaking at the second annual John Wilmerding Symposium on American Art, held on March 23, 2018, at the National Gallery of Art, John Fagg explores the possibilities and limits of Bellows’s painting as a way to know and represent the bodies and lives of others. The John Wilmerding Symposium on American Art is made possible by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation.