Blue Morning is the last of four paintings that George Bellows executed from 1907 to 1909 depicting the construction site of the Pennsylvania Station railroad terminal in New York City. Undertaken by the Pennsylvania Railroad and designed by architectural firm McKim, Mead, & White, Pennsylvania Station (more commonly known as Penn Station) was an enormously ambitious project that helped transform New York into a thriving, modern, commuter metropolis. The building project was of considerable interest to the public, and throughout the years that Bellows worked on these paintings, newspapers and magazines regularly reported on the station’s progress.
The three other paintings in the Penn Station series all focus on the gaping excavation pit, and the two that were publicly exhibited at the time, Pennsylvania Excavation and Excavation at Night, were criticized for their “brutal crudity” and “grim ugliness.” Bellows seems to have addressed these criticisms in Blue Morning, because it is a far more aesthetic and impressionistic rendering of the subject. The unusual backlit composition minimizes the pit and instead focuses on the laborers working in the foreground. McKim, Mead, & White’s partially completed terminal building is visible in the distance.
From 1907 to 1909, George Bellows executed four paintings depicting the construction site of the Pennsylvania Station railroad terminal in New York City. Undertaken by the Pennsylvania Railroad under the leadership of its president, Alexander Cassatt (the artist
The undertaking was of considerable interest to the general public, and throughout the years that Bellows worked on his paintings, newspapers and magazines regularly reported on its progress.
For a discussion of the construction of Penn Station, see Jill Jonnes, Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic; The Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels (New York, 2007).
The favorable reception of the first painting in the series, the bleak and bluntly realistic Pennsylvania Excavation
Albert Sterner, “Art at Home and Abroad . . . Significance of the Exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy,” New York Times, Jan. 26, 1908.
[James Huneker], “The Winter Academy,” New York Sun, Dec. 21, 1909.
Executed in March 1909, Blue Morning was the fourth and final painting in the series
Marianne Doezema, George Bellows and Urban America (New York, 1992), 53.
Frank Jewett Mather, “The Independent Artists,” Nation 90 (April 7, 1910): 360, quoted in Marianne Doezema, George Bellows and Urban America (New York, 1992), 55.
In December 1909, Bellows returned to the theme of urban transformation and progress in New York with The Lone Tenement and The Bridge, Blackwell’s Island (Toledo Museum of Art), both similarly atmospheric paintings that allude to another major improvement in the city’s transportation system: the newly erected Queensborough Bridge. The bridge still stands, but despite public outcry Pennsylvania Station was demolished in 1963, its grandiose statuary dispersed to other sites, to make way for Madison Square Garden. Sadly, Blue Morning, along with Bellows’s three other Penn Station paintings, are among the few remaining mementos of what was once one of the greatest edifices of New York City’s Gilded Age.
September 29, 2016
lower left: BELLOWS
The artist [1882-1925]; by inheritance to his wife, Emma S. Bellows [1884-1959]; purchased June 1956 through (H.V. Allison & Co., New York) by Chester Dale [1883-1962], New York; bequest 1963 to NGA.
- Exhibition of Independent Artists, Galleries at 29-31 West 35th Street, New York, 1910, no. 128 (in Paintings Galleries).
- Thirty-Six Paintings by George Bellows, Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Ohio, 1940, no catalogue [according to records of paintings included in the exhibition; this exhibition not listed in the artist's Record Book].
- Paintings by George Bellows, H.V. Allison & Co., New York, 1949, unnumbered catalogue.
- Paintings by George Bellows, H.V. Allison & Co., New York, 1956, no. 5.
- George Bellows: A Retrospective Exhibition, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., January-February 1957, no. 11, repro.
- Paintings by George Bellows, Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Ohio, March-April 1957, no. 8.
- The Chester Dale Bequest, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1965, unnumbered checklist.
- From Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, January 2010-January 2012, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- George Bellows, National Gallery of Art, Washington; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2012-2013, pl. 22 (shown only in Washington).
The plain, heavily woven fabric support was lined with wax and remounted on a new stretcher during treatment in 1970. The original canvas was prepared with a gray ground that is presumed to have been applied by the artist, but the absence of tacking margins makes this difficult to confirm. The paint was applied rapidly in thick layers, working in every passage virtually simultaneously. There is a good deal of impasto and visible brushwork, especially in the foreground. X-radiography and infrared reflectography were used to investigate the possible existence of an underlying painting, which is suggested by brushwork visible in raking light that does not correspond to the main painting. Examination with these techniques did not add any evidence to this theory. At the time of the 1970 treatment, it was discovered that approximately 2 3/4 inches of the original painting had been folded over the reverse of the top stretcher bar, thus reducing the painting’s dimensions. Evidence suggests that this was done well after Bellows’s death, perhaps in preparation for the 1949 or 1956 exhibition at H. V. Allison Gallery. Gordon Allison recollected that Blue Morning had been reframed prior to one of those exhibitions, and was “quite certain that the upper part was purposely covered by the rabbet so as to diminish the dark effect at the top." The painting was returned to its original dimensions in 1987. At that time, the painting was strip lined along the top edge, it was stretched onto a newly fabricated stretcher, the old varnish was removed, losses (particularly at the top edge that had been folded over) were filled and inpainted, and a synthetic varnish was applied.
- Peck, Glenn C. George Bellows' Catalogue Raisonné. H.V. Allison & Co. URL: http://www.hvallison.com. Accessed 16 August 2016.
- Morgan, Charles H. George Bellows. Painter of America. New York, 1965: 93, repro. 321.
- Paintings other than French in the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 50, repro.
- American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 14, repro.
- Braider, Donald. George Bellows and the Ashcan School of Painting. New York, 1971: 49.
- Young, Mahonri Sharp. The Eight. New York, 1973: 48, color pl. 14.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 25, repro.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980: 17, no. 54, color repro.
- Williams, William James. A Heritage of American Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1981: color repro. 166, 202.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. Rev. ed. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988: 168, no. 61, color repro.
- Kelly, Frankin. "George Bellows' Shore House." Studies in the History of Art 37 (1990): 121-122, 126, repro. no. 5.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 28, repro.
- Doezema, Marianne. George Bellows and Urban America. New Haven and London, 1992: 49, 52-55, fig. 19, color pl. 4.
- Setford, David, and John Wilmerding. George Bellows: Love of Winter. Exh. cat. Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach; The Newark Museum, New Jersey; Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, 1997-1998. West Palm Beach, 1997: fig. 15, no. 22.
- Haverstock, Mary Sayre. George Bellows: An Artist in Action. Columbus, Ohio, 2007: 31, color repro.
- Brock, Charles, et al. George Bellows. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2012-2013. Washington and New York, 2012: 9, 23, 89, 92-93, 111, pl. 22.
- Corbett, David Peters. The American Experiment: George Bellows and the Ashcan Painters, with Katherine Bourguignon and Christopher Riopelle. London, 2013: 37-39, 46, color fig. 17.
- Wolner, Edward W. "George Bellows, Georg Simmel, and Modernizing New York." American Art 29, no. 1 (Spring 2015): 114-116, color fig. 6.