Admission is always free Directions

Open today: 11:00 to 6:00

Reader Mode
 

Copy-and-paste citation text:

Robert Torchia, “George Bellows/Nude with Red Hair/1920,” American Paintings, 1900–1945, NGA Online Editions, https://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/46559 (accessed August 19, 2018).

 

Export as PDF


Export from an object page includes entry, notes, images, and all menu items except overview and related contents.
Export from an artist page includes image if available, biography, notes, and bibliography.
Note: Exhibition history, provenance, and bibliography are subject to change as new information becomes available.

PDF  
 
Version Link
Thu Aug 09 00:00:00 EDT 2018 Version

You may download complete editions of this catalog from the catalog’s home page.

Overview

Nude with Red Hair is one of two nude subjects that Bellows painted in his rural Woodstock, New York, studio in July 1920. The model has been identified as Agnes Tait, a young art student who was attending the Art Students League’s summer school in Woodstock. Both the figure’s pose, modestly covering her breasts with her raised left forearm and hand, and the use of light are strongly reminiscent of Titian’s famous Venus with a Mirror, which Bellows may have known through a reproduction or one of the numerous copies or variants after it.

Bellows’s awareness of the importance of life drawing and old master precedents can be traced to his education with Robert Henri and remained in evidence throughout his career. Art historians have generally neglected George Bellows’s nude compositions despite the fact that they represent a significant part of his oeuvre. As early as 1905 Bellows had received recognition for his skill in life drawing as a student at the New York School of Art, and by 1910 he was teaching life classes at the Art Students League. Among his final major paintings are Nude with Hexagonal Quilt and Two Women (1924, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas), which is based on another famous painting by Titian: Sacred and Profane Love (c. 1515, Galleria Borghese, Rome). These last nudes depicting women shuttered away from the outside world in Bellows’s Woodstock studio stand in stark contrast to the public spectacles featured in his early, aggressively masculine boxing scenes.

Entry

George Bellows painted his first female nude in the fall of 1906 and titled it simply Nude, Miss Bentham (Barber Institute of Fine Arts). Bellows’s biographer, Charles H. Morgan, characterized this early effort as “academic in its dedication to anatomy and puritanic in its stark realism,” and noted that the artist “hung it prominently in the studio, but rarely exhibited it.”[1] As early as 1905 Bellows had received recognition for his skill in life drawing as a student at the New York School of Art, and by 1910 he was teaching life classes at the Art Students League. That year Bellows affirmed that such classes were a well-established and legitimate means to develop sound draftsmanship. He also acknowledged the prominence of the male body in many of his most famous works, such as Both Members of This Club and Forty-two Kids, when he emphasized how, as opposed to inherently static subjects like Nude with Red Hair, “prize fighters and swimmers are the only types whose muscular action can be painted in the nude legitimately.”[2]

While continuing to teach, Bellows did not produce any paintings of nudes from 1911 to 1914. In 1915, inspired by the example of his mentor Robert Henri, he painted Nude with a Parrot (private collection) and the semiclothed Torso of a Girl with Flowers (Union League Club of Chicago, IL).[3] In 1916 and 1917 Bellows produced a series of lithographs representing single female figures in various poses that resemble studio drawings, as well as a print showing a provocative encounter between two female nudes titled simply Two Girls. His preoccupation at the time with the practice of life drawing is evident in the lithograph The Life Class (The Model, Life Class) (1917, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), a reminiscence of his classes with Henri.[4]

Bellows painted two half-length, seated female nudes in November 1919: Nude Girl with Fruit (private collection) and the striking Nude with a White Shawl (Collection of Dr. and Mrs. David A. Skier, Birmingham, AL). The latter was deemed “immoral” when it was exhibited at the National Arts Club’s annual exhibition in New York in 1922. This controversy reflected the persistent concerns regarding the depiction and censorship of the female nude in American society espoused in the late Victorian period by powerful figures such as Anthony Comstock, whom Bellows had mocked in a 1915 illustration for The Masses titled Exposed at Last!—The Nude is Repulsive to This Man.[5]

Nude with Red Hair was painted at Bellows’s rural studio in Woodstock, New York, in July 1920, as was another half-length nude, Nude with Fan (North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh). The artist described the Gallery’s painting in his Record Book B as “B558 Woman with Red Hair--semi nude with Black Shawl.”[6] The model has been identified as Agnes Tait, a young art student who was attending the Art Students League’s summer school in Woodstock.[7] Both the model’s pose, modestly covering her breasts with her raised left forearm and hand, and the use of light are strongly reminiscent of Titian’s famous Venus with a Mirror [fig. 1]. Bellows may have known that painting through a reproduction or the many early copies or variants after it, some of them representing only the figure of Venus. He lessened the eroticism implicit in Titian’s classical Venus Pudica pose by shifting the model’s right hand so that it rests on her leg. Bellows’s keen awareness of old master precedents can be traced to his education with Henri and remained in evidence throughout his career, including his final nude subject Two Women (1924, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas), which he based on Sacred and Profane Love (c. 1515, Galleria Borghese, Rome), another famous painting by the great Venetian master of the High Renaissance. Nude with Red Hair and the other late nudes depicting women shuttered away from the outside world in Bellows’s Woodstock studio stand in stark contrast to the public spectacles featured in Bellows’s early, aggressively masculine, and better known boxing scenes.

Robert Torchia

August 17, 2018

Inscription

by Emma S. Bellows, lower left: Geo. Bellows / E. S. B.[1]

Inscription Notes

[1] The painting's original stretcher, which was replaced during conservation treatment in 1958, was signed by the artist: Geo. Bellows.

Provenance

The artist [1882-1925]; by inheritance to his wife, Emma S. Bellows [1884-1959]; purchased May 1945 through (H.V. Allison & Co., New York) by Chester Dale [1883-1962], New York; bequest 1963 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1926
Forty-Sixth Annual Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, Providence Art Club, Rhode Island, 1926, no. 1, repro., as Woman with Red Hair.
1944
Paintings by George Bellows, H.V. Allison & Co., New York, 1944, unnumbered checklist, cover repro.
1957
George Bellows: A Retrospective Exhibition, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., January-February 1957, no. 46, repro.
1957
Paintings by George Bellows, Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Ohio, March-April 1957, no. 49.
1965
The Chester Dale Bequest, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1965, unnumbered checklist.
Bibliography
n.d.
Peck, Glenn C. George Bellows' Catalogue Raisonné. H.V. Allison & Co. URL: http://www.hvallison.com. Accessed 16 August 2016.
1929
Bellows, Emma Louise Story. The Paintings of George Bellows. New York, 1929: 102.
1965
Morgan, Charles H. George Bellows. Painter of America. New York, 1965: 238.
1965
Paintings other than French in the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 51, repro.
1970
American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 16, repro.
1973
Young, Mahonri Sharp. The Eight. New York, 1973: 44, color pl. 55.
1974
Gerdts, William H. The Great American Nude: A History in Art. New York, 1974: 162.
1980
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 27, repro.
1981
Williams, William James. A Heritage of American Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1981: repro. 203, 205.
1992
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 31, repro.
Technical Summary

The medium-weight, plain-weave fabric support was lined with a similar fabric using an aqueous adhesive and mounted on a new stretcher in 1958.[1] The tacking margins were removed in the process. The artist applied paint rapidly and mostly wet into wet over a thin, off-white ground. For the most part the paint has been applied in broad strokes, as seen in the thick green outlining of the figure. However in some limited areas the paint consists only of thin scumbles with the ground showing through. X-radiographs do not reveal any artist’s alterations. Infrared examination revealed the presence of a grid configuration, which may have been used to transfer the composition from a drawing to the larger fabric support.[2] Other than some recurring flaking in the upper background that has led to many small inpainted losses, the paint surface is in good condition. The surface is coated with a slightly uneven layer of Damar varnish applied in 1958.