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
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
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.”
Charles H. Morgan, George Bellows: Painter of America (New York, 1965), 66. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts organized a small exhibition, Bellows and the Body: The Real, the Ideal, and the Nude, and a symposium in 2016 to mark their acquisition of Nude, Miss Bentham. The two events represented the first serious scholarly appraisal of Bellows’s depictions of the nude.
Bellows to Katherine Hiller, 1910, quoted in Thomas Beer, Eugene Spreicher, and Atherton Curtis, George W. Bellows: His Lithographs (New York, 1927), 16. For a brief discussion of Bellows and the nude, see William H. Gerdts, The Great American Nude (New York, 1974), 162. Bellows’s interest in the male homosocial worlds of boxing and bathing is explored in Jonathan D. Katz and David C. Ward, Hide and Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture (Washington, 2010).
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).
The artist’s mother remarked of the latter painting: “It’s bad enough, George, to paint a girl with both of her breasts bare, but to show only one is nasty.” Charles H. Morgan, George Bellows: Painter of America (New York, 1965), 191.
Lauris Mason, The Lithographs of George Bellows: A Catalogue Raisonné, rev. ed. (San Francisco, 1992), cat. no. 43.
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.
Apparently some members of the Arts Committee deemed the painting “immoral” and others accused Bellows of deliberately orchestrating the incident as a publicity stunt. The unknown author of “Art Club to Hear Protest on Nude,” New York Times, Feb. 7, 1922, paraphrased the opinion of an unidentified artist who was sympathetic to Bellows: “There would have been no objection had Mr. Bellows painted an entire nude; that the trouble seemed to be that he had painted a décolleté gown and cut it too low.” On Comstock, see Amy Werbel, “The Crime of the Nude: Anthony Comstock, the Art Students League of New York, and the Origins of Modern American Obscenity,” Winterthur Portfolio 48, no. 4 (Winter 2014): 249–282.
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.”
George Bellows, Record Book B, 217, The Ohio State University Libraries’ Rare Books & Manuscripts Library and the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio.
According to the H. V. Allison & Co. invoice to Chester Dale, May 1, 1945, NGA curatorial files.
August 17, 2018
by Emma S. Bellows, lower left: Geo. Bellows / E. S. B.
 The painting's original stretcher, which was replaced during conservation treatment in 1958, was signed by the artist: Geo. Bellows.
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.
- Forty-Sixth Annual Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, Providence Art Club, Rhode Island, 1926, no. 1, repro., as Woman with Red Hair.
- Paintings by George Bellows, H.V. Allison & Co., New York, 1944, unnumbered checklist, cover repro.
- George Bellows: A Retrospective Exhibition, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., January-February 1957, no. 46, repro.
- Paintings by George Bellows, Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Ohio, March-April 1957, no. 49.
- The Chester Dale Bequest, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1965, unnumbered checklist.
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.
The original stretcher was signed “Geo. Bellows” by the artist.
Infrared examination was conducted with the Kodak 310-21x, a platinum silicide camera with a 55 mm macro lens and a 1.5–2.0 micron filter.
- Peck, Glenn C. George Bellows' Catalogue Raisonné. H.V. Allison & Co. URL: http://www.hvallison.com. Accessed 16 August 2016.
- Bellows, Emma Louise Story. The Paintings of George Bellows. New York, 1929: 102.
- Morgan, Charles H. George Bellows. Painter of America. New York, 1965: 238.
- Paintings other than French in the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 51, repro.
- American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 16, repro.
- Young, Mahonri Sharp. The Eight. New York, 1973: 44, color pl. 55.
- Gerdts, William H. The Great American Nude: A History in Art. New York, 1974: 162.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 27, repro.
- Williams, William James. A Heritage of American Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1981: repro. 203, 205.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 31, repro.