Painted on Monhegan Island in Maine in August 1914, this portrait represents Florence Sittenham Davey, the wife of Bellows’s friend, the artist Randall Davey. Florence Davey was a modernist sculptor who had studied with Alexander Archipenko. According to the Daveys’ son William, Bellows lost a considerable amount of money to his father playing pool and painted the portrait to settle his debt.
This work, along with the many other portraits that Bellows produced on Monhegan Island in 1914, is noteworthy for achieving a new expressive power and intensity through the use of assertive frontal poses, geometric compositions, brilliant color, and intense light. Bellows had been prompted to reevaluate his approach to color in part after seeing works by Henri Matisse and the European avant-garde at the Armory Show the previous year. At the time Bellows was already beginning to experiment with the chromatic possibilities of the set-palettes diagrammed by Harvard University professor Denman Waldo Ross in his influential 1912 publication On Drawing and Painting.
This portrait represents Florence Sittenham Davey, the wife of George Bellows’s friend, the artist Randall Davey (1887–1964). Described as “beautiful, generous, and strong-willed,”
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (New York, 2006), 79.
She lived with her husband in Santa Fe, New Mexico, until they divorced in 1930. The following year Florence moved to New York and married Cyrus McCormick III, son of the noted inventor Cyrus Hall McCormick and vice president of the International Harvester Company of Chicago.
William Davey to Deborah Chotner, Dec. 15, 1980, NGA curatorial records.
In this work Bellows has created a fresh and direct likeness in which he has emphasized his elegantly attired sitter’s charm. Represented in three-quarter length and seated in a wicker chair, Florence looks directly at the viewer from under her fashionable wide-brimmed hat. The bravura brushwork treatment of the white dress is illuminated by a harsh light that enters the composition from an unseen source on the left. The bright whites of the dress and the vivid flesh tones of the face are heightened by the darker turquoise drapery in the background, the sitter’s green belt, and her blue and green striped hatband.
Bellows had been prompted to reevaluate his approach to color in part after seeing works by Henri Matisse and the European avant-garde at the 1913 Armory Show the previous year. In a shift that mirrored changes in his mentor Robert Henri’s style,
For a discussion of Henri’s work at this time see Valerie Ann Leeds, My People: The Portraits of Robert Henri (Orlando, FL, 1994), 52–55.
For a summary of Ross’s influence on Bellows see Michael Quick, “Technique and Theory: The Evolution of George Bellows’s Painting Style,” in Michael Quick, Jane Myers, Marianne Doezema, and Franklin Kelly, The Paintings of George Bellows (New York, 1992), 47–49.
“The Art of George Bellows,” Aesthetics 3 (Oct. 1914–July 1915): 53.
Florence Sittenham Davey is one of more than 15 portraits of women that Bellows completed while staying on Monhegan Island in Maine in 1914. That summer Bellows counted among his sitters his wife and personal friends, as well as local residents of the small, isolated outpost. Among this remarkable outpouring of images are Emma at the Piano (Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA), Geraldine Lee No. 2 (Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH), and Julie Hudson (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). In this extensive group of paintings the artist achieved a new expressive power and intensity through the use of assertive frontal poses, geometric compositions, brilliant color, and intense light.
For a discussion of Bellows’s work at this time see Jane Myers, “‘The Most Searching Place in the World’: Bellows’s Portraiture,” in Michael Quick, Jane Myers, Marianne Doezema, and Franklin Kelly, The Paintings of George Bellows (New York, 1992), 193–201.
August 17, 2018
lower left: Geo. Bellows; reverse in black crayon, "McCormick" in a hand other than the artist: Portrait Florence Davey McCormick / Geo Bellows / 146 E 19 St / New York.
The artist [1882-1925]; presented 1922 to the sitter's first husband, Randall Davey [1887-1964], until 1930; Florence Sittenham Davey (1888-1979, later Mrs. Cyrus Hall McCormick III); bequest 1979 to NGA.
- Paintings by George Bellows, Art Institute of Chicago, 1914-1915, no. 25, as Portrait: Mrs. Randall Davey.
- Exhibition of Paintings By George Bellows, Detroit Museum of Art, January 1915, no. 24, as Portrait: Mrs. Randall Davey.
- Exhibition of Paintings by George Bellows, Worcester Art Museum, September 1915, no. 9, as Portrait of Mrs. Randall Davey.
- [Paintings by George Bellows], Hackley Art Gallery, Muskegon, Michigan, June-August 1915, no cat.
- Paintings by George Bellows, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, May 1915, no. 47, as Portrait of Mrs. Randall Davey.
- Paintings by George Bellows, N.A., Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art, Exposition Park, February 1915, no. 26, as Portrait of Mrs. Randall Davey.
- Paintings by George Bellows, N.A., San Francisco Institute of Art, March 1915, no. 26, as Portrait of Mrs. Randall Davey.
- Special Exhibition of Paintings by Mr. George Bellows, Cincinnati Museum, October 1915, no. 23, as Mrs. Randall Davey.
- Exhibition of Oil Paintings by George W. Bellows, N.A. and Clarence K. Chatterton, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York, 1916, no. 7, as Mrs. Davey.
The painting is executed on what appears to be a large single piece of wood. Although such a flat regular panel would usually consist of some sort of plywood, the material cannot be confirmed because the back and all of the edges are covered with ground, obscuring any laminations of the wood. The x-radiograph also shows no joins, indicating that several pieces of wood were glued together, which would typically be necessary to construct such a wide wood support. The artist applied the smooth, gray ground to both the front and back of the panel and all of its sides. Examination of the painting with infrared reflectography shows a free-form drawing executed in what appears to be black crayon.
The infrared examination was conducted using a Santa Barbara Focalplane InSb camera fitted with an H astronomy filter.
The condition of the painting is excellent with only a little frame abrasion on all four edges. Some of this is inpainted and is dark under ultraviolet examination and some of it remains untouched. The varnish coating has gone gray and is probably covered with grime. An inscription on the back of the painting in black crayon identifies the subject: “Portrait Florence Davey McCormick, Geo Bellows, 146 E 19 St, New York.” This inscription is all in the artist’s hand except for “McCormick,” which appears to have been added later by someone else.
- Peck, Glenn C. George Bellows' Catalogue Raisonné. H.V. Allison & Co. URL: http://www.hvallison.com. Accessed 16 August 2016.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 27, repro.
- Southgate, M. Therese. "The Cover: George Bellows: Florence Davey." Journal of the American Medical Association 246, no. 11 (11 September 1981): cover repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 30, repro.
- Quick, Michael, Jane Myers, Marianne Doezema, and Franklin Kelly. The Paintings of George Bellows. Exh. cat. Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Columbus (Ohio) Museum of Art; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, 1992-1993. New York, 1992: 194-195, fig. 22.