During the summer of 1916 George Bellows and his family vacationed in Camden, Maine, and Bellows began to experiment with plein air portraiture in which he attempted to integrate the human figure with the outdoors. He produced two nearly identical versions of a monumental portrait of his wife and two daughters that summer: My Family and Study of Emma and the Children (now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Although the relationship between the two is unclear, it is generally assumed that the Boston work is a preparatory study for the Gallery’s painting. Both versions are unfinished, possibly because Bellows could not resolve the relationship between his subjects and their surroundings, a problem that he addressed more successfully later that summer in the plein air portrait Emma in an Orchard (now at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, Jacksonville, FL). While Bellows was certainly influenced by the French impressionists, most notably Pierre Auguste Renoir, Pierre Bonnard, and Edouard Vuillard, the emphasis on geometric forms in My Family suggests that he was also keenly aware of the example of Paul Cézanne.
From 1915 to 1920 George Bellows participated in four exhibitions organized by the National Association of Portrait Painters, a group that had been founded in 1912 for the purpose of avoiding “the tiresomely conventional and perfunctory portrait.”
Alice T. Searle, “Exhibition of the National Association of Portrait Painters,” International Studio 46 (May 1912): 63.
The Boston version is divided into a grid pattern and the fabric support has been folded at the top and bottom, indicating that Bellows experimented with altering its dimensions. It also has a darker tonality than the Gallery’s painting.
Jane Myers has noted that in these two paintings “Bellows daringly evoked a range of European sources, from the English ‘conversation piece’ of the 18th century to the avant-garde, tapestry-like paintings of the French Nabis, Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard.”
Jane Myers, “‘The Most Searching Place in the World,’ Bellows and Portraiture,” in Michael Quick, Jane Myers, Marianne Doezema, and Franklin Kelly, The Paintings of George Bellows (New York, 1992), 203.
Valerie Ann Leeds, Leon Kroll Revisited (New York, 1998), 13.
Valerie Ann Leeds, Leon Kroll Revisited (New York, 1998), 12.
Nancy Hale and Fredson Bowers, eds., Leon Kroll: A Spoken Memoir (Charlottesville, VA, 1983), 42, quoted in Jane Myers, “‘The Most Searching Place in the World,’ Bellows and Portraiture,” in Michael Quick, Jane Myers, Marianne Doezema, and Franklin Kelly, The Paintings of George Bellows (New York, 1992), 204.
Bellows may have abandoned the two family portraits because he was unable to resolve the relationship between his human figures and their natural surroundings. His family is almost completely overwhelmed by their environment and fail to stand out as the proper subject. The culmination of Bellows’s experimentation with the impressionist plein air portrait in Maine that summer is Emma in an Orchard
Bellows made a third version of My Family in the form of his 1916 lithograph Mother and Children
Lauris Mason, with Joan Ludman, The Lithographs of George Bellows: A Catalogue Raisonné (1977; rev. ed. San Francisco, 1992), no. M. 16, 56–57.
August 17, 2018
The artist [1882-1925]; by inheritance to his wife, Emma S. Bellows [1884-1959]; her estate; purchased May 1967 through (H.V. Allison & Co., New York) by Paul Mellon, Upperville, Virginia; gift 1983 to NGA.
Associated NamesMellon, Paul
- George Bellows: The Personal Side, Museum of Arts and Sciences, Macon, Georgia, 1984, fig. 15.
- Gifts to the Nation: Selected Acquisitions from the Collections of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1986, unnumbered checklist.
The medium-weight, openly woven, plain-weave fabric support was lined and trimmed; all of the original tacking margins were removed. The artist applied paint thickly in multiple layers over the thin white ground, sometimes painting wet into wet and sometimes applying wet paint over dry. The noticeably textured surface was achieved with a variety of brush techniques and sizes and occasionally with a palette knife. All of this layering, particularly the application of wet paint over dry, indicates that the painting process extended over a long period of time. Some of the design elements were intially executed in different colors and then changed by the artist. The awning was originally painted in red, orange hued pink, and purple before Bellows altered it to the present green and yellow, and the woman’s dress was green before being changed to purple. The condition of the painting is marred by a general flattening of the impasto that occurred during the lining process and by severe wide aperture drying craquelure in the most thickly painted areas. Inpainting was applied to conceal extensive abrasion in the mother’s hair, the awning, and parts of the foliage. Additional losses include a 28 cm-long crack through the awning into the background and the mother’s arm. The surface was coated with an even, glossy, natural resin varnish that has not discolored.
- 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, 1992: 31, 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: 201-202, fig. 29.
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