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Robert Torchia, “George Bellows/Little Girl in White (Queenie Burnett)/1907,” American Paintings, 1900–1945, NGA Online Editions, https://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/61352 (accessed August 17, 2017).

 

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Overview

Advised by his friend and teacher Robert Henri to select subjects that reflected the realism of modern urban life, George Bellows portrayed the recreational activities of New York City’s lower-class children in such paintings as River Rats (1906, private collection), and Forty-two Kids (1907). In 1907 he painted two full-length portraits of individual children: Little Girl in White and Frankie the Organ Boy (both now at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO). Unlike his late 19th-century predecessors, who popularized the street urchin genre by representing well-scrubbed, idealized children playing with pets or engaged in entrepreneurial activities, Bellows portrayed his subjects in a bluntly realistic manner. The subject of this painting, Queenie Burnett, was the artist’s laundry delivery girl. Her underprivileged background is evident in her gaunt face, exaggeratedly large eyes, unkempt hair, and ungainly figure.

This was Bellows’s first figural work to be exhibited around the country—it was included in 15 public exhibitions during his lifetime—and he was awarded the first Hallgarten Prize when the painting was shown at the National Academy of Design in 1913.

Entry

In this sympathetic image, the artist has represented the demure laundry girl Queenie Burnett attired in a simple white dress and black stockings, posing with her hands folded before her, set against a dark brown background. Queenie’s difficult life as a child laborer is manifested in her gaunt face, exaggeratedly large eyes, unkempt hair falling over her shoulders, and her awkward figure. Bellows has also managed to capture his subject’s uneasiness at finding herself in an artist’s studio posing for her portrait.

Originally titled Little Laundry Girl [fig. 1],[1] this portrait of a figure in a white dress is reminiscent of James McNeill Whistler’s Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl, the full-length portrait that had inspired such diverse images as William Merritt Chase's fashionable society portrait Girl in White (c. 1898–1901, Akron Art Museum, OH) and Robert Henri's slightly tawdry Young Woman in White. In painting the young, working-class girl who delivered his laundry, Bellows, like Whistler, was flaunting the conventions of grand-manner portraiture traditionally reserved for the social elite. He was also following the advice of his friend and teacher Robert Henri, who admonished Bellows to select subjects that reflected the realism of modern urban life. Fulfilling that goal, he portrayed the recreational activities of New York City’s lower-class children in such paintings as River Rats (1906, private collection) and Forty-two Kids. In 1907, he began to explore the street-urchin genre popularized in the United States during the last quarter of the 19th century by Frank Duveneck (American, 1848 - 1919) and especiallyJohn George Brown (American, born England, 1831 - 1913). Bellows painted two full-length portraits of individual children, Little Girl in White and Frankie the Organ Boy (both 1907, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO), and the following year he executed the three-quarter length Paddy Flannigan (Erving and Joyce Wolf Collection). Like the other artists in Henri’s circle, Bellows eschewed the traditional idealizing approach with his youthful subjects, instead portraying them in a bluntly realistic manner.

The painting’s unusual mix of aestheticism and realism is simultaneously appealing and unsettling. A newspaper reporter who visited Bellows’s studio in 1908 may have had Little Girl in White in mind when he commented on portraits of “street gamins.” He noted that although they were “brimming with humor,” the images possessed a plaintive quality “which brings tears and sends people to rescue work.”[2] However, the blunt realism of Bellows’s early works often provoked critics. A reviewer for the New York Evening Mail criticized it as a “flat failure, looking as if it were cut out of wooden blocks.”[3] Despite the portrait’s mixed critical reception, it was immensely popular with the general public. Little Girl in White is noteworthy as the first of Bellows’s figural works to be widely exhibited throughout the country. He was awarded the first Hallgarten Prize of $300, reserved for artists under the age of 35, when the painting was shown at the National Academy of Design in 1913.[4]

Robert Torchia

September 29, 2016

Inscription

upper center reverse: Geo Bellows / 1947 Bdway / [illegible]49 N.Y. / "QUEEN" / "GIRL IN WHITE"

Provenance

The artist [1882-1925]; by inheritance to his wife, Emma S. Bellows [1884-1959]; her estate; purchased May 1963 through (H.V. Allison & Co., New York) by Paul Mellon, Upperville, Virginia; gift 1983 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1908
Special Exhibition of Contemporary Art, The National Arts Club, New York, 1908, no. 56, as The Girl in White.
1909
Twenty-Second Annual Exhibition of Oil Paintings and Sculpture by American Artists, Art Institute of Chicago, 1909, no. 23, as Girl in White.
1910
One Hundred and Fifth Annual Exhibition, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1910, no. 601, as Girl in White.
1911
[George Bellows Exhibition], Madison Gallery, New York, 1911, as Girl in White.
1911
Special Exhibition and Sale of Oil Paintings by George Bellows, N.A., Marshall Field & Company, New York, 1911, no. 14, as Girl in White.
1912
Paintings by George Bellows, Art Students League of Columbus, Public Library, Columbus, Ohio, November 1912, no. 19, as The Little Laundry Girl.
1912
Paintings by George Bellows, N.A., Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio, December 1912, no. 19, as The Little Laundry Girl.
1913
American Artists, Department of Fine Arts, Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, Summer(?) 1913, no. 230, as Little Girl.
1913
Eighty-Eighth Annual Exhibition, National Academy of Design, New York, March-April 1913, no. 216, repro., as Little Girl.
1913
Montclair, 1913 [according to the artist's Record Book].
1913
Paintings by Fine New York Painters, Saint Botolph Club, Boston, November-December 1913, no. 5, as Girl in White.
1913
Seventeenth Annual Exhibition, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, April-June 1913, no. 22, as Little Girl.
1913
Special Exhibition of Paintings by George Bellows, N.A., Detroit Museum of Art, January 1913, no. 19, as The Little Laundry Girl.
1914
American Fine Art Section, Anglo-American Exposition, London, 1914, no. 170, as Little Girl.
1915
A Catalogue of Paintings, Gallery of Fine Arts, Panama-California Exposition, San Diego, 1915, no. 49, as Little Girl in White.
1916
"Los Angeles Circuit", 1916 [according to the artist's Record Book].
1962
Modern American Painting: 1915, The Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, 1962-1963, no. 1, as Little Girl in White.
1963
George Bellows, H.V. Allison & Co., New York, 1963, no. 1, as Girl in White (Queenie Burnett).
1986
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.
1992
The Paintings of George Bellows, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Columbus Museum of Art; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, 1992-1993, fig. 10.
2012
George Bellows, National Gallery of Art, Washington; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2012-2013, pl. 12.
2013
The Armory Show at 100: Modernism and Revolution, The New-York Historical Society, New York, 2013-2014, not in catalogue.
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: 4, repro.
1965
Morgan, Charles H. George Bellows. Painter of America. New York, 1965: 75, 104, 127, 166-168.
1971
Braider, Donald. George Bellows and the Ashcan School of Painting. New York, 1971: 42, 86.
1992
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 28, repro.
1992
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: 3, 11, 12, 185, fig. 10.
2012
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, 49-50, 133, pl. 12.
Technical Summary

The medium-weight, loosely woven fabric support was at some point lined with a wax/resin adhesive and remounted on a nonoriginal stretcher. Bellows apparently altered the size of the composition at least twice, because the background paint layers extend into the side and bottom tacking margins and there is a set of old tacking holes and a horizontal edge of thickly applied original paint below the top edge. Infrared examination reveals sketchy background details (a higher upper edge of the floor and a vertical architectural element to the right) that are not visible to the naked eye. The artist applied paint vigorously, with highly textured and unblended brushstrokes in the white dress progressing to a much smoother application in the dark areas and background. There are small, scattered paint losses in the middle of the painting, and ultraviolet examination reveals older losses that have been overpainted. In a recent treatment of the painting (2005–2011), in which the old varnish and most of the overpainting was removed, the extent of these losses was revealed. The losses in white dress are rather extensive in the center; they consist of an old, branched tear and numerous little gouges in the canvas that occurred long ago during an effort to scrape off an old patch adhered to the reverse with white lead. Severe abrasion of the background, particularly in the brown areas just to the left of the figure, was also revealed when the overpaint was removed. A newer tear is found in the upper left. Also during this treatment, the wax lining was removed and replaced with a polyester fabric adhered with synthetic adhesive. A new surface coating of synthetic resin was applied after new inpainting of the losses was applied. When the lining was removed, an inscription was revealed on the reverse.[1]