As an art student in New York, fresh out of Ohio State University where he excelled in baseball and basketball, George Bellows augmented his small finances by playing shortstop with semiprofessional teams. A casual visit to a back-room boxing match quickened his interest in that then-illegal sport and later produced the magnificent paintings and lithographs for which he is most famous. Bellows loved the flashing color of muscular bodies as they lunged and bent in action, but he was not limited to the smoke-laden, sweat-scented sporting clubs. He also painted the more fashionable sports of the wind-clean out-of-doors.
At Newport's vine-clad social center, the Casino, built in 1880 by James Gordon Bennett Jr. from designs by Stanford White, Bellows painted the delightful scene (above) of a tennis match on the velvety grass courts. It was here in 1881 that Richard Dudley Sears won the first national tennis championship. In succeeding years beruffled and parasoled Belmonts, Astors and Vanderbilts assembled for the matches that helped tennis grow into a national sport. On these same courts the annual Newport Invitational Tennis Tournament is being played this week.
George Bellows' influence on American art was as great as the Casino's on tennis. His work carried a compelling impact after the academic conservatism of the old pictures at the turn of the century. Unimpressed by European traditions, he never left his native country but ranged the U.S., painting Americans at their sports and games. By the time he died in 1925 (at 42), Bellows' brush had captured such diverse scenes as the lush polo fields of the East and the rocky fishing grounds of the West (following pages).
PAINTED FROM SKETCHES DONE IN THE SUMMER OF 1919, "TENNIS AT NEWPORT" IS RICH WITH WARMTH OF LATE AFTERNOON SUN
"Polo Players" demonstrates Bellows' brilliant palette and his ability to catch an emotional, dramatic moment of action. This scene, painted in 1910 at the country estate of Jay Gould in Lakewood, N.J., captures the essence of the fashionable game.
"THE FISHERMAN" WAS PAINTED IN 1917 WHEN BELLOWS VISITED CARMEL ON THE CALIFORNIA COAST