Realist painter and longtime East 19th Street resident George Bellows is best known for his bold views of amateur boxers as well as the grittiness of urban life in the early 20th century.
He painted scenes showing every season. But there’s something about his depictions of New York beneath cold gray skies, covered in snow, or surrounded by ice that captures the city’s abrasive, isolating winters.
“Pennsylvania Station Excavation,” from 1907-1908, puts the fiery equipment brought in to clear out 31st to 33rd Streets between snowy ground and an icy sky.
“The scene has an infernal quality, with the digging machinery circled by small fires and rising smoke near the center of the snowy pit, and all overshadowed by a massive building from which soot streams across the acid blue of a winter sunset,” states the website for the Brooklyn Museum.
“Snow Dumpers,” painted in 1911, shows us overcoat-clad city workers and snorting horses tasked with carrying loads of snow from Manhattan streets to be dumped into the choked-with-traffic East River.
The skies over the river and Brooklyn Bridge look gray and frigid, and the snow has streaks of blue.
“Steaming Streets,” from 1908, reveals winter as an agent of chaos. “[The painting] is dealing with a fleeting, highly charged moment during winter in New York when weather and traffic conditions have combined to create havoc in the street,” explains the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
“Immediately one feels that the vapors from the melting snow and slush are unsettling the horses and adding to the annoyance of the driver, who is forcibly braking them against the oncoming trolley and team to its left.”
The Met’s George Bellows exhibit runs until February 18, a powerful collection of paintings by an artist with a sharp eye for the moods of his adopted city.