George Bellows understood New York in summer

George Bellows was not a New York native. But this early 20th century painter—who moved to Gotham in 1904 and established himself a leader of the Ashcan school of social realism and worked from his East 19th Street studio—made a career out of depicting both bold and tender scenes of life in New York City.

[Cliff Dwellers, 1913]

Bellows painted the city in every season, particularly winter. Yet it’s his images of New Yorkers in warm weather that seem to truly capture the rhythms and rituals of a New York summer.

[Beach at Coney Island, 1908]

The sweltering heat locked in a tenement courtyard, the nighttime parks where a couple stroll by lamplight under a dark canopy of leaves, the Coney Island beaches, where moral codes could be broken under and outside a tent in the sand—these playful portrayals of the summertime city still speak to the contemporary New Yorker.

[Summer Night, Riverside Drive; 1909]

Even Bellows’ depictions of boys crowded on a waterside dock conveys the thrill—and necessity, in a roasting city still without municipal pools—of goofing around and cooling off with a swim in a river, an activity that was outlawed in the early 1900s.

[Forty-two Kids; 1907]

Not only did Bellows capture the feel of the heated summer city, but he empathized with those he painted.

That includes the subjects in these four paintings: the sweat-soaked tenement dwellers, the lovers on the beach, the couple in the park catching time while walking the dog, and the cub pack of boys smoking, peeing, hanging out, and getting ready to test their boundaries and dive into the water.

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4 Responses to “George Bellows understood New York in summer”

  1. countrypaul Says:

    And we thought New Yorkers were piled up on top of each other now…!

  2. Tom Jones Says:

    As a new subscriber to Ephemeral New York but an old (in time and grade) New Yorker, thank you for this extraordinary site.

  3. Tom B Says:

    Lovely paintings. It appears we all got along back then. Guessing they are just happy to be here. Different times, different New Yorkers today.

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