Research Paper: George Bellows Identification of Painting

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[. . .] Part of the reason for Bellows' emphasis of the brutality and ugliness in the painting was to contrast a private club like Sharkey's with the safer, more middle class YMCA, which was considered by the mainstream of New York society as "moral, sanitary, and in harmony with social and individual improvement" (Haywood, 5).

Sharkey's was a place that was seen as "sordid," Haywood continues, where "lowly men, many of whom were immigrants, engaged in dangerous, animal-like combat," and hence attending one of these brutal, bloody battles was a kind of "…revolt against authority and mainstream society" (5). Once the fight game was legal, Bellows painted the fight between Dempsey and Firpo in 1924, and this oil on canvas contrasted starkly with the Sharkey's painting. The Dempsey painting had "…controlled lines, solid forms, and slick surface," totally the opposite of the Sharkey's painting.

Clean lines were the mode of expression in the Dempsey painting; the referee was pictured a clean white shirt and pants (and a necktie); and the faces in the crowd were realistic rather than smudged and twisted. Haywood quotes Bellows from 1910: "I am not interested in the morality of prize fighting. But let me say that the atmosphere around the fighters is a lot more immoral than the fighters themselves" (8). Clearly while Bellows insisted he was not trying to promote boxing, his work had that effect. "When idealized by turn-of-the-century eyes, a boxer was a paradigm of well-developed form," Haywood explains (9).

One of the salient themes of the Sharkey painting is that the boxing ring is elevated well above the audience. It "…raises [the fighters] to a position of power that the spectators envy from below. But the spectators themselves are vicarious participants in the fight," Haywood continues (12). Hence, the spectators are as much into male strength as the boxers.

Research on Bellows

Bellows was born in Columbus, Ohio, on August 19, 1882. His mother wanted him to be a bishop, and his father hoped he would get into banking. He was a good athlete at Ohio State University and he played minor league baseball after attending the University (he did not graduate). But he gave up participation in sports to learn art. He was educated in art and was a disciple of Robert Henri, whose art education was in Paris and American and who "…led a movement that rejected French Impressionism" and rejected the American paintings that "glorified the American West" (Beckett, 2003). Bellows became well-known quickly and his "technical brilliance made him more acceptable than any of the other painters of similar impulse"; he married in 1910 and began his own teaching career at the Art Students League (Encyclopedia of World Biography).

Value Judgment on the painting

Once I became familiar with the context of the painting (Stag at Sharkey's), I truly appreciated it for the cultural realities at that time in New York, and for the tone of brutality and blood (because boxing was basically illegal). It gives a feeling of early 20th century. I have never seen anything quite like this painting, and I'm not a boxing fan, but to me a work like this is more historical in context than purely artistic. Having read the scholarly analysis by Haywood, I know that there was a purpose behind Bellows' use of abstraction in the Sharkey's painting. Is it inexhaustible? In a way, yes, every time I examine it I see new things and I imagine how the audience must have reacted to the bloody attacks in front of them. I can imagine the sound of boxing gloves slamming into flesh as the audience roars and cheers for one side or the other. It's a shame Bellows' life was cut short by an appendix at the age of 43; surely he had many more memorable, even iconic, works to paint before his life was to end.

Works Cited

Beckett, Wendy. (2003). Stag at Sharkey's. The Cleveland Museum of Art. KCET Public

Television. Retrieved December 7, 2012, from

Dowling, Claudia Glenn. (2012). Guts and glory: the muscular art of painter George Bellows, like his nation, is a study in contrasts. Retrieved December 7, 2012, from Gale Biography

in Context.

Encyclopedia of World Biography. (2004). George… [END OF PREVIEW]

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George Bellows Identification of Painting.  (2012, December 7).  Retrieved July 15, 2019, from

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"George Bellows Identification of Painting."  7 December 2012.  Web.  15 July 2019. <>.

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"George Bellows Identification of Painting."  December 7, 2012.  Accessed July 15, 2019.