In 1904, George Bellows (1882–1925) skipped his final exams at Ohio State University and moved to New York to start a career as an illustrator. He quickly befriended the artists of the city, taking classes from Robert Henri alongside peers such as Edward Hopper, John Sloan, and Rockwell Kent. Before his life was cut short by a ruptured appendix, Bellows followed a unique path through American modernism, falling in with neither abstraction nor surrealism, adhering to Realism above all—depicting the body (individual and aggregate) in age and youth, in motion and stillness, portraying the metropolis, always trying to get “hold of life . . . of something real.”

Bellows’s career advanced quickly. By the time of the 1913 Armory Show—in which he exhibited six paintings and eight drawings—he was well known enough to assist in designing the...


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