Rotations: The Legacy of George Bellows
September 20, 2020 – January 17, 2021
Dear Mr. Weyerhaeuser, Shipyard has always been a great favorite of mine –with its prow flung against the blue sky like a racehorse tossing its head –rearing to go. Hope you and your family will enjoy it as much as I have.
I am most cordially – Emma S. Bellows
American artist, George Bellows (1882-1925), focused almost half of his oeuvre of approximately five hundred and fifty paintings on the sea. They are far removed from the urban scenes of New York City for which he is most celebrated. Created primarily in the summer during trips to the coast of Maine and its offshore islands in 1911, 1913, 1914 and 1916, the canvases reflect the artist’s success exploring ideas and trends emerging in modern painting. The brilliant palettes displayed in the Armory Show of 1913 gave Bellows license to replace the somber palette of his earlier works with spontaneous, pure color. Bellows then painted bold, immediate strokes in vibrant hues of blue, green and purple, likely mixed right on the painting surfaces.
The shipyard in Camden, Maine, drew in Bellows like a magnet, for in that location a huge wooden skeleton was being erected, “pushing its great curved timbers to the sky,” (exhibit label). This furnished the theme for six major canvases including museum’s painting, Shipyard, created in August, 1916. The artist said of these pictures:
When I paint the beginning of a ship at Camden, I feel the reverence the ship builder has for his handiwork. He is creating something splendid, to master wind and wave, something as fine and powerful as nature’s own forces…
It is likely that collector Carl Weyerhaeuser’s attraction to the canvas harkened back to the family lumber business and reverence for wooden structures. However, he was also intrigued by how many hands came together in order to create a seaworthy vessel. In his collections of poems, Just Fragments, Weyerhaeuser further described his interest:
In George Bellows Shipyard I see the dignity of labor, the beauty of labor, the zest of labor, the camaraderie of working together, of sharing a job together.
In the fall, 2020, an exhibition of Bellows canvases from museum’s collection will be on view in Rotations, featuring Shipyard (1916), Green Sea (1913), The Farm of John Tom (1916), Gulls (1913) and other paintings. In addition, a selection of lithographs created by the artist will also be on exhibit, including one of the most important prints of the early twentieth century, The Stag at Sharkey’s, 1917.