Monday, June 18, 2012

George Bellows: Painter with a Punch!

Burleigh, Robert. 2012. George Bellows: Painter with a Punch! New York: Abrams.

New York City painter George Bellows (1882-1925) was a member of what  became known as the Ashcan School of painting because

he is among a group of artists who focus on the less romantic parts of the city, like bars, train stations, movie theaters, and alleyways.
He was taught by the well-known, Robert Henri, who encouraged his students to seek out scenes worthy of being painted.

George listens, looks, and learns.  He sees that painting can be a great adventure.  He becomes what Henri calls a "sketch hunter."  When not in class, George wanders the streets, looking for new or different scenes to paint.   Excited, alert, he feels his life is beginning in a completely new way.
Eventually, he becomes best known for his paintings of boxing matches in New York City's "clubs," which were created by saloon owners to side-step the city's boxing ban.

More than a picture book biography, George Bellows: Painter with a Punch!, offers readers an insight into an era of early 20th century New York history that includes industrial growth, socialism, poverty and the immigrant experience as well as the birth of a movement toward realism in American paintings.  Not just a painter, Bellows was also a sketch artist whose work appeared in Harper's Weekly and other publications.  An affable man with a loving wife and family, his story is inspiring and informative.

Burleigh's briskly moving prose is accompanied by photos of Bellows (he was a promising baseball player when young) and more than twenty large spreads of his paintings and sketches.

A helpful section, "Where to See Works by George Bellows," is included, with state-by-state listings. Check first, however, if you plan to look for any of his paintings this summer.  Some, including one from the only New Jersey institution housing his work, are on loan to the National Gallery of Art. The National Gallery of Art is featuring a George Bellows Exhibition from June 10 - October 8, 2012.

[Policeman and young boy argui... Digital ID: 805823. New York Public Library
This print from Harper's Weekly,
does not appear in the book, but illustrates Bellows'
penchant for depicting the seamier side of
life in New York City.
(image from NYPL digital gallery)

Best for older readers, art teachers, aspiring artists, and those with an interest in the history of New York City and the historical significance of art in boxing.  Though neither a student of art nor a boxing aficionado, I love this book!

Middle-grade teachers that do not permit or make use of picture book nonfiction such as George Bellows: Painter with a Punch! are missing a great resource.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Simply Science.


  1. Thanks for participating in Nonfiction Monday. I laughed at the zebra comment--great point!

  2. I think that this looks great- for me! Not sure if I'd share a book about boxing with my young kids, but they loved the immigrant experience of early New York in Laundry Day earlier this year.


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