This picture forms part of a small but invigorating exhibition at the National Gallery, An American Experiment: George Bellows and the Ashcan Painters. It is the first in a running series of displays, organised with the Terra Foundation of American Art and intended “to present the British public with the finest works of American painting, and to introduce that public to areas of American art still insufficiently appreciated here”.
The work of George Bellows certainly falls into both categories. He was one of the finest American painters of the early 20th century, but his work has been little exhibited in this country: in fact, none of the seven paintings shown in An American Experiment has been displayed in Britain before.
Bellows was arguably the most talented member of a group of painters who came to be known as the Ashcan School. They were inspired by the teachings of Robert Henri, who had himself been inspired by the vigorously anti-academic form of urban realism practised in France by Manet, Monet and Degas.
Where those painters had captured the reality of the modern European metropolis, with Paris as its epitome, Henri encouraged his disciples to embrace the raucous vitality of New York and its seethingly multitudinous, immigrant population.