George W. Bellows
1882-1925 | American
Introducing the Champion
Signed "G. Bellows" (upper left)
Black crayon, India ink and collage on paper
“[Bellows] caught the brute force of the prize fighter[s]... and recorded them appropriately not only for his own generation but for all time.” - Frederick A. Sweet
George W. Bellows’ boxing scenes are among his most iconic works, and they stand as superb examples of American realism. As part of the second generation of the Ashcan School of painting, Bellows favored a modern form of realism based on the American city and urban life. He is perhaps most celebrated for his gritty depictions of prizefights and boxing clubs, of which he was an avid fan. The present work, entitled Introducing the Champion perfectly captures the frenzied excitement of the boxing ring.
Introducing the Champion was composed for the September 1912 edition of American Magazine, accompanying a short story narrating the challenge fight between former and current lightweight champions and personal enemies, Jimmy Nolan and Tornado Black. The fight was one of revenge and redemption for Nolan, who had lost both his title and wife to Tornado. Tornado was the clear favorite to win, with Nolan rumored to have “lost his punch,” but the underdog ultimately prevailed. Bellows completed four drawings for the story, with Introducing the Champion as the introductory illustration.
George Bellows was born in Colombus, Ohio, but moved to New York as a young man to pursue a career in art. There, he studied under Robert Henri at the New York School of Art. Henri was a strong proponent of urban realism and encouraged Bellows to study subjects that represented the gritty reality of life in New York. His first studio was located across the street from Sharkey’s Athletic Club in Manhattan, where he attended boxing matches often. Captivated by the action, he completed several paintings and drawings of this quintessential urban subject and became well-known for it. Bellows had also excelled in athletics since childhood, playing baseball and basketball for Ohio State University, undoubtedly contributing to his keen ability to convey the physicality and power of elite athletes on canvas.
In this drawing, the artist uses quick, scratchy lines in lithographic crayon to convey motion and bring immediacy to the scene. He also chooses a low vantage point to suggest that the viewer is among the cheering and jeering crowd. The excitement and anticipation of the spectators are tangible as the referee motions toward the current champion, Tornado Black, who stands confidently in the spotlight as Nolan sits slumped over in the background. Dramatic contrasts of dark and light and exaggerated gestures enhance the theatricality of the scene, directing the viewer’s focus to the boxers in the ring, like actors on a stage.
Bellows exhibited regularly with the National Academy of Design, and he helped to organize the Exhibition of Independent Artists in 1910 and the famed Armory Show in 1913. Also in 1913, shortly after this work was completed, Bellows achieved the honor of being elected a full academician by the National Academy of Design. This particular work also holds the distinction of hailing from the famed Alan D. Levy Collection, and lithographs derived from Introducing the Champion are part of several important museum collections, including the National Gallery of Art, the Detroit Institute of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Other boxing subjects by Bellows reside in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.
Completed in 1912
Paper: 24 3/4" high x 20" wide
Frame: 33 3/4" high x 29 7/8" wide
Estate of George Bellows
Frederic S. Allen, Pelham Manor, New York
Sale: Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, February 11, 1953, lot #16
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York, 1953
John Whitney Payson, 1953
Mr. and Mrs. Alan D. Levy, Los Angeles
Private collection, 2010
New York, International Exhibition of Modern Art, Armory of the 69th Regiment, February 17-March 15, 1913, no. 1043, p. 28, as "Lightweight Champion of the World"
Traveled to: The Art Institute of Chicago, March 24-April 26, 1913, no. 11
Philadelphia, Eleventh Annual Philadelphia Watercolor Exhibition, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, November 9-December 14, 1913, no. 1140, p. 80, as "Lightweight Champion of the World"
St. Louis, 1914, according to the Record Book
Columbus, OH, according to the Record Book
Washington, D.C., Drawings and Lithographs: George Bellows, Phillips Memorial Gallery, January 14-February 12, 1945, no. 16
Chicago, George Bellows: Paintings, Drawings and Prints, The Art Institute of Chicago, January 31-March 10, 1946, no. 72, pp. 51, 76
Washington, D.C., Bellows: The Boxing Pictures, National Gallery of Art, September 5, 1982-January 2, 1983, no. 11
Carmean, E. A., and George Bellows. Bellows: The Boxing Pictures. National Gallery of Art, 1982.