Westward: Stag at Sharkey's

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George Bellows, Stag at Starkey's, 1909
Westward
BY REID GUEMMER

As a child I vividly remember a print of this painting hanging in our basement. Despite the violent content, it makes me feel some sort of comfort, given its familiarity.

George Bellows was born and raised in Ohio. He never managed to leave the country, although through much time spent in museums, he managed to achieve an European sort of style. Bellows can be classified as a realist, although throughout his career he experimented with loose brush strokes and color, which placies him in the vicinity of the modernists.

Bellows is primarily known for his various portrayals of New York, whether that be cityscapes or boxers. In this case, it's boxers. Across from his studio was Sharkeys bar, where organized boxing matches would take place in the back room. The matches were illegal, and that is where the name of the painting Stag at Sharkey's, comes into play. "Stags" refers to the illegal fights that went down.

Bellows quickly became a fan and obtained a member to the exclusive group of individuals who viewed these matches.

The angle at which we view the boxers creates the effect that the viewer is a part of the crowd. The peach skin tone of the boxers functions as the light source for the painting, and their sweat glistens in the well-lit ring.

By the end of his career, Bellows was known as one of the most respected American painters of his generation. Before pursuing his career in painting, he was offered an offer to play professional baseball but turned it down. Either way, Bellows would've eventually been seen as an American icon.


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