I suspect I would have liked George Bellows. He was, by all accounts, a charming, adventurous man. His paintings, now on display in a spirit-swelling show at the Metropolitan Museum, brim with brio, empathy and good will, revealing a talented and fearless experimenter. But Bellows’ unpredictability has damaged his reputation. Canon-makers long ago filed him under Ashcan School and tagged him as a painter of sweaty boxers grappling beneath lurid lights. In fact, pugilists account for only a handful of the 600 paintings he produced in his brief and riotously varied career. He died of acute peritonitis in 1925, just as he was trying out new colours, dabbling in different styles, and stumbling towards a new chapter. He was 42.
The exhibition (which travels to London in March) brings us Bellows as a painter of modern life. Like the Parisian Impressionists a generation