Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Art Collection: Caricature Of George Bellows By Art Young, Ca. 1916

Click for bigger.

Art Young (1866-1943) was a prolific and influential political cartoonist, writer and illustrator who worked for many of the most prestigious magazines and newspapers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is best known for his work at The Masses, a fairly radical socialist magazine published in New York between 1911 and 1917. The drawing below, titled "Capitalism", is probably his most iconic drawing from that periodical:

While at The Masses, Young worked alongside noteworthy American painters John Sloan, Stuart Davis and George Bellows, and coined the term "The Ashcan School" to describe their warts-and-all urban style and subject matter. In a 1917 issue he published the following caricature of the magazine's art staff:

When I first purchased the drawing being examined here, I noted the similarity between it and the caricature of The Masses cartoonists. The seller felt that the drawing of Bellows came later, from the 20s or 30s, and theorized that it could have been made as a spot illustration for one of Young's memoirs. Unfortunately, the previous owner had no other information about it. I was first able to get my hands on his second memoir, Art Young: His Life and Times (1939), and sure enough, it features many portraits similar to my drawing, such as those below:

Other illustrations in the book demonstrated that the cursive handwriting in my drawing was indeed Young's own. At this point I felt that the drawing of Bellows had perhaps been made, but not used, for this volume (Bellows is only briefly mentioned in it, making the drawing a understandable candidate to be dropped from the illustration-packed book). The final piece of the puzzle fell into place when I obtained Young's earlier memoir, On My Way (1928) from the Library of Congress. In it, Young reproduces the caricature of The Masses art staff with the following caption:

This was an exciting discovery, because it strongly suggested that my drawing was, in fact, one of the sketches made in preparation for the group caricature. The drawing itself bears this out: there are numerous subtle changes visible between the inking and the underlying pencil drawing, as well as numerous erasures and corrections (especially at the top of the head), clearly demonstrating that this is where Young was working to get Bellows' features right.

My conclusion is that at least the underlying pencil drawing on my sheet was drawn from life. There is a good chance that this preparatory drawing was excised from a sketchbook (the contours of the sheet are slightly irregular) and then inked and signed later by the artist; the red crayon outline suggests that it was made into a "presentation piece" at a later date,  I like to think for Bellows himself, but this is, of course, conjecture. My next step is to see if I can find any of the other surviving sketches made in preparation for the group caricature.

I'd like to thank Dr. Rebecca Zurier of the University of Michigan, and author of the excellent Art for The Masses, for helping to lead me in the right direction in my research on this rare period image of one of America's greatest painters. This, to the best of my knowledge, is the first time this drawing has ever been published.


samael7 said...

Good heavens, that's fantastic! What an unexpected treat you've pulled out this time, Peteykins!

My paltry smattering of art history knowledge recalls the Ashcan School, but I'm more familiar with Sloan and Davis, so this is a cool addition to my awareness of the associated artists of that era.

Karen Zipdrive said...

I just adore cross-hatching.