Images of inhumanity: George Bellows's War Series
The contributions of George Bellows as a draughtsman, painter, and lithographer are often overlooked in American art history textbooks. Although Bellows was a pupil of Robert Henri and surrounded himself with artists such as John Sloan, William Glackens, and Arthur B. Davies, it is they who are remembered more than he. Although a fair amount of research has been published on Bellows, little has been published on his War Series of 1918. In April 1918, Bellows began work on a series of drawings, lithographs, and paintings based primarily on the Bryce Report, a British report that documented German atrocities committed against Belgian civilians during World War I. Belgium was a neutral country, and the Bryce Report contained dozens of eyewitness accounts of the brutal acts. Bellows reacted to the Bryce Report by creating a series of powerfully violent images that served as an expression of the artist's feelings, as visual documentation, and ultimately as propaganda. This thesis examines Bellows's background and development as an artist, as well as his religious, social, and political views, in an effort to understand the reasons he created something that at first seems so out of character for him. Although the Bryce Report was the main reason Bellows created the War Series, he drew from other artistic sources for the imagery. Through the comparison of Bellows's sources with the actual artwork in the War Series, it becomes clear which images are purely documentary, and which are more personal expressions of Bellows's sympathy for the victims. Lithography was Bellows's passion, and he chose to execute this series first as lithographs because he felt so strongly about the subject. That choice and the compositional systems and color theories Bellows utilized in the War Series will also be examined. This thesis sheds light on an aspect of Bellows's work that has been largely overlooked by scholars for many years. The War Series holds a unique place in American art history. It played a critical role in the development of lithography in the United States and influenced the way propaganda is thought of today.