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Open Access Publications from the University of California

George Bellows Paints California: A Summer Escape Out West

  • Author(s): Wallace, Margaret Ann
  • Advisor(s): Weems, Jason D
  • et al.

In the winter and spring of 1917, both the political condition of American society and the career of realist painter, George Bellows, were in very pivotal positions. As the world was being threatened by an imperialist power and the United States was experiencing the tense anticipation of their entrance into the First World War, Bellows accepted a portrait commission that took him out west to California and that greatly impacted the remainder of his career. As many Americans focused their attention across the Atlantic, Bellows traveled in the opposite direction.

Although many American artists from the east coast have traveled out west, Bellows' journey was something different. In an interview in the months leading up to his departure, he expressed his intention to join the draft upon his return from California. Bellows traveled there that summer to not only complete the commission, advance his aesthetic and enjoy a funded summer with his family on the west coast, but also as a critical repercussion of the growing necessity for American intervention in Europe and his ultimate decision to volunteer for the war effort.

What this thesis examines are the reasons for why Bellows traveled to California that summer and the temporal condition of where he visited through a contextual analysis of early twentieth century California culture. This thesis also explores how he responded to the place through a detailed examination of the portraits, landscapes and color experimentations that make up his California series. Ultimately, the following text reveals the impact this summer had on his painterly style, personal condition and relationship with early twentieth century California art.

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