Traces of the Hand

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Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman

The American Scene

George Wesley Bellows
American, 1882–1925
Study of Two Salvation Army Musicians for Energizing the Broken (Salvation Army), 1924
Conté crayon on wove paper
12 1/2 x 10 1/4 in, 31.75 x 26.04 cm (sheet)
Signature: (recto) at lower right, in crayon: "GEO BELLOWS/J.B.B."
Provenance: Acquired from Auslew Gallery, Norfolk, VA, 1969
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2006.11.6

verso

Two Salvation Army Musicians is a preparatory figure study for the commissioned illustration Energizing the Broken (Salvation Army), which appeared in Good Housekeeping in 1924, accompanying the article "With God’s Help" by H. Addington Bruce.1 Bellows exhibits his characteristic broad, bold lines as he experiments with the orientation of the musician-evangelists. His confident, expressive strokes quickly outline the figures and indicate a few key details including the wrinkles and creases of their uniforms, the sheen of their greased hair, brass instruments, glossy black shoes, and a few shadows. Although he has largely established the musicians’ poses, he was apparently dissatisfied with the left soldier’s foot, and attempted to redraw it before eliminating it with hasty hatching. Despite the lack of detail, Bellows expresses the musicians’ solemnity and dignity through their facial expressions and postures as they kneel, instruments in hand, to pray for the salvation of New York City’s sinners.

Comparing this preliminary study to the finished drawing for the illustration, we can still see Bellow’s typically emphatic outlines—only the musician at the right is added in the final version—but they are less animated in the final drawing. This may well be because Bellows was unable to observe Salvation Army musicians in person, an important aspect of his working method. A student of the Ashcan artist Robert Henri (1865–1929), Bellows typically drew or painted on-the-spot renderings of New York’s sites and citizens, but he was preparing to leave the city for the summer when he received the commission from Good Housekeeping. To compensate, he requested a copy of the manuscript and photographs of Salvation Army accoutrements to assist him in creating an appropriate illustration.2 Using these aids and working from his own previous observations of city life, Bellows created at least two preparatory figure studies for Energizing the Broken.3

While best known as a painter, Bellows worked as an illustrator throughout his career, providing drawings for newspapers and the top periodicals of the day, including Harper’s Weekly, The Masses, and Vanity Fair.4 Magazine-style journalism was heavily entrenched in the Progressive Era’s urban reform movements and Christian reform groups like the Salvation Army were an increasingly prominent aspect of tenement life.5 Although Bellows did not choose the subject of the drawing, the Good Housekeeping assignment coincided with Bellow’s ongoing artistic interest in and sympathy for the inhabitants of New York’s tenement districts.

Andy Mullan
Brittany A. Strupp

 

1. H. Addington Bruce, "With God’s Help," Good Housekeeping, October 1924, 51, 171–178. For the final drawing see Robert Conway, The Powerful Hand of George Bellows: Drawings from the Boston Public Library (Boston, 2007), 131, fig. 47.

2. Conway, Powerful Hand, 130.

3. The other known preparatory sketch is Man Kneeling (1924; lithographic crayon, 10 1/4 x 7 7/8 in. See http://www.georgebellows.com [accessed 26 April 2010].

4. Conway, Powerful Hand, 24.

5. Marianne Doezema, George Bellows and Urban America, New Haven, 1992, 138.

 

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