The purchase of a George Bellows painting has signalled a major change in policy at the National Gallery, ending 190 years of showing only European artists.
Men of the Docks (1912) has been bought for $25.5m to
become the first major American painting to be acquired by the
It was secured in a deal arranged by New York art dealer Rachel
Kaminsky, who acted as a special adviser to the gallery in its
search for a pre-eminent American painting for its collection.
This is the first painting by Bellows to enter a UK public
collection, and was bought from Randolph College in Lynchburg,
Virginia, with backing partly from Sir Paul Getty's fund and
private anonymous sources, as part of a new, transatlantic academic
partnership, the first of its kind between an American college and
a UK gallery.
The National Gallery said it was "seeking to represent paintings
in the Western European tradition, rather than solely those made by
artists working in Western Europe".
"The acquisition of Men of the Docks, a work made in
the Western painting tradition at a vital moment of experiment and
innovation in the early years of the 20th century, introduces a
previously overlooked dimension to our collection," said a
The change in direction began in 2009 with the launch of the
National Gallery's ongoing collaboration with the Terra Foundation
for American Art, which involves bringing historical masterworks
from the US to London "through a series of focused
Bellows was the subject of the first of these shows (An
American Experiment: George Bellows and the Ashcan Painters,
from March-May 2011), which was seen by 98,000 visitors.
Bellows' work was also showcased in the Royal Academy's
exhibition George Bellows (1882-1925): Modern American
Life, held from March-June last year. Men of the
Docks was included in that display among 71 works
covering his career from 1905-25.
Men of the Docks, a 3ft 9in x 5ft 3in (1.14 x 1.61m)
oil on canvas, the final and largest in a series of Bellows
paintings of workers gathered on a frigid winter day on the New
York waterfront, is now on display in Room 43 of the National
Gallery alongside major Impressionist works including snow scenes
and urban vistas by Monet and Pissarro, "thus linking Bellows with
his closest European avant-garde antecedents", the gallery
National Gallery director Dr Nicholas Penny added: "Bellows has
almost always been seen in the context of American painting, but
the way he painted owed much to Manet, and his depiction of the
violence and victims of New York derived from Goya and earlier
Spanish art. He will seem as modern and original as ever in the
National Gallery, but our visitors - many of them from North
America - will understand him in a different way. We are thrilled
to have been able to purchase this painting."
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