Three master artists – Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper and Columbus native George Bellows – captured working-class life in late 19th and early 20th century America. In paintings, drawings, and prints, they depicted subway commuters, sailors, castaways, farmwives, boxers, billiard players, and many others.
These sorts of everyday snapshots are featured in 30 lithographs, etchings and drawings on view through May 26 in the “Three American Masters” exhibit at the Keny Galleries in German Village. The beautiful works, as gallery co-owner Tim Keny put it, take a look at “American life across the tracks” from 1884 to 1923.
“All three artists were very interested in life as it is lived by the ordinary person,” Keny said. “Bellows would go and hang out with the Vanderbilts (Golden Age Wealth) and then hang out in a pool hall.”
Homer lived by the sea and knew fishing and seafaring, probably more at home there than in the established art world. And Hopper frequented gas stations, motels, parks and urban cafes, the last famously captured in his painting “Nighthawks.”
The works on display in the gallery – many of which reference earlier paintings by the artists – show “America’s democracy”, Keny said.
Bellows, who was born in 1882 in Columbus and died in 1925 in New York, has the most prints and drawings in this exhibition. The first work to greet visitors entering the gallery is the magnificent “Watermelon Man” (1906), a drawing of a group of children huddled together and demanding a treat from the main character in the picture.
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By contrast, the dark and violent cartoon “Dog Fight” (1906-07), a dark scene of two dogs growling and fighting in front of a crowd of men.
Familiar boxing scenes from Bellows are present in the lithographs ‘A Knockout’ (1921) and ‘A Stag at Sharkey’s’ (1917) in which the artist put his own bald head at ringside, a nice reminder of the meaning of Bellows humor. .
A room in the gallery features Homer’s sea-themed etchings. ‘The Life Line’ (1884-87), depicting a rescue from a shipwreck off the coast of England, is particularly striking . A woman who appears unconscious is held by a man whose face is invisible, both supported by a line that dangles across the rough sea. The etching hangs next to another Homer etching of the same scene, “Saved” (1889).
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The nautical theme continues with Homer’s “Eight Bells” (1887), in which two sailors, using sextants, determine the position of their boat, the title of the engraving referring to nautical time. The scene reworks one of Homer’s most famous paintings, but with less emphasis on sea and sky and more attention to the two sailors.
Hopper’s four etchings in the exhibition demonstrate the artist’s ability to inject mystery into his scenes. “Evening Wind” (1921) places a naked woman on a bed looking out of her window while the curtains flutter in the wind.
In “Night in the Park” (1921), a solitary man sits on a bench reading, with his back to the viewer. And in “The Cat Boat” (1922), two sailors steer their boat away from the viewer towards an unknown destination and for an unknown reason. Each work raises questions about what its subjects do and think and why.
Hopper, Keny said, used austere lighting, “almost like a Hitchcock movie,” to create such a sense of enigma.
Hopper’s prints, like those of Homer, are much rarer than Bellows’ prints. But all three were master draughtsmen and engravers. Keny said he and his brother, gallery co-owner Jim Keny, have always admired these prints, especially for their depiction of American life.
“So we decided to do this trifecta,” said Tim Keny.
In one look
“Three American Masters: Homer, Bellows, Hopper” continues through May 26, at the Keny Galleries, 300 E. Beck St. Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and by appointment. Call 614-464-1228 or visit www.kenygalleries.com