In 1904, when George Bellows arrived in New York from Columbus, Ohio to attend classes at the New York School of Art, he encountered a city teeming with the excitement of urban expansion. Bridges, train stations and buildings were springing up throughout the metropolis and immigrants were coming to the city by the thousands. Painted in 1906, Kids is Bellows’ first major painting of the working class children who lived in the tenements of New York’s Lower East Side. In this and other early works, Bellows applied his own brand of realism to the gritty aspects of city life, forming a compendium of scenes of New York life seldom portrayed so directly in American art up to this time.\nBellows was strongly influenced by his teacher and mentor Robert Henri, who encouraged his students to pursue a modern and direct approach to their subjects. Henri had earned a reputation as something of a radical, rejecting the conventions of academic training and encouraging his students to heed their own intuition, stressing the importance of personal observation and instinct above the disciplined mastery of technique. Henri’s teaching philosophy was, “that the people of America learn the means of expressing themselves in their own time and in their own land. In this country we have no need for art as a culture; no need of art as refined and elegant performance; no need of art for poetry’s sake. …What we do need is art that expresses the spirit of the people of today. …I want to see progress. It should be impossible to have any feeling of jealousy towards those who are young and are to accomplish the future” (quoted in Robert Hughes, American Visions, New York, 1997, p. 325). Bellows flourished under Henri’s tutelage and like the other artists of Henri’s circle, notably George Luks, John Sloan, William Glackens and Everett Shinn, enthusiastically took up Henri’s call to “Stop studying water pitchers and bananas and paint every day New York life” (Painters of a New Century: The Eight & American Art, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1991, p. 26).\nThough Bellows’ earliest New York scenes depict well-to-do children playing in Central Park, according to Marianne Doezema, “By the spring of his second year under Henri’s tutelage, Bellows was painting different children, in a very different section of the city, and in a different style. The girls and boys depicted in Kids are definitely not upper-class. In fact, the term kids was not used during this period to refer to children of the well-to-do; it was generally reserved for streetwise youngsters of the poor and working classes. The ‘kids’ in Bellows’s painting pass their time without the benefit of parks or even balls and skates. In front of a simple planked façade they interact, play games, slouch, hang around; one sucks her thumb, another smokes. The entire scene constitutes a sharp contrast with the activities and the very postures of the children Bellows depicted playing in Central Park. Little remains in the later work from the modish realm of Charles Dana Gibson or Life magazine. Gone, too, is the crisp, two-dimensional drawing style. Bellows’s approach to subject matter, indeed his vision of reality, would seem to have been transformed” (George Bellows and Urban America, New Haven, Connecticut, 1992, pp. 124, 126).\nBellows decision to paint the tenement children who made the street their backyard and playground may have been inspired by fellow realist George Luks, whose painting The Spielers (figure 1) of 1905 was recognized by critics of the time as “one of the finest examples of contemporary art and a symbol of life in the New York slums” (Gwendolyn Owens, Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, Andover, Massachusetts, 1996, p. 423). At this time, the Lower East Side was one of the most densely populated areas of the city, if not the country, with extended families living together in small, walk-up apartments. Working class children were responsible for themselves, left alone by parents who had to work to support large families on minimal wages. Older children were often enlisted to look after their younger siblings, as it appears the young girl in a white dress is doing in Kids. Ms. Doezema continues, “Showing Kids in the Society of American Artists’ Annual Exhibition in 1906—the artist’s first entry in what would have been considered a national show—proclaimed Bellows’s identification with antigenteel subjects approached without idealization. In 1906, when the arbiters of taste were still promoting depictions of the ‘more smiling aspects’ of American life, paintings like Kids could create a definite stir, especially when the painting itself showed strong signs of talent. Thus, Bellows forged his link with the notorious Henri camp, a connection that would help shape the development of his early career” (George Bellows and Urban America, p. 126).\nThough he never became a member of The Eight (the revolutionary group of realist artists led by Henri), Bellows shared their interest in urban life at the turn of the century. The artist’s success with realist subjects continued in many of his best works of this period, including River Rats (figure 2) of August 1906 and Forty-two Kids (figure 3) painted the following year. “As can be seen in Kids and Forty-two Kids, Bellows often exaggerated the facial expressions of his figures to the point of caricature, much in the vein of Daumier, whose lithographs he and his teacher Henri admired. In fact, the spontaneity, reduced modeling, and summary brushwork of Bellows’s paintings tie him not only to a long tradition of nineteenth-century caricature but also to the French Impressionists, who employed aspects of the graphic arts in their paintings, challenging the established standards of academic practice. Moving beyond the relative restraint of the American Impressionists, Bellows used amorphous brushwork that had a life of its own, separate from the forms it was intended to represent.\n“Despite the differences that separated them from the American Impressionists, Bellows and other Realists held to a sense of optimism. Although the American Impressionists created euphemistic images by choosing well-cared-for, middle-class models, their Realist successors achieved a similarly positive effect by different means: their neglected and deprived lower-class subjects may have had to work, but the artists painted them in energetic moments of leisure” (American Impressionism and Realism, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994, pp. 303-04).\nAlong with The Eight, Bellows was primarily concerned with the modern issues he observed on a daily basis. He was elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1909, at the age of 26 and, while he sympathized with The Eight, he did not support their revolution against the Academy. Today Bellows is considered a major figure in the transition from American academic art toward a modern sensibility. In addition to painting powerful scenes of urban development (such as those of the excavation prior to the construction of Pennsylvania Station), and of working class tenement dwellers, Bellows captured America’s growing interest in spectator sport events. In all of these motifs, Bellows’ treatment is characterized by a powerful use of color and a dynamic, vigorous painting style.\nSigned Geo. Bellows, l.l.