Tennis at Newport is a highly important and rare example of George Bellows' dynamic sporting scenes, and one of only four depictions of tennis painted by the artist. Some of Bellows' most iconic sporting works portray boxers engaged in semi-professional bouts, often in the back rooms of local saloons, which he presents with an uncanny immediacy and visceral character. Bellows' success with the boxing series lay in his ability to convey the excitement of the sport through the eyes of the spectators. Tennis at Newport illustrates the same spirit and action on the court, and is similarly characterized by a sumptuous painting style, a robust use of color and a complex underlying geometry.
Sport, like art, held a special fascination for Bellows, who attended Ohio State University and starred on the basketball and baseball teams. Art historian Mary Haverstock writes, "Bellows never finished his junior year at Ohio State. Scouts from pro and semi-pro baseball teams, reportedly including the Cincinnati Reds, were imploring him to sign on, but he gave them no encouragement, for by now he had decided that OSU had very little more to teach him – at least where art was concerned – and he needed to keep growing" (George Bellows, An Artist in Action, 2007, p. 23). Upon moving to New York in 1904, Bellows enrolled at the New York School of Art, and while taking classes he augmented his finances by playing semi-professional baseball. Amidst his busy schedule Bellows set aside time to play tennis with Miss Emma Louise Story, his future wife, as well as doubles with fellow artists Leon Kroll, William Glackens and Eugene Spencer. Emma later noted that tennis, because of its wider availability, gradually replaced baseball as Bellows' summer sport.
In the summers of 1918 and 1919, Bellows vacationed with his wife and two young daughters in Middletown, Rhode Island, located adjacent to Newport and the famed Newport Casino and horse-shoe tennis court (Fig. 1). In the fall of 1879, James Gordon Bennett Jr., publisher of the New York Herald and a summer resident of Newport, commissioned the architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White to design and build the Casino, which represented one of the firm's earliest projects. Constructed in only six months, the facility opened to its members in July 1880, and to the public a month later. In addition to shops, a restaurant and lodging, the grounds boasted a wide range of activities: archery, billiards, concerts, dancing, theatricals, and most importantly, lawn tennis, which originated in England and was first played in the United States in 1874. In 1881 the Newport Casino hosted the U.S. National Lawn Tennis Championships, which eventually evolved into today's U.S. Open. "The horse-shoe grass court in the center of the grounds of the Casino provided an opulent setting to sit, watch and observe an afternoon of tennis. The tennis court was oriented with the two service lines facing each other on a north/south axis. While the two story section of the club was situated to the west of the court, the single level passageway bounded to the eastern edge" (Glenn Peck, "Bellows and the Casino at Newport," H.V. Allison, 2009).
In 1919 the Newport Lawn Tennis Club staged an invitational tournament, which pitted some of the sports most accomplished athletes against one another, most notably Bill Tilden and Bill Johnston. Inspired by the quality of the tennis and the elegant crowds, Bellows painted two works: Tennis Tournament (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and The Tournament (Private Collection, Washington, D.C.). While both works depict the excitement generated by these exhilarating matches, Bellows was not entirely satisfied with the compositions, so in the winter of 1920 he produced two lithographs: The Tournament and Tennis. Beginning in 1916 until his death in 1925, Bellows pulled a total of 190 lithographs. During this time, the artist executed approximately twenty lithographs a year; however, in 1920, these two lithographs were the only two compositions he developed. The lithographs were "fresh and successful attempts at resolving the issues of perspective that hampered the earlier efforts in the oil paintings" (Glenn Peck, "Bellows and the Casino at Newport," H.V. Allison, 2009).
Using the lithographs as templates, Bellows prepared to paint two additional canvases, choosing much larger dimensions than the two previous oils. While Bellows likely worked on these paintings at the same time, he brought Tennis at Newport to completion first. Glenn Peck writes, "[Tennis at Newport] embraces all of the successful draftsmanship of the lithograph and then goes one level higher in the introduction of a chromatic palette of reds, purples, greens and yellows. One gets the sense that Bellows worked through this version with intensity and alacrity" ("Bellows and the Casino at Newport," H.V. Allison, 2009). In early sporting works such as Club Night (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), Bellows emphasized the sport and its participants, while the crowd was secondary. In Polo Crowd (Private Collection), the artist positions the crowd encroaching on the field as a deliberate foil to the action. This progression towards a composition that unifies the sport and spectators culminates with Bellows' tennis series. In Tennis at Newport the players on the court are barely discernable from the crowd, who have become as central to the composition as the athletes. The final and largest of Bellows' tennis paintings is Tennis Tournament (Fig. 2, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). While this work is nearly fully developed, Bellows left certain elements unfinished, most notably the tennis player at left, as well as several spectators who sit along the edge of the court.
Bellows was strongly influenced by his teacher and mentor Robert Henri, who encouraged his students to pursue a modern and direct approach to their subjects. Though he never became a member of The Eight, Bellows shared their interest in the strong visual imagery of life in New York at the turn of the century. In addition, Bellows, like members of The Eight, experimented with compositional systems and color theory as he transitioned toward a modern sensibility. Michael Quick notes, "[In Tennis at Newport] Bellows used long, late-afternoon shadows as forceful projections of space, helping to overcome the two-dimensional quality of designs based on Dynamic Symmetry... Because they obey Dynamic Symmetry, rather than the laws of physics, the shadows sometimes behave illogically, as in the contrariwise-slanting shadow of the tennis player in the middle distance on the far left... The long shadow lines also harmonize with large areas of general shadow that enhance the effect of atmosphere and depth" (Michael Quick, George Bellows, 1992, p. 74). Bellows began experimenting with Jay Hambridge's theory of Dynamic Symmetry in 1918 and utilized this approach, with geometrically arranged compositional lines, until his untimely death in 1925.
Unlike many of his contemporaries who traveled abroad, Bellows' unwavering nationalism and enthusiasm for American art kept him firmly entrenched in the United States. Despite limited travel, Bellows' art resonated and influenced scores of artists both domestically and abroad, as well as those from future generations. As noted in the exhibition catalogue for George Bellows, Lithographs from the Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Harold Rifkin, "His rendering of the remarkable oil painting, Stag at Sharkey's, 1909 (Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio), bespeaks his genius: the arcing strokes of paint that define the combatants are filled with the blood and guts of Willem de Kooning's (Fig. 3) women, which would rock the art world a half century later" (Warren Adelson, George Bellows, Lithographs from the Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Harold Rifkin, 1999). In Tennis at Newport, Bellows brings to bear his passion for sport with a technical and aesthetic approach that stands among his greatest achievements.
Oil on canvas
Worcester, Massachusetts, Worcester Art Museum, 1920
New York, Ferargil Gallery, Paintings by the Late Thomas Eakins and the Recent Works of George Bellows, March 1921
Columbus, Ohio, Columbus Museum of Art, Thirty-six Paintings by George Bellows, 1940
New York, H.V. Allison & Co., Paintings by George Bellows, October-November, 1942
Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, Sport in American Art, October-December 1944
Chicago, Illinois, The Art Institute of Chicago, George Bellows: Paintings, Drawings and Prints, January-March 1946, p. 43, no. 40
Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art; Louisville, Kentucky, J.B. Speed Art Museum; Dallas, Texas, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts; Denver, Colorado, Denver Art Museum; Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles County Museum; San Francisco, California, California Palace of Legion of Honor, Sport in Art, November 1955-August 1956, no. 6
New York, H.V. Allison & Co., George Bellows, May 1957, no. 7, illustrated on the cover
New York, The Gallery of Modern Art, George Bellows: Paintings, Drawings, Lithographs, March-May 1966, no. 55, p. 34, illustrated
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, George Bellows (1882-1925), 1971, no. 13, illustrated
Palm Beach, Florida, Palm Beach Galleries, 19th and 20th Century French and American Paintings, January-February 1974, no. 17, illustrated
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Quality, An Experience in Collecting, November-December, 1974, no. 3, illustrated
Dallas, Texas, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas Collects American Paintings: Colonial to Early Modern, September-November 1982, no. 42, p. 108, illustrated p. 109, illustrated pl. XVI
Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Columbus, Ohio, Columbus Museum of Art; Fort Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum, The Paintings of George Bellows, February 1992-May 1993, pp. 2, 74, fig. 73, illustrated
43 by 53 inches (109.2 by 134.6 cm)
The Artist's Record Book B, p. 198
Charles H. Morgan, George Bellows Painter of America, New York, 1965, p. 22
Donald Braider, George Bellows and the Ashcan School of Painting, New York, 1971, p. 121
Mahonri Sharp Young, The Paintings of George Bellows, New York, 1973, p. 126, illustrated
Mary Sayre Haverstock, George Bellows, An Artist in Action, New York, 2007, pp. 124, 131, illustrated p. 130
Estate of the artist, 1925
Emma S. Bellows (his wife)
H.V. Allison & Co., New York
C. Ruxton Love, Jr., Greenwich, Connecticut, 1958 (acquired from the above)
Estate of C. Ruxton Love, Jr., 1971
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1971 (acquired from the above)
Acquavella Galleries, New York
Private Collection, Dallas, Texas, circa 1977 (acquired from the above)