The Life Class, No. 2, 1919
Lithograph on wove paper; sheet 380 x 470 mm (15 x 18 inches)
Signed in pencil by the printer within the image at lower center: Bolton Brown/impr.
The print is accompanied by a tab of wove paper, attached to its mat, annotated in pencil in Browns handwriting: Drawn on the stone by Geo. Bellows/Drawn on the stone by Geo. Bellows/at lecture + demonstration on/Lithography by Bolton Brown at/Pratt Institute
A unique impression.
Bellows recorded the primitive conditions under which he studied in New York early in his career in two prints titled The Life Class, one made in 1917 known as The Life Class, Second Stone (M. 43) and the other, offered here, described in Mason as The Life Class: First Stone and dated by him to ca. 1916. They show the evening life class for working men taught by Robert Henri. Indeed, Mason noted that the print was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1946 where the catalogue entry stated: A hitherto unpublished lithograph and probably the only known impression. At various times this lithograph has been mistaken for a drawing. The technical imperfections of this print may lead to the conclusion that it is probably one of Bellowss earliestif not his firstlithograph (The Lithographs of George Bellows: A Catalogue Raisonn, p. 49, M. 8). However, this very description reinforces the likelihood that this is the print that Bellows collaborated on with the printer Bolton Brown at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1919 as the note attached to this unique impression indicates. And, indeed, Browns recollections of his work with Bellows clarifies the origins and likely date of this version of The Life Class.
Soon after his first meeting with Brown, which seems to have occurred in the winter of 191819 (Myers and Ayres, George Bellows: The Artist and his Lithographs, 19161924, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX, 1988, p.73), Bellows, dissatisfied with his printer George Miller, hired Brown as his lithographic printer. According to Myers and Ayres, it is not clear which specific print initiated their joint endeavor but they are known to have collaborated for a demonstration at the Pratt Institute in mid-March of 1919 at which Brown printed stones drawn by several artists, including John Sloan, Albert Sterner, and Bellows. Brown later recalled that to create the lithograph rendering for the demonstration Bellows evolved a memory of the mens night class a chaotic scene an old stove, easels, one youth consuming a sandwich, another guzzling something out of an upturned bottle, and, as a centerpiece, the nude female model, standing (Bolton Brown, My Ten Years in Lithography, Part I, with an introduction and notes by Clinton Adams, Tamarind Papers 5 [Winter 198182]: 18, quoted in Myers and Ayres, p. 74, note 8). This description matches our print quite closely. At the same time, the image, drawn from memory, suggests elements of the 1917 version of The Life Class (M. 43) mentioned above.
It is worth noting that the one (and only) etching that Bellows made was also a depiction of Robert Henri’s evening life class, in a composition resembling our lithograph, but in reverse. The etching plate for this work, together with an impression of each of the five states of the print, was given by Emma Bellows to the Albert H. Wiggin Collection of the Boston Public Library in 1943. She dated the etching to 1917.
Bellows moved to the city from Columbus, Ohio in September 1904, first living at the West Side Y.M.C.A on 57th Street and moving six months later to a studio in the Lincoln Arcade Building at Broadway and West 66th Street. (The studio was shared with Ed Keefe and Eugene ONeill.) It was in this building, too, that Robert Henri, the charismatic principal champion of the new American realism under whom Bellows had been studying since his arrival at William Merrit Chases New York School of Art, set up his own art school in 1909. Bellowss print here, like the earlier one (M.43), shows the rather dismal setting of the evening life classes. And while in the first version and the etching – he provides a much closer description of the disheveled artists at work in the cramped attic studio, barely illuminated by a dormer window, the 1919 version offered here has the relatively spare and impressionistic quality of an image drawn spontaneously on the stone from memory. But there is also a humor in the artists depiction of the group of artists sitting about gossiping, eating, and drinking while just one of them, standing at his easel, actually bothers to address the class assignment; this can be related to Bellowss earlier satirical images for the radical journal The Masses.