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George Bellows and the Woodstock Art Colony: The Perfect Combination of Nature and Neighborhood

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

By Bruce Weber

Unknown Photographer

George Bellows in Woodstock Studio,

c. 1923

Gelatin silver print

Amherst College Archives

and Special Collections

With Portrait of John Carroll

George Bellows (1882-1925) spent part of every year in Woodstock from 1920-1924. In all he created over 100 paintings during his time there, and considered the town to be the perfect combination of nature and neighborhood.(1) He tended to stay late into the summer season or early fall, sometimes alone or with his wife Emma. Previously the Bellows had spent summers in coastal Maine, Rhode Island and states out west. On various occasions in 1910, Bellows visited his close artist friend Eugene Speicher in Woodstock, when Eugene and his new bride Elsie were boarding at the house of Rosie Magee at the northeast corner of Rock City Road and the Glasco Turnpike.(2) The artist’s second known destination in the Catskill Mountain region was in the fall of 1912, when he stayed with friends in Onteora Park in Tannersville, about twenty miles north of Woodstock.

Unknown Photographer

James T. Shotwell, 1920

Gelatin silver print

Detail of Rudolf and Margaret Wetterau Map of Woodstock Artist Houses,

Showing Shotwell Property, 1926

Unknown Photographer

Detail of Photograph of Shotwell House,

c. 1920-1921

Gelatin silver print

Amherst College Archives

and Special Collections

In 1920 and 1921, Bellows rented the house of the historian, statesman, professor of history at Columbia University, and long-time seasonal resident James T. Shotwell and his artist wife Margaret. The place, which had beautiful mountain views, was located east of the Byrdcliffe art colony on a hillside that today is known as Shotwell Road. Artist Andrew Dasburg noted in a letter of the time that Bellows had gotten a great bargain by only paying $500 rent for such a large and attractive place.(3)

In the summer of 1921, Bellows and his artist friends—Speicher, Robert Henri, and Leon Kroll— provided individual criticisms in an out-of-door figure class in Woodstock convened under the auspices of the Art Students League of New York. Their associate Charles Rosen continued his position at the school as teacher of landscape painting. The catalog announcing the summer program noted that during its past two years in the city the League had conducted a studio class in the winter months which “suggested [the idea of [creating] such a [joint] class at Woodstock.”(4) The catalog also related that Rosen would “provide out-of-doors criticism on Monday and a Saturday lecture and criticism in the league’s Studio.” (5) Over the years Kroll often worked in the area, drawn there in part by his painter sister Ellen and musician brother William who resided for periods in Woodstock or on the Maverick in West Hurley.

Former Woodstock House of

George and Emma Bellows and Family

Unknown Photographer

Front View of Bellows Home, c. 1922

Gelatin silver print

Amherst College Archives

& Special Collections

Former House of

Eugene and Elsie Speicher

Detail of Wetterau Map

With Nearby Homes

of George Bellows, Eugene Speicher

and Charles Rosen, 1926

Interior of Bellow’s Woodstock Home,

Amherst College Archives

& Special Collections

George Bellows (1882-1925)

Portrait of John Carroll, July 1923

In 1922, Bellows purchased land adjacent to his old friend Speicher’s home, on the road now known as Bellows Lane, at the intersection of Lower Byrdcliffe Road. The house, which remained in the Bellows family until the mid-1960s, was designed by Bellows with the aid of Jay Hambridge’s system of Dynamic Symmetry. The family rented a house in the village while their new home was under construction. Bellows built the house himself with the assistance of the artist John Carroll, whose portrait he painted and exhibited at the Woodstock Art Association in 1923.

John H. Striebel (1891-1962)

Woodstock Celebrities at Work,

Plus Detail Image, 1924

Crayon on paper

The James Cox Gallery at Woodstock

Bellows is pictured at work on his property in a humorous crayon drawing by Woodstock illustrator and painter John H. Striebel, which also features other local artists busy at their personal or after hours pursuits. Bellows’ studio was just a few steps away from the house, and was one of a group of studios in the vicinity that were rented out by the Simmons family. The structure eventually became a private house, and burnt down about 2003, when it was replaced by a modular home. The Bellows home had a stone swimming pool, but no refrigerator or ice box; during the time that Bellows and his family lived there, he and his wife Emma utilized the brook running in back to keep their food chilled.

During World War II, Emma Bellows built a storage shed close to the house. She was fearful of New York City comIng under attack, and moved her husband’s artworks into the storage space, putting on a steel door culled from the former post office building in the village, which had a complex lock system.(6)

Unknown Photographer

Andrew Dasburg, Charles Rosen and George Bellows at Woodstock

Baseball Game, early 1920s

Historical Society of Woodstock

Unknown Photographer

Emma Bellows, Eugene Speicher,

Elsie Speicher, George Bellows

at Maverick Festival, early 1920s

Gelatin silver print

Center for Photography at Woodstock

During his time in Woodstock, Bellows forged a collegial link between the older established artists and the younger artists who had made their way to the town. He was a popular figure in Woodstock, and his sudden death in New York City in early 1925 was a terrible blow to his friends in the area. and to American art in general. Bellows participated in various organizations and special events, making quick sketches for a dollar at the Library Fair, captaining and playing first base on the Woodstock baseball team, teaching children how to swim, becoming an early and active member of the Woodstock Art Association, where he served on the exhibition review committee, and occasionally as an auctioneer. Bellows helped pull together key business interests to help form the Woodstock Athletic Club. At the Maverick Festival he narrated Hervey White’s adaption of a play by Flaubert. The first time he presided at a public meeting he reportedly picked up a baseball bat and brought it down on the table “and told everybody that if they did make less noise they might go to the devil.”(7)

George Bellows (1882-1925)

Men on the Docks, 1912

National Gallery of Art, London

In recent years, there has been increasing I interest among museums, galleries, collectors and scholars in Bellows’ work postdating the years 1908-1915, the period of his great pictures of New York City. Bellows is generally thought of as a painter of the urban environment, including the people of the city and its boxing arenas, but he was engaged and interested in landscape painting over the full course of his career, and following the Armory Show of 1913, landscape painting became a primary endeavor.

Unknown Photographer

George Bellows, Charles Rosen and Eugene Speicher on Sketching Excursion,

early 1920s

Gelatin silver print

George Bellows (1882-1925)

Woodstock Road, Woodstock, New York, 1924

Graphite on paper

Typically, Speicher, Bellows, and Rosen would go out together on sketching excursions in the Woodstock area, packing up Bellows’ car for the occasion. Bellows hitched a narrow wheelbarrow to the running board of the car. Once the group decided where they would stop, they would go in three separate directions with their easels and equipment. Bellows trundled the wheelbarrow up and down the area until he selected what he wished to sketch. This way the artist only needed a few moments to open his sketch box, set up his canvas against two posts, and begin to paint the area’s landscape

George Bellows (1882-1925)

Deserted Farm, 1920

George Bellows (1882-1925)

Ghost, 1920

Bellows would sometimes work out his compositions on paper before tackling oil. During his first summer in Woodstock he took special interest in depicting the deserted farms and rundown ruins of old farms and farmhouses, which had recently begun to appear in greater number in the area. This was due to a combination of economic factors, including the increased stream of artists and city people who purchased local property. Bellows imbues many of his Woodstock landscapes with a dark, gothic mood of mystery and gloom, alluding to the fact that the times were changing, and the area would never again be the farming paradise it was when the first artists and craftsmen arrived at Byrdcliffe during the first years of the century. Historian Alf Evers noted that “Many fields, especially those close to Woodstock, ceased being tilled or pastured as the value for building sites rose. Brush was taking the place of rye, oats and corn . . . and mountain laurel expanded into conspicuous groups on hillside pastures in Wittenberg, Lake Hill and Shady.”(8)

George Bellows (1882-1925)

Sunlit Surf, Monhegan, Maine, 1914

Following the Armory Show of 1913, Bellows’ interest deepened in color theory, and he adopted the system originated by Hardesty Maratta as his model, to achieve a pure, fresh and often arbitrary selection of color. Over the course of the period 1914-1919, Bellows’ brushwork and handling of light and color grew more dramatic and expressionistic, and this continued during his time in Woodstock. In a letter written to his former teacher Robert Henri during the course of his first summer in the town he referred to Andrew Dasburg and Henry Lee McFee as “kings” of the Woodstock art scene, acknowledging their leadership role in town, along with Konrad Cramer, in regard to artistic experimentation, and the trio may have prodded him to take new chances of his own.(9)

George Bellows (1882-1925)

The Picnic (Cooper Lake), 1923

Baltimore Museum of Art, Permanent

Loan from the Peabody Art Collection

The Picnic ranks among Bellows' finest and most venturesome landscapes. The painting features a view of Cooper Lake in Bearsviile, one of the most beautiful, charming, and inspiring spots in the area. In 1896 this natural lake became part of the water system of Kingston. Shortly after a new dam was built in order to boost the lake’s storage capacity. Over the course of 1920 to 1927, the Cooper Lake dam was raised three times to allow for more intake of water from its source, a Mink Hollow stream. In Bellows’ painting the lake looks almost otherworldly, as he combines elements of realism, fantasy and abstraction, including geometrically shaped outcroppings that appear to have been grafted from studies that he painted on trips to Maine and California. Bellows’ color is bold, vivid and exaggerated.

John Kleinhans (b. 1942)

Summer Afternoon at Cooper Lake, 1992


John Kleinhans (b, 1942)

Evening Light, Cooper Lake, 1999


The lake seems to exist in a state of supernatural serenity upon whose surface float reflections of the surrounding cone-shaped hills. Amidst this site of the real and unreal, Emma lays out food, Bellows fishes, their two daughters play and Eugene Speicher takes a nap.

George Bellows (1882-1925)

My House, Woodstock, October 1924

Sid and Diana Avery Trust

My House Woodstock ranks as one of Bellows most striking works in terms of color. The canvas was painted near the end of Bellows' final stay in the area. His house appears in the midst of vivid red and orange hues, and the cobalt blue shadow of Overlook Mountain. Overhead traces of bright white clouds linger in the brilliant blue sky.

George Bellows (1882-1925)

Hudson at Saugerties, November 1920

George Bellows (1882-1925)

Cliffs at Eddyville, November 1920

George Bellows (1882-1925)

Old Farmyard, Toodleums, August 1922

Exhibited at Woodstock Art Association

in 1922

Former Barn at Snyder’s Farm, Saugerties

Section of Front of Former Barn at Snyder’s Farm, Saugerties

George Bellow worked in Saugerties and Eddyville (near Rondout in Kingston), and exhibited at least one of his local landscapes at the Woodstock Art Association—Old Farmyard, Toodleums—now in the collection of Bank of America. Upon its exhibition in 1922 a reviewer felt that the scene’s fragmented handling of space, quivering treatment of light, and bold arbitrary color seemed “to be a curtsy to the new [modern] school.”(10) The folk name came from a story of a drunk on his way home who was stopped by one of the local constabulary and asked where he was going. “Toodleum he said, trying to say Unionville (his home hamlet) . . . . He turned it into a sing-songy ditty, Toodlee Toodleum Toodllee-um-um and started to sing it [to the police officer].” (11) The Hudson Valley historian Vernon Benjamin pointed out to me that the barn still exists, and was once part of the seventh-generation-old Snyder farm in Saugerties.(12) It is located slightly past Snyder’s Farm Hill off Route 212, about a half a mile west, and on the opposite side of the road of the Speedway Gas Station.

George Bellows (1882-1925)

Lady Jean, 1922

Yale University Art Gallery

Exhibited at Association in 1923

George Bellows (1882-1925)

Nude with White Shawl, November 1919

Exhibited at Woodstock Art Association, 1922

Bellows was a regular exhibitor at the Woodstock Art Association. Among the figurative works that he showed were Lady Jean and Nude with White Shawl. The latter work had been the subject of controversy during the course of January and February 1922, when it was displayed at the annual prize exhibition of paintings and sculpture at the National Arts Club in New York City, where a group of club members complained that the work was immoral. A reporter for The New York Times related that the “painting represents a young woman seated. A black silk gown covers the lower part of the body, but above the waist she is nude except for an airy white shawl that gently caresses her shoulders and arms. The face is attractive. Her straight black hair is parted in the middle and done up in a puritanical topknot. An artist who sympathizes with Mr. Bellows’s work said yesterday that there would have been no objection had Mr. Bellows painted an entire nude; that the trouble seemed to be that he had painted a décollete gown and cut it too low.”(13) The work does not appear to have ruffled any feathers when it was on view in Woodstock at the end of the summer. One reviewer noted that the painting looked “sane and mellow in its present context,” surrounded as it was by many works of the more modern school.(14)

Anne in Whites (1882-1925)

Anne in White, 1920

Carnegie Museum of Art

George Bellows (1882-1925)

Katherine Rosen, 1921

Yale University Art Gallery

Some of Bellows finest late portraits and figure paintings date from his time in Woodstock. Anne in White was created during the Bellows family’s first summer at the Shotwell house. The Catskill Mountain landscape is visible through the open window at upper right. His portrait of Katherine Rosen features his artist friend Charles Rosen’s daughter, theatrically posed in a bodice and fanciful skirt. She wears jewelry that was borrowed for the occasion from Elsie Speicher. In the July 21st, 1923 issue of the satirical Woodstock magazine The Hue and Cry the following comical text appeared under the title “Studio Slaps”: “Says George Bellows/To Charles Rosen/Lend me your daughter to do some posin? Says Charles Rosen to George Bellows/Sure for a match and two chrome yellows.”(15)

George Bellows (1882-1925)

Mr. and Mrs. Philip Wase, 1924

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Mr. and Mrs. Philip Wase dates from 1924, and features two Woodstock residents who did odd jobs in the area (including cleaning neighbor’s homes and Mrs. Ware's serving as the laundress and housekeeper at the League's summer dormitory), sitting on a Victorian sofa. In the 1930s the painting was spoken of in the same breath as Grant Wood’s American Gothic as a forerunner of American Scene Painting of that decade. The gothic mood witnessed in many of Bellows’ landscape paintings permeates the interior, which seems haunted by loss, aging and the passage of time

Eugene Speicher (1883-1962)

The Blacksmith, 1933-1934

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

In spite of this mood, the portrait of the Wares, as well as those of the 1920s by Eugene Speicher, which feature the general citizenry of Woodstock, convey an arresting sense of the inner strength and steadfast temperament of the rural population of America in the decades between the two World Wars. These works look ahead to developments in American art in the 1930s, particularly American Scene Painting and Regionalism, and hint at the art colony's pioneering role in promulgating a new vision in the 1920s for the art of the nation.

George Bellows (1882-1925)

Two Women (Sacred and Profane Love), October 1924

Two Women (Sacred and Profane Love) is one of the strangest and most mysterious of all of Bellows' figure paintings. The interior appears to be modeled on that of Bellows' Woodstock house, The art historian Marjorie B. Searl has noted his interest at the time in developing “a narrative about love and loss that expressed [his] deeply felt emotions as he came to terms with the tensions and bonds of youth and age, parent and child, the erotic and the platonic.”(16)

Peter A. Juley & Son George Bellows, c. 1920 Gelatin silver print

During the summer of 1924, Bellows complained of abdominal pain. A local doctor recognized that it was acute appendicitis, and advised that the artist immediately have surgery upon his return to New York. The autumn was a very busy period for Bellows, and he neglected to undertake the surgery. In early January his appendix ruptured, and a week later he was dead of appendicitis. The pallbearers at his funeral in New York included the Woodstockers Speicher, Rosen, McFee, and Bolton Brown. The Woodstock artist Frank Swift Chase was one of the ushers.

George Bellows (1882-1925)

Dempsey and Firpo, 1923 or 1924

Lithograph on paper

Library of Congress

Printed by Bolton Brown (1864-1936)

George Bellows (1882-1925)

River Front, 1923-1924

Lithograph on paper

Library of Congress

Printed by Bolton Brown (1864-1936)

Brown had been responsible for printing many of Bellows’ finest lithographs, including Dempsey and Firpo and River Front

Paul Hansen (?-?)

Jean Bellows, 1934

Twenty-five years after her father’s passing Bellows' daughter Jean looked back on Woodstock and related how “its inhabitants became very dear to my heart. The artists who lived there along with their families, had to be among the most superior people in the world to one young, growing girl.”(17)

(1) For an excellent study of Bellows’ time and artistic efforts in Woodstock see Leaving for the County; George Bellows at Woodstock (Rochester, New York: Memorial Art Gallery, 2003), which contains essays by Marjorie B. Searl, Ronald Netsky, Alf Evers, Virginia M. Mecklenburg, and Mark Andrew White.

(2)“Autumn Shows Now Launched in Metropolitan Area,” The Morning Call (Patterson, New Jersey), October 8, 1943, p. 3.)

(3) Letter of Andrew Dasburg to Grace Mott Johnson, October 4, 1920, Andrew Dasburg and Grace Mott Johnson Papers, Archives of American Art. Also cited in Jean Bellows Booth, “Reminiscing about Woodstock,” Living for the Country: George Bellows at Woodstock, p. 11, ff. 5.

(4) Summer School of the Art Students League of New York, at Woodstock, N.Y. (New York: The Arts Students League of New York, 1921), n.p. I would like to thank Stephanie Cassidy, Head of Archives and Research, The Art Students League of New York. for providing a copy of this catalog.

(5) Ibid., n.p.

(6) Details regarding the Simmons family, and the construction of the storage house, are contained in an email from Jean Booth to Linda A. Freeney, December 18, 2004, George Bellows Files, Woodstock Artists Association Archives).

(7) "Gallery Opens – Society and Beauty at Exhibition,” The Hue and Cry 1 (June 30, 1923): 1.

(8) Alf Evers, Woodstock: History of an American Town (Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press, 1987), p. 509.

(9) Letter of George Bellows to Robert Henri, August 10, 1920, Robert Henri Papers, Box 2, folder 27), Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

(10) Woodstock Artists Association Scrapbook (1922) The historian Vernon Benjamin has pointed out that “Toodlum is a kind of secret name for [the Saugerties hamlet of] Veteran [which was known as Unionville through the Civil War]."

(11) Email from Vernon Benjamin to Bruce Weber, July 4, 2019.

(12) Ibid.

(13) “Art Club to Hear Protests on Nude; George W. Bellows’s Painting Immoral, Some Members Complain. Too Decollete, They Say, Artist’s ‘Old Lady in Black‘ Took First Prize in Annual Exhibit of 1921,” The New York Times, February 27, 1922, p. 10.

(14) "Modernists Capture Woodstock Display,” American Art News 20 (August 19, 1922): 5).

(15) “Studio Slaps,” The Hue and Cry 1 (July 21, 1923): 3.

(16) Marjorie B. Searl, “An Old Master in a Woodstock Studio,” Leaving for the Country: George Bellows at Woodstock, p. 49.

(17) “Jean Bellows quote – daughter of Geo. Bellows—1883-1925,” Woodstock Artists Association Archives. In the July 31st, 1926 issue of Hue & Cry an article appeared about a performance given by the artist's daughters Anne and Jean at Bellows' Woodstock studio, where every seat was taken and included all of the elite of the village. His daughters erected a miniature stage. The author of the article reported that Anne and Jean “were the whole show, and throughout the evening they dashed on and off and changed costumes with incredible rapidity. One moment Anne was a French peasant girl and the next instant Jean appeared in [a] screamingly funny burlesque of [the Joseph Colton play] The Shanghai Gesture.” "The Cosy Review: Excellent Entertainment at Bellows Studio, The Hue and Cry 4 (July 31, 1926): 1.

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