The spirit of bold experimentation that pervades George Bellows’s work was evident to both critics and viewers of his 1914 exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago. An art critic for the Bloomington (Illinois) Bulletin reported overhearing a visitor comment: "Isn’t this strong, vital stuff?" Another critic wrote that "no one can enter the room where [Bellows’s paintings] are exhibited without feeling the grip of their strange quality or admiring the cleverness of the artist’s handling." Love of Winter was among the works in this exhibition, which also included numerous Maine seascapes by Bellows. The Friends of American Art acquired this painting for the museum directly from the exhibition, attesting to their progressive taste and commitment to promoting modern American art.
Although he did not participate in the 1908 group exhibition at the Macbeth Gallery, Bellows is usually considered alongside the artists of the Ashcan School because of his interest in social realism and modernist painting methods. He studied with Robert Henri, the iconoclastic leader of the group, at the Chase School of Art (founded by William Merritt Chase) after withdrawing from Ohio State University in 1904. This brief period at the Chase School appears to be his only instance of formal training. However, like Henri, Bellows remained engaged with art theory throughout his career and often relied upon innovations in color theory and composition to invigorate his work. Love of Winter shows Bellows pushing at the boundaries of his style while reaffirming his interest in certain types of subject matter and methods of paint application. Between approximately 1911 and 1915, he immersed himself in the color theories espoused by the paint manufacturer Hardesty Gillmore Maratta, who marketed a set of pigments designed to assure harmoniously balanced color compositions by allowing artists to choose palettes based on musical notation. Bellows composed Love of Winter following the enormously productive summer he spent on Monhegan Island in 1913. In these months, using the Maratta system, he painted seascapes perfectly suited to the closely related blues and greens advocated by the theorist. The Art Institute’s painting departs from the balanced, nuanced shades of the seascapes and introduces brighter, jarring color combinations that nonetheless derive from Maratta’s ideas: red-purple, red-orange, yellow, and blue. The artist supplemented his color scheme with pale, icy blues, greens, and lavenders that intensify the winter scene and off-set the saturated hues in the foreground.
The thickly applied paint, winter scenery, and urban setting of Love of Winter are common in Bellows’s work. Lavish and varied, the brushwork defines the solidity of the snow and the speed of the skaters, while creating a surface that firmly roots the artist in modernist art practice. Art historian Michael Quick commented that, "as Bellows, like some other Henri students, began to use the palette knife more and more, he found in snow the opportunity to create numerous textures in unusually high impastos." In January 1914, the artist wrote to a friend just before painting this work: "There has been none of my favorite snow. I must always paint the snow at least once a year." Then, on February 13, a major blizzard hit New York City, allowing Bellows to paint Love of Winter. The Art Institute’s painting corresponds in many ways to the artist’s 1913 work A Day in June, both are outdoor scenes of public leisure activities featuring multiple groupings of women and children. Although many have assumed that the location of both works is Central Park, the size of the hills in the background of Love of Winter suggests a different site or that Bellows contrived a composite view. The themes of these two works and their vigorous style link them to many other Ashcan School paintings such as John Sloan’s Renganeschi’s Saturday Night in which leisure is explained in a reportorial, but emphatically experimental, fashion.
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