The Old, Weird Modernity

George Bellows gets a big retrospective at the Met

Then in 1925, he died of a ruptured appendix, having neglected recurring abdominal pains because of a busy schedule and a born athlete's disdain for the nagging discomforts of encroaching middle age.

He was 42 years old.

Consider that you would never have heard of Willem de Kooning if he'd died at 42—two years before his breakthrough "Black" paintings and all the world-changing abstractions that followed. There would be none of Philip Guston's greatest work, those resonant cartoon canvases he only began painting in his mid fifties. Rembrandt's spellbinding late self-portraits? Not happening—it's the artist's unstintingly depicted sixtysomething visage that beckons you into those eternally compelling works.

Aced it: Tennis at Newport, 1920
Courtesy James W. and Frances McGlothlin
Aced it: Tennis at Newport, 1920

Details

'George Bellows'
The Metropolitan Museum of Art1000 Fifth Avenue212-535-7710, metmuseum.orgThrough February 18

In fact, it's a quote from Guston about Rembrandt that might provide the best epitaph for Bellows's too-short career: "The trouble with most modern painting is that it's too clear. The painting of the past which fascinates me is the painting which you can spend the rest of your life trying to figure out, trying to fathom what the artist's intentions were. That's what keeps me looking at it."

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