Let Loose Upon Innocence: George Bellows and World War, a small, scholarly exhibition built around the opportunity presented by a loan from a charitable foundation of Bellows’ painting The Return of the Useless, will be on view at the Georgia Museum of Art through July 30.
In 1918, Bellows produced a series of paintings, drawings and lithographs in response to World War I and the reports of German atrocities in Belgium.
The Return of the Useless depicts a group of Belgians being returned to their homeland after their German captors had rejected them as no longer fit to work for the war effort.
At the time American artists rarely confronted the horrors of war; instead, they focused on the heroic qualities of soldiers and generals in battle. Bellows’ depictions of the atrocities reflected the influence of many European artists, including the Spanish Romantic painter, Francisco Goya y Lucientes.
Goya’s Disasters of War, painted in response to Napoleonic France’s invasion of Spain in 1808, documents the horrors of that particular conflict and contains themes similar to Bellows’ work more than
100 years later.
Bellows was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1882 and studied at the New York School of Art, earning popularity and recognition through sales and awards. An admitted socialist, Bellows contributed free illustrations to the left-wing journal The Masses as an avenue to challenge inequalities in the American racial and class structures of the time.
It was his dedication to speak out against injustice that ultimately led to his works dealing with World War I.
The exhibition includes the loan of The Return of the Useless as well as several works from the Georgia Museum of Art’s permanent collection. It also brings together as many of Bellows’ War series and related work as possible. Let Loose Upon Innocence features five of the seven war subject paintings he created in 1918, including both works featuring “Peace.”
This is the first time since the 1983 exhibition George Bellows and the War Series of 1918, which was on view at the Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield, Mass., that so many of the 1918 Bellows images have been on display at the same time in the same venue.