George Wesley Bellows
20th century Ashcan Painter, Printmaker
(August 12, 1882–January 8, 1925)
As World War I raged in Europe, many Americans preferred to avoid the conflict; for three years the United States maintained its neutrality, finally intervening in April 1917. This change in heart was due, in part, to graphically detailed reports of the war in the popular press that both horrified and outraged the American populace. George Bellows joined with most Americans by 1917 in supporting the war and enlisted (though did not serve) and used his art in a series of paintings and lithographs to support his political views and personal convictions.
The Bryce Report was written by Viscount James Bryce, former ambassador from Great Britain to the United States, and published (in abridged form) in the New York Times. It was arguably the strongest account that helped to sway public opinion in support of war. The report was based on 1,200 eyewitness accounts of the 1914 atrocities committed by Germans in Belgium, the so-called “crossroads of Europe” with the geographic misfortune of lying between France and Germany.
George Bellows based eight of the prints shown here directly upon the Bryce Report. These monumental compositions are the most shocking visual accounts of war since Goya's Disasters of War one hundred years earlier. The prints were conceived first and served as models for a subsequent series of paintings. While the propagandistic value of the War series to the specific conflicts of World War I was quickly recognized, Bellows himself viewed his powerful and disturbing images in the more universal terms of mankind's inhumanity and brutality.