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The Art of Boxing

The Art of Boxing

“Dempsey and Firpo” by George Bellows

“Dempsey and Firpo” by George Bellows depicts the boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Luis Firpo on September 14, 1923.

The painting depicts the dramatic moment when Firpo knocked Dempsey out of the ring, even though Dempsey was the eventual winner that night.

Painted in the style of the Ashcan School movement, it has become Bellows’ most famous painting. Bellows gave himself a cameo as the balding man at the extreme left of the picture.

The fight was a historic boxing fight. It was the first time that a Latin American fighter challenged for the World Heavyweight title, and it was one of the defining matches of Dempsey’s career.

Dempsey had been champion since 1919, and Firpo was one of the top heavyweights of the world. Eighty thousand fans paid to see the fight live at the Polo Grounds in New York City.

In the aftermath, Dempsey and Firpo both became icons. Dempsey later lost his Heavyweight title to Gene Tunney, he did military service and opened a restaurant in New York before dying in 1983.

Firpo became revered in Argentina, and most of Latin America, there are several streets and avenues named after him, as well as a football team in El Salvador. He died a wealthy man in 1960 in Buenos Aires.

Dempsey and Firpo

  • Title:               Dempsey and Firpo
  • As Known as Dempsey Through The Ropes
  • Artist:              George Bellows
  • Date:               1924
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:    Height: 129.5 cm (51 ″); Width: 160.6 cm (63.2 ″)
  • Museum:         Whitney Museum of American Art


“Stag at Sharkey’s” by George Bellows

"Stag at Sharkey's" by George Bellows

“Stag at Sharkey’s” by George Bellows

“Stag at Sharkey’s” by George Bellows depicts two boxers fighting at Sharkey’s Athletic Club situated across from his studio in 1909.

Participants in the boxing ring were usually members of the club, but occasionally outsiders would fight with temporary memberships. These fighters were known as “stags.”

The Club was founded by Tom “Sailor” Sharkey, an ex-fighter who had also served in the US Navy. Public boxing was illegal in New York at the time, so only private events could be arranged for a boxing bout to take place.

Participation was usually limited to members of a particular club, but whenever an outsider competed, he was given temporary membership.

Boxing had many detractors who considered it barbaric, its proponents, among them President Theodore Roosevelt, regarded it as a healthy manifestation of manliness.

Around the time Bellows painted this painting, boxing was moving from a predominantly working-class event to one with a broader social appeal.

For many, boxing was an analogy for the notion that only the strongest and fittest would flourish in modern society.

Bellows used quick strokes to create a blurred image, simulating the two fighters in motion. He also chose a low point of view to put the viewer among the crowd watching the fight. George Bellows said:

“I don’t know anything about boxing, I’m just painting two men trying to kill each other.”

This painting is part of the Ashcan School movement known in particular for depicting scenes of daily life in early twentieth-century New York City, often in the city’s more impoverished neighborhoods.

Stag at Sharkey’s

  • Title:                   Stag at Sharkey’s
  • Artist:                 George Bellows
  • Date:                  1909
  • Medium:            Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:      92 × 122.6 cm (36.2 × 48.2 ″)
  • Museum:           Columbus Museum of Art


“Both Members of This Club” by George Bellows

Both Members of This Club George Bellows

“Both Members of This Club” by George Bellows

“Both Members of This Club” by George Bellows is the third and largest of George Bellows’s early prize-fighting subjects.

The painting’s title is a reference to the practice in private athletic clubs of introducing the contestants to the audience as “both members” to circumvent the law.

The Lewis Law made prize-fighting illegal in New York State. Boxing continued in New York on a club membership basis until 1911.

Boxing was a controversial subject, but the interracial theme made this painting even more so, especially since the black boxer appears to be winning the match.

This painting follows the success of the African American professional prizefighter Jack Johnson, who had won the world heavyweight championship in 1908. The idea of a black boxing champion was unsettling to then social order.

Painted the era of Jim Crow laws, Bellows’s painting showing a white fighter about to be defeated by a black boxer was a provocative social commentary. Many believed that interracial boxing should be outlawed.

Jim Crow Laws

Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States. The laws were enforced until 1965. In practice, Jim Crow laws mandated racial segregation in all public facilities in specific states.

The legal principle of “separate but equal” racial segregation was extended to public facilities and transportation, including the coaches of interstate trains and buses.

As a body of law, Jim Crow institutionalized economic, educational, and social disadvantages for African Americans and other people of color.

In 1954, segregation of public schools was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. In some states, it took many years to implement this decision.

Generally, Jim Crow laws were overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Both Members of This Club

  • Title:                     Both Members of This Club
  • Artist:                   George Bellows
  • Date:                    1909
  • Medium:              Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:       Height: 115 cm (45.2″); Width: 160.5 cm (63.1″)
  • Museum:             National Gallery of Art, DC


“Club Night” by George Bellows

George Bellows - Club Night

“Club Night” by George Bellows

“Club Night” by George Bellows was the first of three similar boxing subjects that Bellows painted Between 1907 to 1909.

This painting represents a fight at an athletic club in New York City where attendees paid club membership fees instead of admission fees to a specific fight, allowing them to gamble on matches legally.

The public’s response to boxing varied; some regarded boxing as savage and brutal, but many thought it a natural manifestation of masculinity.

From a stylistic perspective, Bellows’s boxing paintings show the influence of the European masters.

Bellows drew inspiration from the rich black tonalities and satire of the Spanish master Francisco de Goya to depict the atmospheric haze that envelops the scene. Bellows’s technique for rendering the crowd owes much to the French painter, Honoré Daumier.

“Club Night” by George Bellows

  • Title:                    Club Night
  • Artist:                   George Bellows
  • Date:                    1907
  • Medium:             Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:       Height: 109.2 cm (42.9″); Width: 135 cm (53.1″)
  • Museum:            National Gallery of Art, DC

George Bellows

George Bellows (1882 – 1925) was an American realist painter known for his bold depictions of urban life in New York City.

Bellows was part of the Ashcan School, which was an artistic movement in the United States during the early 20th century.

Best known for works portraying scenes of daily life in New York, often in the city’s poorer neighborhoods. The movement has been seen as symbolic of the spirit of political rebellion of the period.

George Bellows

Virtual Tour on the Art of Everything


“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”
– George Bellows


Photo Credit: 1) George Bellows [Public domain]

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