Saturday, September 8, 2007
dempsey + firpo
george bellows, dempsey + firpo, 1924
george bellows' popular painting depicts a boxing match that occurred in the late summer of the previous year.
the event, pitting world heavyweight champion jack dempsey against challenger luis ángel firpo, occurred outdoors at the polo grounds in new york city, with a live audience of 80,000.
the american dempsey had held the title for four years. firpo from argentina, nicknamed "el toro de las pampas," was the first latin-american contender for the championship.
firpo opened round 1 aggressively, dropping dempsey with a right. dempsey recovered quickly + repaid firpo with seven drops in rapid succession. the lax rules in the 1920s permitted dempsey to stand right over firpo + punch him down repeatedly before the challenger could get to his feet. when firpo did stand, he managed to trap dempsey against the ropes + landed the punch that knocked the champion over the ringropes + into the press box.
a photographer captured the moment.
dempsey was down for a slow (14-second) nine count, but he got up again + reporters assisted the champ back into the ring. many believed that, given the slow count + the outside interference, firpo should have been declared the winner.
in round 2, dempsey knocked firpo down three times with brutal force +, with less than a minute remaining in the round, the referee stopped the fight + declared dempsey the winner.
the 41-year-old bellows attended the fight + portrays himself as an onlooker in the lower left corner of the canvas.
as customary in artists' self-portraits inserted into paintings of religious or historical events, the artist turns slightly away from the main action, towards the viewer.
politically an anarchist, bellows created paintings meant to raise the public's consciousness about social inequities. his paintings oddly combine the impressionism popular among painters at the time + the gritty, violent naturalism that mainly emerged in literature with such writers as theodore dreiser, stephen crane, + jack london, who were likewise politically motivated.
as a young man, bellows belonged to a group of radical artists called the lyrical left + served on the board of the socialist periodical the masses, to which he also contributed illustrations.
his belief in artistic freedom, however, sometimes placed him at odds with fellow radicals who believed the artist's role was strictly propagandistic.
married with children, bellows later focused on painting the members of his immediate family. the painting dempsey + firpo belongs to a series of sports-themed (boxing + polo) works bellows created in the early 20th century. his depiction of the male body, especially in an earlier boxing painting, stag at sharkey's (1909), put him at the forefront of artists exploring homoerotic imagery + male identity.
however violent, bellows' boxing paintings isolate the male physiques from a background of pitch blackness, + the combatants' bodies in motion, especially when locked in struggle, appear united against the harsh + exploitative circumstances of their livelihood.
Posted by Joe at 2:58 PM