Exhibitions: HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture

George Wesley Bellows: Riverfront No. 1

Young working-class males, from both the hinterland and abroad, flocked to American cities, seeking jobs, social mobility, and independence from the societies they had left behind. For the urban poor and working classes, the city had few amenities; during the sweltering summer heat, boys and men would throng the docklands to swim in the river and socialize. George Bellows captured these and other scenes of city life in paintings that were both celebrations of urban vitality and indictments of the conditions under which the poor lived. The excess population of young men (and the relative absence of eligible women) encouraged a fluidity in sexual behavior that would not have occurred otherwise. Note the well-dressed dandy watching the bathing youths—very much the odd man out. In this display of male flesh, Bellows was a scrupulous observer of the homosociality of city life as well as its class separations.