Albert F. Bellows (1829-1883)

Albert F. Bellows (1829-1883)

“He won his way gradually to the front rank of the American artists, and maintained his position there by the conscientious work which was characteristic of him. His paintings were not obtrusive, never aggressive, but reflected the quiet, tender, sympathetic nature of the man, and were lovable as he was lovable.”

                                                                                                --- The Art Union, 1883, p. 16

Born in Milford, Massachusetts, in 1829, Albert Fitch Bellows had a natural artistic talent that his father thought might be better served in the field of architecture. At age sixteen, he began working under Boston architect A. B. Young and three years later had his own successful practice with partner J. D. Toule, yet his desire to be a painter eventually won out. Bellows took a position as Principal of the New England School of Design between 1850 and 1856 before traveling to Europe to further his education, with stays in France and later Belgium, where he studied at the Royal Academy of Art in Antwerp. Returning to America in 1857, Bellows settled in New York and pursued a career in the fine arts with a concentration on portrait, figure and landscape painting. He exhibited with the Boston Athenaeum, the Brooklyn Art Association and the National Academy, soon achieving full Academician status in 1861. He also showed with the Boston Art Club in the 1870s and 1880s, at the Paris Exposition in 1878 and at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1879. 

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Bellows was especially skilled with genre painting, stemming from his Northern European training where the theme was practiced for centuries. He found his ideal subject matter in the quaint hamlets of New England and his paintings were admired both for their sense of optimism as he portrayed the locals going about the day’s endeavors as well as for his truthful interpretation of Nature.

Bellows went abroad for a second time in 1865, again visiting Belgium and France, but also spent several months in England where he was inspired by the work of British watercolorists. From this period on, he devoted most of his energy to watercolor painting and became a strong advocate for its inclusion in serious American art circles by joining the fledgling American Society of Painters in Water-Colors (later the American Watercolor Society) and with the publication of his book, Water Color Painting: Some Facts and Authorities in Relation to Its Durability, in 1868.

After his return from Europe in 1868, Bellows settled again in New York and also lived for a short time in Boston, before that city’s great fire destroyed his studio in 1872. He continued to focus on painting and exhibiting his watercolors, which often featured bucolic subjects drawn from his sketches of the English countryside or his journeys throughout his native New England. Later in his career he took up etching and was a member of the Philadelphia Society of Etchers and the New York Etching Club. Bellows passed away in Auburndale, Massachusetts, in 1883, and his place among his contemporaries was praised in the National Academy’s meeting minutes on November 26, 1883: “His professional life and work were always in full accord with the sincerity and truth of his personal character and the distinguished position which he held as an artist was fairly won by his Faithful and loving representations of nature in her most familiar and most picturesque forms.”[1] Today examples of his work can be found in a number of museum collections including the Brooklyn Museum, the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

[1] Dearinger, David Bernard, Paintings and Sculpture in the Collection of the National Academy of Design (Manchester, VT: Hudson Hills Press LLC, 2004), p. 38.

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