George Bellows - Club Night  on Flickr.
The setting is Sharkey’s, a sleazy athletic club located across Broadway from Bellows’ studio on Sixty-Sixth Street. Bellows (American, 1882–1925) summarises with ferocious painterly shorthand the two pugilists’ boxing at peak intensity. He increases the drama by condensing the ring to a bright sliver of space, compressing the towering men’s agitated forms with the upper edge of the canvas, illuminating the smoky interior with hellish light, and placing the observer in the second row amid the bloodthirsty crowd. Some seamy neighbourhood saloons like Sharkey’s were destinations for slumming, as the spectators in evening dress on the far side of the ring indicate. This detail invites bourgeois viewers of the painting to experience the gritty scene as if they, too, were slumming swells. Like contemporaneous images of cowboys and cavalrymen, Bellows’ boxing scenes, with which he became identified, glorify virile action more than quiet thought, and popular experience more than highbrow culture.
[National Gallery of Art, Washington - Oil on canvas, 109.2 x 135 cm]