George Bellows is considered one of the most significant American realist artists of the twentieth century. Associated with the Ash Can School, he is best known for his gritty depictions of daily life in New York. Bellows’ progressive politics allied him with the so-called Lyrical Left, which has been described as “a loose coalition of cultural radicals living in New York City” who “dreamed of changing the world with pens, paint brushes, and new publications.”
During World War I, deeply disturbed by reports of atrocities committed by German soldiers invading Belgium, Bellows created a series of paintings and lithographs to call public attention to these crimes against humanity. One of those paintings, The Barricade (1918), is in the Museum’s collection.
In this lithograph, Bellows focuses upon a crime against humanity committed on American soil: between 1900 and 1923, there were 1,723 lynchings in the United States, the majority of which occurred in the Deep South. The title of Bellows’ lithograph has a double meaning. The slowness of the legal system was often used as defense for lynching. However, the United States government was so slow to act that it never passed a federal law prohibiting lynching, despite the introduction of nearly 200 anti-lynching bills in Congress. The absence of such a law prompted Walter White, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, to organize an anti-lynching art exhibition in 1935, in which he included this lithograph.