The Catch of a Lifetime

Last December, the museum unveiled a significant new acquisition—The Fisherman by George Bellows (1882–1925). Completed in 1917, the work captures Bellows’s genius as a colorist, blending and mixing pigment like a magician.

2016-9_s.jpg^ George Bellows (1882–1925), The Fisherman (1917), oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum of American Art

My pleasure with this acquisition comes not only on its exceptional quality but also on my long relationship with the work. I first encountered the painting nearly ten years ago while visiting the private collection of a prominent St. Louis businessman. His passion for American art was infectious, and the Bellows’s painting proved to be a prized catch for him. As we stood before the painting, he told the story of his conquest in acquiring it. In 1988 Sotheby’s put the work up for auction, and he was perched for victory. But he was not the highest bidder in the end, and the work sold to a dealer for $1.4 million, more than five times the auction estimate. The following months proved a challenging time for the art market, so the collector waited patiently for the right moment. Approached by the dealer a couple of years later, he purchased the work without a markup. It is a whopper of a story.

bellows_collector.jpg^ George Bellows’s The Fisherman (1917) on view in the St. Louis collector’s house, ca. 2012

This collector was an avid fisherman, and had been since he was a child. In fact, most of his summers were spent alone on a trawler in the Atlantic seeking the catch of the day. Bellows’s picture spoke to that side of him, and his purchase of it paralleled his inherent fisherman sensibility. The work remained in his collection for thirty years until his death in 2013.

Afterward, a collector in New England acquired the work, then put it on the market last spring. The Amon Carter threw out a line and within a matter of months, the painting had been hooked and landed. It’s now on display in pride of place in the museum’s galleries. Come see what we caught!