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Arty Fact

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As a member of the Ashcan school of painting with John Sloan, George Bellows strived to depict the realities of his surroundings.

While not painted in a strictly photo-realistic way, his works were known to show a more real side of New York during the early 20th century. At the time, he may have made this choice in order to be provocative or “raw,” however now this translates into significant historical value.

If you look at other pictures or photos of the period, you might think that swimwear of the early 20th century was defined by full-body one-piece suits that often had stripes for some reason. This was this wasn’t necessarily true. In fact, it seems that for the common person, swimming essentially looked like this picture. Just a bunch of dudes, letting it all hangout.

It is true that large portions of the country were defined by strict Protestant beliefs but, in a weird twist, this actually produced more nudity, in men at least. Remember, this was in an age before the eradication of polio and, as such, the nation was obsessed with cleanliness. Swimsuits were seen as a potential danger to the hygiene of the wearer as well as the swimming area, as the fabric threatened to clog the primitive filtration systems. So males young to old were encouraged to go nude while swimming.

Women, on the other hand, did not have it so easy. This same phobia of germs extended to the classical fear of “the curse” or menstruation. Moreover, as much as Protestants were afraid of death, this fear paled in comparison to their fear of “perverse morals,” and so the idea of nude women swimming about was simply out of the question.

It’s for this reason that while you might see a bunch of junk in this picture breasts are tastefully absent. After all, George Bellows is an American painter, he isn’t depicting a Turkish Bath.

Sources

Sources

  1. Eng, Monica “Baring It All: Why Boys Swam Naked In Chicago High Schools” WBEZ 09/10/2018 https://www.wbez.org/shows/curious-city/baring-it-all-why-boys-swam-nake...
  2. Markowitz, Eric “Until Fairly Recently, The YMCA Actually Required Swimmers To Be Nude” vocativ 04/29/2014 https://www.vocativ.com/culture/fun/fairly-recently-ymca-actually-requir...
  3. Web Contributor “George Bellows” The Met viewed on 11/7/2019 https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2012/bellows