Stag at Sharkey's [George Bellows]

Jennifer Tucker


Way to take a punch like a champ! This testosterone-drenched painting by George Bellows depicts a typical night at Sharkey’s athletic club.

Not exactly your usual gym to pump iron in, the name itself is a little misleading. This “athletic club” was actually just a tavern with an illegal fighting ring in the back. In the early 1900’s, public prize fighting was prohibited, so Sharkey’s functioned as a members-only type organization. Very hush hush. The first rule of fight club is, after all…

George Bellows, a sports fanatic, was a regular at Sharkey’s and painted many of the  muscly, masculine men he met in the gritty bar. It was Bellows’ goal, along with other members of the Aschan School of Art, to depict everyday scenes from their urban landscape. For Bellows, with his studio directly across the street from Sharkey’s, this exciting, covert operation was an image of his every day. Lucky for us he wasn’t neighbors with a boring cobbler, or haberdashery or whatever other kinds of businesses they had in early 20th century NYC.

Although this fight club was exclusive, occasionally a few lucky non-members were granted access to participate. These are the men we call “stags.” Makes sense when you see boxers butting heads. Given the poise and ferocity of the fighters, few would know that the men depicted were actually n00bs in the ring! Clearly, Bellows does an amazing job of capturing the energy of our cherished American tradition: beating the crap out of each other. Beautifully executed, this painting appeals to our most primal nature: the thirst for blood, sweat, and aggression.


Stag at Sharkey's [George Bellows] is mentioned on Sartle Blog -