Beyond New York, Bellows & World War I

George Bellows, Return of the Useless

George Bellows, Return of the Useless, 1918, oil on canvas, 149.9 x 167.6 cm (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art), a Seeing America video Speakers: Dr. Jen Padgett, Associate Curator, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and Dr. Steven Zucker

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Bellows, Return

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Key points

  • American entry into World War I was influenced by a series of reports, notably the British Bryce Report of 1915, outlining atrocities said to have been perpetrated by German soldiers in Belgium. While these reports may not have been entirely factual, they swayed public opinion to support American intervention in the war.
  • An unusual subject for George Bellows, Return of the Useless is part of his War Series, a group of paintings, drawings and lithographs that created a visual account of the war. His depiction of the brutal treatment of these Belgian civilians being returned from forced labor camps, aimed to generate sympathy among its American audience.
  • Bellows drew on art historical traditions, especially Francisco Goya’s Disasters of War prints, to imagine the abuses described in the Bryce Report. His staged interpretation uses dramatic lighting, gestures, and details to convey a sense of danger and suffering.

Go Deeper

Read a biography of George Bellows at the National Gallery of Art

See some of Bellows’ War Series lithographs at the Harvard Art Museums

Read more about Francisco Goya’s Disasters of War series

Read a copy of the Bryce Report

Explore primary sources about America’s intervention in World War I

See how American artists responded to World War I

Learn more about the Liberty Bond campaigns and see other marketing materials

More to think about

Many artists created work in support of the war effort, including James Montgomery Flagg’s Uncle Sam, which encouraged enlistment in the armed forces. Why do you think Uncle Sam became so iconic, while Bellows’s War Series images didn’t?

Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.