George Bellows (1882-1925)
Dempsey and Firpo
Oil on canvas
Overall: 51 1/8 × 63 1/4 in. (129.9 × 160.7 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase, with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney
Dempsey and Firpo, one of George Bellows’s most ambitious paintings, captures a pivotal moment in the September 14, 1923 prizefight between American heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey and his Argentine rival Luis Angel Firpo. The frenzy lasted less than four minutes, Firpo going to the floor nine times and Dempsey twice. Although Dempsey was the eventual victor, the artist chose to represent the dramatic moment when Firpo knocked his opponent out of the ring with a tremendous blow to the jaw. At the match on assignment for the New York Evening Journal, Bellows portrays himself as a balding man at the extreme left of the picture. His geometrically structured composition also creates a low vantage point that includes the viewer: looking up at this angle, we find ourselves among the spectators pushing Dempsey back into the ring. The excitement is further heightened by the chromatic contrast between the fighters bathed in lurid light, and the dark, smoke-filled atmosphere around them.