When George Bellows made his first print in 1916, he was already an established illustrator and a painter of what would come to be known as the Ash Can School, a reference to artists who recorded everyday life among New York's working class in sympathetic, often gritty detail. Bellows was initially inspired by the etchings of John Sloan, his supervisor at the Socialist magazine The New Masses, but after making one etching, he switched to lithography, finding it more suited to his fluid, gestural draftsmanship.
Bellows produced nearly two hundred lithographs between 1916 and his untimely death in 1925. His subjects range from genre scenes, social issues, and the atrocities of war to portraiture and the nude. His prints were occasionally based on earlier works in other mediums, particularly his illustrations, but prints also led to new paintings and drawings. In the 1920s Bellows worked with master printers George C. Miller and Bolton Brown, both of whom were known for their contributions to the practice of lithography among American artists at the time. In addition, Bellows owned his own press, enabling him to rework compositions through multiple states and to experiment with tonal effects.
Bellows's boxing series comprises eighteen lithographs, twenty-two drawings, and six paintings, dating from 1907 to 1924. Dempsey and Firpo was the result of an assignment Bellows received from the Saturday Evening Post to cover a prizefight between the champion Jack Dempsey and the Argentinean contender Luis Firpo. The artist chose to depict the moment when Dempsey was knocked out of the ring. Many believe the crowd pushed Dempsey back in, making his subsequent victory controversial. The lithograph captures the fall and the stunned expressions of the audience. Light-and-dark effects describe the muscular, athletic bodies and also convey the drama of the struggle.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Jennifer Roberts, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 116.