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Purchased outright for the gallery by the Henry Barber Trust on the advice of Director Nicola Kalinsky, the painting comes from a private US collection via art dealer Collisart. It was owned by Pop artist Andy Warhol from 1985 until his death in 1987.

‘Nude: Miss Bentham’, by the early 20th-century painter George Bellows, has gone on display in the gallery at the University of Birmingham this week.

The Barber Institute becomes only the second UK public collection to own a work by this key modern artist, best known for his association with the groundbreaking New York-based Ashcan painters – following the National Gallery’s acquisition exactly a year ago of Bellows’s Men of the Docks.

Purchased outright for the gallery by the Henry Barber Trust on the advice of Director Nicola Kalinsky, the painting comes from a private US collection via art dealer Collisart.It was owned by Pop artist Andy Warhol from 1985 until his death in 1987.

Ms Kalinsky said: ‘This is a thrilling departure for the Barber Institute and our first major purchase for some years. It fits in extremely well with the strengths of our gallery as a historical collection, but it takes us into new areas too. The painting is very American and very much of its time, strengthening and expanding our representation of early 20th-century art.’

The acquisition – which is also the Barber’s first nude – signals the complex role America was to take in the development of modern art in the twentieth century. The full-length oil depicts a model named by Bellows as Miss Bentham, painted in a realistic but highly dramatic style against a dark background. It was executed and exhibited in 1906, the year Bellows began exhibiting as a professional artist.

Nicola Kalinsky added: ‘This acquisition is so important for the Barber as it’s only our second painting by an American – and our Whistler – which was purchased in 1939 – was painted in London and sits within a very different tradition. In many ways, Bellows is the archetypal American artist, and he is considered the key American painter of the first decade of the 20th century. His work is very well known in the States, but he is too little known across the Atlantic.

Bellows’s vision is not avante garde in the manner of his European contemporaries – you can see that he is obviously aware of the great painters of the past, such as Velazquez and Manet, and he would have considered himself very much part of that tradition of painterly realism. However, he is an artist who looked forward as well as back, and for him and the rest of the Ashcan painters, their subject matter is radical and modern. Bellows painted slum kids, boxing matches, building sites – the nitty-gritty side of urban life rather than the genteel middle classes at leisure as favoured by many of preceding generation.’

The new acquisition has been displayed in a specially rehung section of the Blue Gallery alongside some of the Barber’s most significant and visually arresting paintings from the late 19th century, and which feature the human figure and scenes from modern life. These include Eduard Manet’s Portrait of Carolus Duran of 1876, Edgar Degas’s Jockeys before the Race, 1879 and Auguste Renoir’s Young Woman, Seated, c 1876.

Hugh Carslake, Chairman of the Henry Barber Trust, said: ‘This is a very exciting acquisition for the Barber collection. Our founder, Lady Barber, stated that the quality of the works in our collection should be “of exceptional and outstanding merit” and emulate that of the works in the National Gallery and the Wallace Collection, so this is a particularly apposite addition.’

Nude: Miss Bentham will be the centrepiece of a picture-in-focus exhibition at the Barber Institute, planned for autumn 2016, which will feature major loans from Britain and the United States.

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