In New York George Bellows became an integral member of the Ashcan School of American painters founded by Robert Henri at the turn of the twentieth century. The group of painters and illustrators sought to dismantle the rigid structure of painting academies and distance themselves both stylistically and ideologically from the American Impressionists. While printed in New York, Dance in a Madhouse follows a design made in a drawing of the same size executed ten years earlier in ink, charcoal and crayon. Drawn on from memories of his visits to a State Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, Bellows commented on his unconventional inspiration for this lithograph: “For years the amusement hall was a gloomy old brown vault where on Thursday nights the patients indulged in "Round Dances" interspersed with two-steps and waltzes by the visitors. Each of the characters in this print represents a definite individual…This is the happier side of a vast world which a more considerate and wiser society would reduce to a not inconsiderable degree.”
In addition to the eerie visual memories that contributed to the formation of this image, Bellows also sought inspiration from Francisco de Goya’s oil painting Casa de locos (The Madhouse) in both composition and subject matter. Bellows’ madhouse, filled with a mixture of intermingling, grotesque characters remains a chilling and dismal extension of Goya’s work, painted a century earlier.