Although George Bellows was not officially a member of The Eight - artists who were known as the "Ashcan" group - he was closely associated with them. Profoundly influenced by the group's leader, Robert Henri, Bellows became well-known for his contemporary imagery, especially prize fights which chronicled the elements of power and struggle. The artist also excelled in portraiture and relished the opportunity to paint his family.
Emma at the Piano of 1914 is often considered the artist's finest portrait of his wife and demonstrates his daring sense of design and sensitivity to color and texture. The strong cobalt blue of Emma's dress contrasts dramatically with her pale face and intense stare, imbuing the work with a bold modernity.
Bellows was also a gifted draftsman, and the Museum was indeed fortunate to acquire at auction the preliminary pencil drawing for Emma at the Piano. The drawing's transformation to the finished painting was dramatic, as the artist reversed the entire composition and cropped it so that Emma becomes the dominant element. In so doing, Bellows placed primary emphasis on formal design rather than intimacy of setting.