Cecil Crosley Bell (1906-1970)
Homeward Bound (on the El)
Oil on board, 22 x 30 inches. Signed lower left: "CECIL C BELL." Inscribed in pencil, verso, upper left: "HOMEWARD BOUND -- (ON ELEVATED) / CECIL C BELL / 22 X 30" and upper right "Slide # [?] / "Homeward Bound on El" / about 1940." Bears partial label, probably of Kraushaar Galleries, on upper left, verso, including price of $350.
Likely included in one or more solo exhibitions given the artist by Kraushaar Galleries, New York, NY, in 1945, 1952 and 1959.
Barton, Phyllis, Cecil C. Bell (privately published, 1976); Cecil C. Bell 1906-1970 (Staten Island Museum, 1972).
With Kraushaar Galleries, New York, NY, on one or more occasions during the 1940s and 1950s; returned to artist; Litchfield Auctions, Litchfield, CT, June 17, 2017, lot 378A (“acquired directly by the consignor's family from the artist, a friend of the father” per catalogue description); private collection, Buffalo, NY; Cottone Auctions, Geneseo, NY, November 2, 2022, lot 214.
Unlined. Original 2 1/2-inch stained wood frame with gold highlights.
Like his contemporaries Reginald Marsh and Philip Reisman, Cecil Crosley Bell (nicknamed “Spike” for his rail-thin, six-foot-three-inch frame) was a keen observer of the everyday lives of ordinary New Yorkers. But unlike his peers, Bell’s vision was unabashedly positive, his pictures devoid of social and political criticism, his subjects rendered with a discerning eye and a sense of humor. He painted “with zest and innocence and great perception,” wrote the painter Robert Templeton, “documenting his times as he saw them, finding joy even in the depth of the Depression.”* “Bell’s world was the life around him,” commented friend and fellow artist Clyde Singer. “He was a spectator.” His style was as vigorous as his subject matter. “Movement,” remarked Singer, “always there is movement.”**
A native of Seattle, Washington, Bell studied briefly at the Art Institute of Chicago before relocating to New York City with his new wife, Agatha, in 1930. There, he enrolled at the Art Students League under the tutelage of John Sloan, Harry Wickey, Charles Locke and Will Barnet, refining an energetic brand of realism to which he would remain faithful for the ensuing four decades as a painter, printmaker and commercial illustrator.
Homeward Bound (on the El) is among Bell’s most poignant works. A mother shepherds her exhausted children*** home from a day at the beach, gently embracing her sleeping son as she peers wistfully at the passing skyline from a car on the elevated railway (affectionately known as “the El”) as it rumbles across Manhattan. She sits unnoticed, lost in her own thoughts, behind a commuter in a straw boater absorbed in his newspaper. "Some of [Bell's] finest works are of women," noted his biographer Phyllis Barton, "sculpturally created with voluptuous rhythms and superb rotundities."**** The artist would revisit this theme on at least one more occasion (see Fig. 1), a truncated (and probably later) version with slight variations executed in a vertical format.
* Quoted on the book jacket for Barton, Phyllis, Cecil C. Bell (privately published, 1976).
** Cecil C. Bell 1906-1970 (Staten Island Museum, 1972), p. 30.
*** The subjects are described as an Italian-American family in a 2017 auction catalogue listing for the painting. Because the consignor had a direct connection to the artist, this information may be more than visceral conjecture.
****Barton, op. cit., p. 66. While Barton's comment specifically references the smaller 1946 version of Homeward Bound, it would be no less applicable to the earlier version described here.
Fig. 1 - Cecil C. Bell, Homeward Bound, c. 1946. Oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches, ownership ascribed at the time to Mr. and Mrs. F. Kappler, Colorado. Source: Barton, Phyllis, Cecil C. Bell (privately published, 1976), p. 49.