ainted in August 1907, Forty-two Kids depicts a band of nude and partially clothed boys engaged in a variety of antics—swimming, diving, sunbathing, smoking, and possibly urinating—on and near a dilapidated wharf jutting out over New York City’s East River. A sharp observer of urban life, George Bellows has sketched his streetwise subjects with characteristic vigor and economy of means, and he has carefully rendered their varied ethnic backgrounds. In turn-of-the-century slang, "kids" referred to roaming young hooligans, who were frequently the offspring of working-class immigrants living in Lower East Side tenements.
In 1908, when it was first exhibited, the painting garnered praise and derision alike. What one critic called “one of the most original and vivacious canvases” in the National Academy of Design exhibition was condemned by others for its “inexcusable errors in drawing and general proportions” and as “a tour de force of absurdity.” Soon afterward, a jury denied the work the prestigious Lippincott Prize at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’s annual exhibition, fearful that the prize donor might be offended by the title and subject of the painting. When asked if this was the case, Bellows quipped somewhat opaquely: “No, it was the naked painting that they feared.” Its controversial reception notwithstanding, in 1909, Robert C. Hall purchased Forty-two Kids, marking the second sale of Bellows's career and his first to a private collector.