EMILE GRUPPÉ (1896-1978) was a legendary New England artist and teacher best known for his Monet-influenced seascapes and landscapes. Though primarily working in the Impressionist tradition, his oeuvre also included figures and portraits. Born in Rochester, New York in 1896, he is the second-generation representative of the renowned Gruppé family of painters and instructors.
The family tradition began with his father, Charles Paul Gruppé (1860-1940), who was born in Canada but whose family moved to Rochester, New York when he was ten years old, just following the death of his father. Charles Gruppé was primarily self-taught, but his natural talent enabled him to surmount his dearth of formal education. At the age of twenty-one he had earned enough money to travel steerage to Europe, where he traveled through France and Germany before settling in Holland, where he built a home and studio in the small fishing village of Katwyk Ann Zee. It was here, over the course of a twenty year stay, that he executed most of his European work, ultimately becoming so identified with the Dutch School of Painting that he was elected to the exclusive Pulchre Studio in the Hague, something highly unique for an American. He became what today we would recognize as a ‘celebrity artist,’ and members of the Dutch Royal family - as well as European royalty - collected his work, which consisted of portraits of the Dutch people in addition to his en plein air marine and countryside scenes. He was the recipient of numerous awards and medals, including gold medals at exhibitions at Paris and Rouen, and two silver medals (watercolor and oil) at the 1903 St. Louis World’s Fair. Today his work is displayed in many of the finest museums and private collections in Europe and America.
Preceding the outbreak of World War 1, the Gruppé family returned to America from Holland, at which time it was decided that Emile would pursue an artistic career. His father was determined that Emile not suffer from the same lack of formal artistic education that he himself had suffered from, and thus, after teaching his son the rudiments of painting and drawing, made sure that Emile received training at many prestigious art schools, including the National Academy of Design (New York City), the Hague (the Netherlands), the Art Students League (New York City) and the Grand Chaumiere (Paris). Emile’s tutors included some of the most sought after instructors of the period, such as George Bridgman, Charles Chapman, Richard Miller, John Carlson, and Charles Hawthorne. In later years, Emile was to comment that it was “John Carlson who turned me into a painter, teaching him to see all “the pictorial possibilities of a subject.”
Early on, Gruppé employed a subtle Tonalist manner which reflected his father’s influence, as well as the nuanced Impressionism of Carlson. Initially, he derived his subject matter from locales in upstate New York. However, while attending an exhibition at the National Academy of Design, he saw some paintings of Gloucester, the fishing port on Massachusetts’ North Shore, and decided to travel to this picturesque locale personally. He made his first visit in the summer of 1925, and was instantly attracted to its maritime ambience, eventually establishing a studio on Rocky Neck in East Gloucester. During the 1930s, feeling that he had outgrown his early Tonal style and wishing to impart a greater degree of verve and sparkle to his work, he adopted a more direct and personal mode of painting, in which he combined a dynamic brand of Realism with the light and atmospheric concerns of Impressionism. His mature work is much admired for its robust brushwork, rich palette, thick impasto, and keen sense of compositional design.
Gruppé exhibited at the major national annuals, including those at the National Academy of Design, where he made his debut in 1915. His paintings were also shown at regional venues, such as the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, the North Shore Art Association, and the Rockport Art Association, where they won numerous awards and prizes. His professional affiliations included Allied Artists of America, the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, the North Shore Art Association, the Gloucester Society of Artists, the Rochester Art Association, the Sarasota Art Association, the St. Augustine Art Association, and the Salmagundi Club of New York. While his reputation is largely based upon his vigorous portrayals of the harbors and houses of Gloucester, he also took winter trips to Jeffersonville, Vermont, where he painted views of birch trees, meandering country roads, and old barns and farmhouses. During his later years he usually spent his winters in Florida, where he painted and taught. He also spent time in the Bahamas, and his work done on Andros Island is highly regarded for its having captured the essence of the locale’s natural beauty. His art reflects his belief that “when a man paints, he expresses his whole life, what he’s done and experienced. If you are bold and outgoing, your work will show it.”
In 1942, in conjunction with several of his early mentors, Gruppé co-founded the Gruppé Summer School of Art in Gloucester, where he taught en plein air painting classes to groups of enthusiastic students who were drawn to his artistic outlook, as well as his outgoing personality. He also ran the Gloucester School of Painting (1940-1970) and, despite his teaching responsibilities, somehow produced thousands of works of art, reputedly able to execute a large canvas in a matter of hours. Considered to be a master of color and technique, he passed on his aesthetic precepts through the authorship of three books: Brushwork for the Oil Painter (1977), Gruppé on Painting (1979), and Gruppé on Color (1979). Of the many awards he received over the span of his career, perhaps the most prestigious was the Richard Mitton Award at the Jordan Marsh Exhibition in Boston in 1943 for his painting, Winter, Vermont. In one of the final interviews conducted with him prior to his death in 1978, he revealed his philosophy of art: “If you want exacting details in a painting, then you might as well look at a photograph. I make an impression on canvas, and let one’s imagination fill in the details.” In 1997, a major retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the North Shore Art Association.
Today, Gruppé's paintings can be found in many public collections, including the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Hagerstown, Maryland; the Hickory Museum of Art, Hickory, North Carolina; the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Loretto, Pennsylvania; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey; the New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, Connecticut; the Oklahoma City Museum of Art; the Richmond Art Museum, Richmond, Indiana; the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida; the Springville Museum of Art, Springville, Utah; the Sheldon Swope Art Museum, Terry Haute, Indiana; and The White House, Washington, D.C.
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