Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A demonstration from 1968 by Emile Gruppe

Gloucester is America's oldest seaport, over it's long history it has lost 10,000 men at sea. It has a long art heritage too. The harbor there is a beautiful and inspiring place to paint. Most of the artists came  to paint the fishing boats and wharves. Many famed artists have lived or worked in Gloucester seasonally. Fitz hugh Lane 1804 – 1865 ( who recently changed his name to Fitz Henry Lane) lived there, John Sloan, Frederick Mulhaupt, and Edgar Allen Poe, and Marsden Hartley summered there. There are paintings of Gloucester by almost everyone who matters in American art history,  Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf worked there, other painters who have been attracted to Gloucester include, Winslow Homer, Frank Duveneck, Cecelia Beaux, Edward Hopper, Robert Henri and Maurice Prendergast, William Launt Palmer, and John Twachtman.

Emile Gruppe 1896–1978 was a Gloucester painter who remains a hero to New England painters and has had an enormous influence on the plein air painters of today. His unbelievably rapid execution and sure sense of design made him an enormously successful and productive painter. Born in Rochester, New York he was the son of a painter-art dealer who immigrated from the Netherlands at the start of World War I. Gruppe's father was a painter his brother was a sculptor. Rockport and Gloucester are both on an island at the tip of Cape Ann, Gloucester the larger of the two towns is where Rockporters go to buy anything more than a souvenir T shirt. Gloucester is the seaport featured in the Perfect Storm. The old wharves and fishing boats, now virtually all gone, were usually the subjects of Gruppe's art. Gruppe had a gallery which is still operated by his talented son Robert, who carries on the families'  style of painting. The gallery was, and is on a spit of rock jutting into Gloucester harbor called Rocky Neck.

Just next to Rocky Neck on Gloucester Harbor is the North Shore Art Association, founded in 1922. Gruppe routinely did artists demonstrations there. I always wished that I could have  seen one, but I didn't get to Cape Ann until about five years after Gruppe's death so I never had the opportunity.

A week or so ago I was painting on a street in Watch Hill, Rhode Island  and was approached by a man who excitedly shook my hand and told me how he had enjoyed reading my blog. Introducing himself as Al Kohnle, he mentioned that his father had been a friend of Emile and that he himself actually went out painting with Gruppe once. Then he told me about seeing Gruppe do one of the legendary demos at the North Shore, and that he had photographs he had taken at a Gruppe demo in 1968. When he voluntered to e-mail me copies of them I asked if I could share them on the blog. He graciously said that was fine. So far as I know these have never been reproduced anywhere and have only been seen by a few people. I am thankful to him for their use and am excited to show you what this legendary painter looked like in operation.

Here is Gruppe with his blank canvas, to his  left is a sketch that he brought with him and taped up on the wall as a reference. He has no photographs strewn about. His reference is reproduced below as well as I could pull it out of the photo using Photoshop.  I believe it was done in charcoal.
Note the rhythmic quality in the somewhat blurry reproduction of the sketch. Gruppes paintings are full of looping S curves and sinuous lines. If you squint at this and look at it through your eyelashes you will see the big simplified shapes that  are the armature upon which he built the painting.With such strong artistic geometry running under the image, the amount of detail he needed to add was minimal.This was a two hour demo by the way.

Thanks again to Al Kohnle for providing these for us to see.


I am again doing a Fall workshop October 26 through the 28th. That is a Saturday through Monday.

This is the Sunset Hill House in Franconia, New Hampshire. I have been teaching workshops there for  years and it is the ideal location.  Because I have taught so many workshops there the inn keepers have learned what painters at a workshop need and they are now practiced at hosting my workshops and making sure we have what we need to operate without any distractions or responsibilities other than painting.There is a broad rear porch that overlooks the mountains so we can still paint outside no matter what the weather does. The lower level of the inn  is ours to store our paints and canvas so we don't have to haul it all to our rooms and it makes a good place to teach too. The view of the mountains is spectacular and in the fall it will be even better. The inn takes good care of us. We have our own private dining room too. They handle  our meals and even bring us lunch so  we can work all day uninterrupted. The inn is one of those big old historic affairs from the 19th century and is homey and informal. Most of the rooms have gas fireplaces, and it is cool in the evenings up in the mountains in the fall, so that is nice after a day outside. It is necessary to stay in the inn to take the workshop.

I love teaching workshops. Everyone is always excited to be there and hang out with the other artists. It is like a three day party. We go from breakfast until bedtime. This is a total immersion program and I run the class about 12 hours a  day. I do an evening lecture while we wait for dinner to be served.
. We don't need to leave the grounds of the inn  to find great subject matter so their is no problem with hauling easels around or caravanning cars to daily locations. We just walk out the back door and the whole Presidential range is spread out before us.

The schedule includes;
  • a demo every morning, on the first day I explain the palette and the various pigments.
  • In the afternoon the students paint and I run from easel to easel doing individual instruction and try to diagnose each students particular barriers to better painting.
  •  after the demo each day I run  a series of exercises  teaching root skills like creating vibrating color and the parts of the light (that is what you need to know to establish light in a painting) I will also teach how to most effectively "hit" the color of nature outside.
  • I do a presentation before dinner with images from my laptop. One is a history of White Mountain art so you can see what the greats of American painting did with the same landscape we will be painting during the day.  In the 19th century all of the great Hudson River painters made a point of being there too, just a few miles up the road from the inn. The other lecture is unpacking out  the design ideas in the works of great landscape painters, particularly Edward Seago and Aldro Hibbard, two favorite painters of mine.
  •  I will work you like a borrowed mule.

 The cost of the workshop is 300 dollars. Click here to sign up.  I charge a 150 deposit up front when you register. In return for that I will hold your place in the class. I wont give away your place to anyone else, so I don't return deposits.
 Lodging reservations must be made with the inn who will provide a discounted room package deal to my students, it is absolutely required that you stay at the inn to take this workshop. Well, actually, if you must stay off "campus" call them and they will arrange a day rate for you which will cover your meals etc. Here is the Sunset Hill House web site