Friday, December 2, 2011

Plaster Cast Drawing: The Supplies

CHARCOAL PAPER

When I think about choosing charcoal paper, I want a paper that
  1. loves charcoal and also
  2. allows for easy erasing
You will see exactly what I mean if you try a charcoal drawing on a piece of typing paper - or any paper not meant for charcoal work. You will be very sorry. There are enough obstacles in producing a fine piece of work without your materials fighting against your efforts.

My favorite brands of paper so far are Canson's MiTientes and Fabriano Roma.
  • Canson's is readily available at art supply stores and is not expensive - probably around $2.50/sheet. There are two differently textured sides to MiTientes. I always use the smoothest grain which is the side to which the label is affixed.
  • Fabriano Roma is available online and is roughly $12/sheet. I've only done one drawing using the Fabriano paper and while it wasn't as easy to start on as the Canson's, it had lots of latitude later on.
  • Strathmore charcoal paper is my least favorite. I would rate it as OK, but I only use it if the drawing is not too important to me or if I want its particular texture to show as part of the piece.
I am also continuing to experiment with different kinds of paper.

CHARCOAL
I use both Winsor & Newton and Nitram charcoal. They are very different from each other and I would like to say they are special in their own way. The artist should learn when to use one or the other - simply by experimenting while drawing with them. Nitram charcoal gives the artist more control when putting down light values and sharp edges. Winsor & Newton is easier to lay down as a large, dark value. One thing that I would warn against is pressing too hard as you draw. It will ruin the grain of the paper.

You will want to sharpen your charcoal from time to time. Most artists use fine-grained sandpaper twisting the stick of charcoal as they stroke it on the sandpaper to produce a fine point. There are sandpaper pads at art stores. You can save the scrapings in a bottle and use it as powdered charcoal.I sometimes also use a simple pencil sharpener. Other artists in the past found the edge on a freshly broken piece of charcoal to be the sharpest.

I occasionally use powdered charcoal for the background. It comes in a jar and, as mentioned, you can continually add to it as you sharpen your sticks of charcoal. Just carefully tap out what you think you'll need and use a tissue or paper towel to spread it around.

Here is an informative blogpost on types of charcoal: http://helen-frost.co.uk/wp/what-kind-of-charcoal-are-you-using/

KNEADED ERASER
This is the eraser of choice - in fact, is there any other kind for charcoal drawings? Actually, there is, but it's something only to use in a pinch - so to speak. That is a piece of white bread! This is something that was recommended in the old days, and I have to confess it was just too interesting of an idea not to try. Wad up a portion of the bread and knead it, then erase. It works. Another friend also recommended trying painter's tape for those hard to erase areas. You carefully apply it and carefully lift it up. It didn't do wonders for my drawing but was an idea that's worked for him - and he did warn to try it on a corner of the paper you're using just to be sure it didn't rip it up when lifting.

Be sure to clean your kneaded eraser by playing with it, stretching and pushing it back into shape. However, there are limits to how much charcoal your eraser will be able to absorb. If it gets old and dirty enough, it makes a great stump...and one that you can shape.

MAHL STICK
As your drawing progresses you may want to use something on which to balance your hand so that you don't inadvertently smudge and lift off the beautiful charcoal you've already applied. Mahl sticks can be something as simple as a nice long ruler or even a long-handled paintbrush - or you could actually buy one. I had a teacher once who had a collection of light-weight carnival canes which were rather nice since you could hook the one end over the drawing board or canvas.

FIXATIVE
If and when you apply fixative at the end of your drawing, try setting your picture flat on the ground and holding the can three or so feet over it, gently spray from side to side and top to bottom starting to spray off to the side of the paper. Let it dry for about 15 minutes, then apply another coat. I personally use Krylon Matte Finish 1311.

STUMPS and BLENDERS
There are different opinions on using something with which to blend. Teacher Harold Speed was "agin 'em." Others like Anthony Waichulis are "fer' em." As you experiment with charcoal drawing, you might want to try using your paint brushes as stumps or even as erasers. You will find that the different types will act in different ways. Fingers are another option, but beware...oil from your youthful skin can create patches on your drawing that are very hard to work around. If you are older, this is where you have an advantage with your drier, ungreasy skin. Or you could actually use stumps which are available at art stores.

PATIENCE and THINKING: PRICELESS
You will not find these tools in any store, but they are qualities you must develop. Plaster cast drawings - at least good ones - take hours and hours and hours of thought and work. If I told you how long I spend on a plaster cast drawing, it might scare you. When you do a cast drawing, you are training and developing your thought processes as an artist:
  • to see
  • to analyze
  • to be able to put down deliberate statements that describe what the object is. 
All of this will influence your future work.

By the way, my current teacher advises on doing about ten of these drawings. I can promise you that if you are alert that you will learn new lessons with each one. Write them down for future reference.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mr. Gammell's Departure


Today I received a very special photo. It is a picture of an artist's studio the day he died. It belonged to Mr. R.H. Ives Gammell, a champion of classical art. He focused much his life on passing on the techniques and values that were used in creating the masterpieces of the past. Mr. Gammell determined that he was going to be a bridge spanning those years when modern art spat on classical training and paintings.

Mr. R.H. Ives Gammell's Studio
The gentleman and fine artist that passed this photo on to me was one of his students, Mr. Tom Dunlay, a longtime student of Mr. Gammell, and was the last person to be with him before he died. He wrote of the photo:

"This was the morning after he passed away. Except for the landscape on the chair this was exactly the way he left the studio the day before. The previous evening there was an exhibition of DeCamp's work at the St. Botolph Club on Commonwealth Avenue. At the end of the opening he asked me if I would walk him home just down the street. As it turned out, I was the last person to see him alive. He passed away in his sleep." 

This reminds me a lot of the way my father died. He was on his way back from wintering in Florida and was coming to visit our family in Cincinnati the next day. I spoke with him on the phone the night before making plans to pick up our youngest son from school together. The next morning before 6 a.m. I received a phone call saying that he had died in his sleep. It was devastating.

This studio was left by a man who had expectations of returning to it the next day. How neat it looks: the brushes lined up on palette and table, the book opened up on a stool, paintings set out for observation, studies on the easel - and the gentle north light washing over the artist's workplace.

I think that perhaps this was just the way Mr. Gammell would have wanted it. A day at work in the studio followed by an evening at the St. Botolph Club, a beloved haunt of artists and intellectuals, seeing Joseph DeCamp's work, and walking home with a favorite student. Very Providential...a gracious way to leave...


Sunday, November 13, 2011

The American Pupils of Jean-Léon Gérôme


It seems as if every serious American art student in the last half of the 1800's went abroad to study. Among those more than one hundred fifty of them enrolled in the atelier of Jean-Léon Gérôme, the leading teacher at the Paris Ecole des Beaux-Arts from 1853 to 1904. Not a few returned to the States as masterful painters and teachers themselves. A book I finished recently, The American Pupils of Jean-Léon Gérôme, (1984) by H. Barbara Weinberg, takes a look at some of Gérôme's most famous American students, their experiences with him as a teacher, and his influence on their lives and their art.

The Ecole des Beaux-Arts
"The principal and most distinguished French institution for artistic study was the government school, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, which accepted students (men only until 1897) tuition-free, without regard to nationality. Until 1863 the only practical instruction offered was in cast and life drawing supervised by a rotating faculty of twelve critics. The student learned all other techniques in the independent atelier of a master who might or might not have been a member of the Ecole's faculty.

 The Glass Court of the Palais des Etudes
École des Beaux-Arts, 1884

In 1863 that changed. In addition to an expanded curriculum, three ateliers for painting under the direct administrative domain of the Ecole were set up:

  • the atelier of Jean-Léon Gérôme
  • the atelier of Alexandre Cabanel
  • the atelier of Isidore Pils
"A student gained admission to one of the Ecole's three ateliers by personal application to the chef d'atelier. The chef would often require the student to undergo a period of supervised work as an aspirant, drawing from casts in the gallery of antiques, before he would certify him for admission to the studio itself. If the student wished he could compete in the rigorous concours des places for matriculation into the Ecole itself. The competition included tests in anatomy, perspective, cast or life drawing, and after 1883 in the principles of sculpture and architecture. Admission was limited to only seventy students until 1883, and eighty thereafter."

The Anatomy Class at the Ecole des Beaux Arts
by Francois Sallé, 1888

"The typical student in one of the Ecole's ateliers could expect to work from October to July, six mornings per week, first at drawing and then at painting from life, with one week each month devoted to study from the antique. His afternoons might be spent in sketching paintings or sculpture in the Louvre or Luxembourg galleries. Evenings were devoted to the Ecole's drawing course. The ambitious student would squeeze in attendance at lectures and library research. This routine was punctuated by numerous studio competitions, and others in compositional sketching, historical landscape or 'expressive heads', which were open to all students in the Ecole. Additionally, the student had to undergo the semi-annual concours des places if he wished to matriculate."

Then there were the semi-weekly studio visits of the chef d'atelier.
More of that next time in A Visit from the Maitre, Jean-Léon Gérôme.



* All quotes are from The American Pupils of Jean-Léon Gérôme by H. Barbara Weinberg

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Drawing a Plaster Cast: The Set Up


French Plaster Cast, ca. 1900

This cast will be drawn using the Sight-Size Method which simply means that your picture will be the same size as you see the cast. The first step will be setting up the cast and your drawing.
  1. Hang a piece of medium or darker value paper or cloth behind the cast's position. This should be at least as big as your drawing is going to be.
  2. Either hang your cast on a wall or set it up on a table. There should also be room on one side or the other for your drawing as well as enough room to stand and maneuver your arm. The cast should be about eye level. Remember that you will be standing to draw. This may mean raising the cast up to eye level on something stable since you will want to avoid reaching up too high or too low to draw.
  3. Choose or create a lighting situation for your cast so that there is obvious light and shadow. Daylight from a single source or a carefully artificially lit situation work well. I also like to choose lighting that brings out the best features of the cast. It's a good idea to try and hang your lights and darks pretty much together. Take time experimenting with this till you've achieved these qualifiers. Your drawing paper should also have the same quality of light on it as the cast does. If it does not, you will struggle with your values.
  4. Position your drawing paper.
    We're going to make the drawing the exact same size as the cast this time around so:

    • If the cast is hanging on the wall- Either tape your drawing paper on the wall right next to the cast or place your easel with paper taped to a drawing board as close to the cast as you can.

    If it's a free-standing cast- Position the drawing board to cut halfway through the cast. Adjust the easel shelf so the cast will be in the center of the drawing. If using an easel, mark the leg positions on the floor with tape. Also mark the adjustable shelf position in case you want to use the easel for other work as well.
  5. Mark your standing position. Stand back about ten feet from the middle of both drawing board and cast, and position yourself in between them so that you can see both without having to move your head. You should be able to flick your eyes between the cast and your drawing without moving your head. Mark the positions of both feet with tape. This is the spot to which you'll return a multitude of times during the course of your drawing. (If you look at the photo, you can see where I have marked my standing position for viewing the cast in the middle of the room, back from where I'm standing wearing the orange blouse.)
All this tape will make your art room look a little like a crime scene, but you must keep everything the same during the course of your drawing.

Next blog: Cast drawing supplies

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How to Draw a Plaster Cast: Getting a Cast



Plaster Cast Drawing Class

Recently, I and five other students started a plaster cast drawing class with Carl Samson. He took this shot and posted it on his Facebook wall. One of the comments under it was from a mutual friend and read:

"For all the wonderful things Australia has to offer it is also very limited in many areas...no workshops or gatherings of creative minds...and the only life drawing class/session I could find in my area was listed under 'Hens Night Out' where the bride-to-be and her drunk and giggling friends can sketch a nude male figure :( very disappointed......"

That was so sad, I've decided to try and do a series of posts on plaster cast drawing just for April - and anyone else who is interested. I'm just sharing as a fellow student, but will do the best I can.

Step 1: Getting a Cast


The first step is to get a cast. I have been most fortunate to have kind, generous artist friends who actually own casts and will let me borrow them. But that may not be your case. As I see it, you have several options:

  1. Purchase a cast. There are sites online from which you may acquire casts. Just Google something like "plaster cast" and maybe "artist" and see what you come up with. Here are a few sites to get you started:

    http://www.giustgallery.com/index.php
    http://www.fineartstore.com

    Also, there is no reason why you couldn't go to a garden or furniture store, and buy a better looking garden statue and spray paint it (with a matte finish) white or cream.

    Auctions, estate and garage sales, Goodwill or cruising good neighborhoods on garbage nights might just yield what you're looking for as well.

    Another one of my clever artist friends bought a whole big box of slightly damaged plaster casts and then fixed them up with - plaster. They look as good as new!

  2. I have considered old graveyard statues briefly...

  3. Art museums will often have plaster casts or white statues on display if you don't mind going often and drawing in public.

  4. One other option that I have thought about occasionally is to make your own cast. If you have a willing victim - I mean - subject - like your child or husband or even your own foot, you could try making a life cast. After all, this was done Back in the Day with famous or notorious individuals. There is actually an Association of Lifecasters and lessons in lifecasting on YouTube!



Disclaimer: I have never, ever actually made a lifecast, and so refuse to be responsible for anyone who tries this and gets stuck in the goop.


Next: The Set Up

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Her True Identity


The Unknown . Cast Drawing

Today I made a big discovery. It was someone's true identity...

It all started when I had borrowed a lovely cast which I ended up drawing four times. It was the face of a delicate, graceful woman...not too young, nor too old. As I traced over her features in my mind - and sometimes with my fingers - and worked on transcribing them to paper, I began to wonder who this person had been. Upon asking I found out that she had been dubbed "The Countess." Her features certainly spoke of a certain elan and dignity. It was not hard to believe that she was titled.

Even so, it was not enough. Soon armed with the name of the company in Chicago that had sold her to her owner, I found out that her official name in their old catalogue was "The Unknown." Ah..."Unknown." Perhaps poor and penniless, her body had been washed up on the banks of a river or an illness had taken her life, but she had been pretty enough to have her death mask made for distribution to aspiring artists.

But then, I didn't like the idea of a death mask. Rather I made her a poor but willing person who had to make a few dollars, and patiently sat while her mask was being made for sale to art schools.

Without the facts, these were my conjectures until a few days ago. That was when the owner of the cast said excitedly, "I think we have a lead!" A classical musician friend of his, a man acquainted with culture and the arts, had seen the plaster cast and announced that he thought it was Anna Pavlova!

The Acclaimed Ballerina, Anna Pavlova

Anna Pavlova! She was the famous ballerina who performed for audiences in the early 1900s. Her most famous piece was The Dying Swan from Swan Lake. It had been choreographed specifically for her in 1905 to Le Cygne from The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns.

The Dying Swan from Swan Lake

"In 1931, she contracted pneumonia while touring in The Hague, Netherlands. Holding her costume from the Dying Swan, she said her last words; "Play the last measure very softly." She died, on 22 January 1931, in the Hotel Des Indes, in The Hague. On the day she was to have next performed, the lights dimmed, the curtain rose, and while the orchestra played Saint-Saëns, a spotlight moved around the empty stage searching in the places where Anna Pavlova would have danced."*

Anna's House Included an Aviary
Complete with Swans and Flamingoes

In Anna's day not only death masks, but also life masks were made of famous individuals. The plaster cast I used was made from a mask made by Austrian sculptor, Victor Frisch which is in the collection of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (input Anna Pavlova in the Search box). It is dated 1920.

Victor Frisch . Head of Anna Pavlova
Bronze on marble base, ca. 1920

Another life cast of Anna in tinted wax was made by artist Malvina Cornell Hoffman. She is the fantastic sculptor who created the ethnic sculptures at Chicago's Museum of Natural History.


Malvina Cornell Hoffman
Anna Pavlova Life Mask, 1924

Anna's death mask is displayed at the White Lodge Museum and Ballet Resource Centre, the home of The Royal Ballet Lower School (shown along with Margot Fonteyn’s ballet shoe).

It feels very different now when I see my cast drawings. I know who this person is...or rather, was. The knowledge of her name has changed everything...




* http://ann-lauren.blogspot.com/2009/02/19-20th-cent-ballerina-anna-pavlova.html
Also see this photo: http://gallery.ejwassoc.com/main.php?g2_itemId=339

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sir Joshua Reynolds Seventh Discourse



Sir Joshua Reynolds, Self-Portrait . 1780

Sir Joshua Reynolds, one of the founders and the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, gave a series of lectures to his student body in the mid-1700s. While some very thought-provoking things were said to these young men, the English from that era was difficult at times to understand.

So I began to paraphrase his Discourse VII for the Modern Man in modern American English. Even though I read much further than this - and his points were very interesting - the slog to make a good paraphrase was so hard that this was all the further I got:

Developing Good Taste
"Gentlemen, it has been my aim - ever since I began this series of lectures - to persuade you that success in your art depends not just on developing your technical skills, but even more so on developing your minds. When you are not painting, spend your leisure time

  • Reading fine literature - especially poetry
  • Studying human nature
  • Speaking with and listening to educated, thinking individuals
  • Thinking on how to apply what you learn to your life and art
Why should you do this? It is to develop Good Taste - taste which will carry over into your work and raise it to the highest standards.

However - sad to say - there are those who assert that the effort to acquire good taste is a hopeless pursuit. Instead, they feel artists ought to "court the muse in shady bowers," "await the call and inspiration of genius, find out where he inhabits, and where he is to be invoked with the greatest success," and "attend to times and seasons when the imagination shoots with greatest vigour, whether at the summer solstice or the equinox." [Take note, since the summer solstice is upon us!]

Absolutes in Art
These same folks are sure that striving to create art according to artistic rules and principles cramp the freedom and liberty of the imagination. They suppose that some just happen to be born with genius, and just happen to know the right things to do without direction from artistic principles, thought processes or hard work.

But I would assert that there is indeed absolute truth in art. Absolute or real truth is objective. It acts as a plumbline. These are things that can most certainly be ascertained. For example, you can tell if

  • a picture is like or unlike the subject matter
  • its coloring is true or not to the subject
  • the drawing and composition are good or not
  • the values and edges in a piece are correct or not

At this point in Reynold's discourse, I was surprised. Apparently there were battles between different views of art long before Picasso's Desmoiselles d'Avignon! If indeed Modern Art means "The point at which artists (1) felt free to trust their inner visions, (2) express those visions in their work, (3) use Real Life (social issues and images from modern life) as a source of subject matter and (4) experiment and innovate as often as possible," then what I had read from the mid-1700s was an objection to that very thing.

This battle continues. I myself have been astonished these past few years at several unexpected, emotional responses to my study of art warning me against becoming enslaved to principles while at the same time, praising the creative individual who follows their inner voice. Regardless, this is my preferred path. I also believe in creativity...but want to see it subjected to Good Taste and tried and true artistic principles.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Passing on the Heritage


How did the students of RH Ives Gammell fare once on their own? I wanted to make a gallery - one painting for each student...if any work could be found online. Some of the names include links to more information on them or their own websites. Enjoy!

Robert Moore


David Zeigler


David Lowrey


Gary D. Hoffman



Paul DeLorenzo


Robert Scott Jackson


Richard W. Whitney


Richard Byron


Sam Rose


Robert Douglas Hunter, The Little Leaguer, 1956


Richard Lack


Stapleton Kearns




Monday, May 23, 2011

Studies with Mr. Gammell . Part 3


RH Ives Gammell had taken on a difficult task. He was on a mission to pass on the knowledge of traditional Western art to the next generation - in opposition to those who were forwarding the modern art agenda. It was a battle. For example, art schools that had championed plaster cast drawing now had their students throw them into a nearby river or used them as fill for their parking lot. One of our readers wrote: "In the 70's, I walked out of a Life Drawing class (with a live model) when the prof caught me doing a realistic rendering, rather than the assigned abstraction interpretation. It had been only abstracts for that whole semester, and seemed like a waste having a live model there. He told me, 'Buy a camera, realism is out!'"

That is why Stapleton Kearns and others who loved the traditional style went to a lot of trouble to become one of Mr. Gammell's students. We continue Stape's recollection here:

"As soon as I arrived, I became a part of the routine in the studios. We would assemble in Gammell's large studio every weekday morning at 9:00, and he would discuss with us newspaper editorials he had read and disagreed with, and he would quiz us on various painters from art history or recollect his days studying with the greats of the Boston school. We were David Lowrey, Tom Dunlay and myself and were joined later, by the returning David Curtis. Gammell would arrange when he would arrive in the students studios to critique their paintings and then we would be dismissed to 408, another large studio Gammmell rented down the hall. There we would spend the morning drawing figures. We had the same pose for three hours a day five days a week, often for up to two weeks. Sometimes less, but I recall no gesture drawing or quick poses.

The first day I was there, or maybe the second, Ives came to see what each of us was doing. He sat and individually corrected in an incisive and usually deadly accurate line the work of each of the others, often noting the anatomical points to which he was driving his lines. Then he came to me. I was drawing in pencil on a sheet perhaps 9 x12 and I was doing pretty well. I had been drawing the figure daily at the university for a year or more, studied briefly in the night classes of Richard Lack in Minnesota and copied a lot of Ingres drawings, so I was not a beginner by any means. I had practically memorized Vanderpoels anatomy, still my favorite book on the subject. As Ives had not asked to see any portfolio from me, this was the first piece of my work he had actually seen. He sat in my place and I stood beside him. He looked at the drawing for awhile and said,"this is better than it has any right to be". He made corrections on it and went on his way, but I did feel as if I had earned my place in front of the model.

The studio was huge and high ceilinged with an entrance a floor above onto a balcony from the hallway, and three big north light windows providing cool and beautiful light throughout the day. The model was at one end of the studio by the staircase, with her position marked in masking tape on the floor at here feet. I don't remember a model stand, although they were around for portraiture. We had two models, one was Betty, and the other was, I think, Linda or Nancy. Both were dance students and very fine models. We would hire them and use them half days for many weeks. They were well paid and they were devoted and reliable. I still remember how excellent they were to this day. Most of the time we drew in charcoal about 18 inches high and we worked on the same drawing for about two weeks. I remember being very impressed with the pencil drawings done by David Lowery.

After spending the morning drawing the figure we would all go to our own studios to work on our individual projects. For Lowrey and Dunlay that meant still lives and portraits, for me it meant first what Ives called books and bottles and then later cast drawings. Books and bottles was an exercise in accuracy for the beginner, and it was just what it sounds like. A little pile of two or three books and a little ceramic mustard bottle or small ball were placed on a felt or velvet cloth on a stand at about chest level. We worked in a system called sight size. Much has been said about sight size and there has been some warfare over its value. But I think it was an excellent training method. Ives called it teaching us to see.

About ten feet or so back from the books and bottles was a position from which we always observed the setup. It was marked on the floor with a piece of tape where our toes would go. The drawing paper was on an easel directly next to the subject. We could look from the subject to the drawing paper next to it and make close comparisons to determine the accuracy of our drawings. The point was to draw as accurately as we could. We would stand on our line and make an observation, then walk forward to the easel and using our vine charcoal filed to a sharp point that Ives called a "dental instrument" make a mark on our paper. Then we would walk back to our observation point and make another observation, walk to the easel and make another little piece of the drawing. It was very addicting and the hours would slide by quickly as you worked.

The idea was that you only looked at the drawing from the observation point. We used plumb lines to determine what fell above or below another element. We would often push a drawing for several weeks. There were stories of legendary drawings that were worked on for months, although I never did one. We were expected to work for months in charcoal before we were allowed to work in paint.

Every few days Ives would come to the studio where I was working at a prearranged time to look at what I was doing. I was renting a working space from a former Gammell student named Sam Rose. Sam and Gammell had a falling out years before so when Ives arrived Sam would go hide in the back room of the studio and both he and Ives would pretend not to know the other was there. Ives had a wooden box he would stand on to critique our work. He called it his equalizer. He was a little guy, and all of us who were his students were over six feet. I was six foot four.

He would mount his box and you would stand next to him so he could hold your wrist to steady himself up there. Then he would squawk like a big parrot something like "Its wrong! wrong, wrong. wrong! I don't know how in the world you could have gotten it so terribly, terribly wrong!" He would gingerly step down from the box, remember he was over eighty years sold at this point and trot energetically up to my drawing and correct a line or show me how I had missed the shape of something. His line was always righter than what had been there. If you have a problem with a teacher making corrections on your drawings Ives would be a nightmare for you. That was how he taught and he was merciless. I don't remember anyone ever telling him he couldn't, and if they had, they would have been ousted from the atelier. Ives was very severe, but I had been in a boarding military academy a few years before, so I had dealt with guys like him before, and worse.

One time he told me that what I needed was not a teacher, what I needed was an oculist. He could be brutal. But he charged us nothing and spared no effort to train us to paint. I owe him a lot and despite his prickly and neurotic behavior, I remember him fondly as a remarkable character. That time was the low ebb for traditional painting and what he was doing was a radical act. Her was training revolutionaries. Things are much different today and it is difficult to imagine how exotic our training was at that time. There are many ateliers spread across the country today and virtually all are modeled on Ives Gammell's teaching methods. Within that milieu he has a legendary status. After Ives left, I would carry the box back to 408 and Sam would emerge from the back room and return to his easel.

After working for the day on my drawings, I would return to the studio upstairs where I lived. Part of the tine I had it to myself and part of the time I shared it with David Curtis. The Fenway studios were very primitive.. We had DC current, 120 volt DC current. As an early electrified building in Boston it was wired for Edison's system of direct current rather than the alternating current championed by Nicole Tesla. What that meant was that no electrical device newer than about 1917 would work. We had a device called a converter in the closet upstairs that was an alternating current generator than ran on DC. It was noisy and undependable. Much of the time we did without it. We had a hot plate with a cloth covered cord to cook on, and a sink.

The bathroom was down the hall about half a block, and there were no showers. You took a washcloth to the big enamel sink in the bathroom and washed yourself with that. We were always visiting people we knew who had showers. We would do this in rotation, first one friend and then another so as not to wear out our welcome by showering too often in one place. My friend Sam had a jury rigged shower up on base about six inches off the floor. Water was diverted to it from the sink and than collected in a coffee can where the drain would ordinarily be. From there it was returned to the sink with an aquarium pump. If you gauged the flow properly you could get a decent shower out of the thing, but if you got greedy and ran the water faster than the pump could remove it, you had a flood.

There was little heat at night in the studios as theoretically no one lived there, although in practice almost every studio was occupied. We had an ancient sort of pre-World War I space heater. It looked like a flying saucer, the thing kids use to sled on, made out of shiny copper. In its center behind a grill like on an old style electric fan was a porcelain post from which bare copper wires were stretched to the perimeter of the saucer. These glowed red hot when it was plugged in and the thing hummed with an evil and malevolent menace. But by hanging a wool blanket over the entrance to the little room under the balcony in which we slept, it could be kept warm enough to be comfortable. In the morning David would grind French roast beans with a hand grinder and make delicious coffee on the hot plate which we drank with canned condensed milk as we had no refrigeration. There were no refrigerators in the days when the building was wired for DC.

We never had money for movies or other entertainment although I did have a fondness for the more inexpensive available whiskeys. All of our time was spent in study and ceaseless work or the contemplation of the days work propped up on a chair while eating canned ravioli cooked on that venerable DC hotplate. Grim..."

...and memorable for anyone that studied there!

* with many thanks to Stapleton Kearns for sharing these fascinating posts with us! I highly recommend his daily blogs.

Studying with Mr. Gammell . Part 2


Today's post - and the final one - will be a continuation of Stapleton Kearn's account of his meeting and studies with RH Ives Gammell. Already Stape has traveled from Minneapolis to Massachusetts to meet Mr. Gammell. The big question now was, "Would Ives accept him as his student?" He would find out soon as he arrived at Rm. 401 in the Fenway Studios for his 9 a.m. appointment:

"I opened the massive wooden doors with their black iron strap hinges and entered the balconied two story lobby area. It smelled of paint and varnish. Oliver Brothers, the restorers were the closest tenant to the lobby and in those days they did hot wax relining , that and the varnish combined into the most fabulous and evocative smell. It smelled like art history.

The old black man who was the guard and elevator operator, Reggie, cackled endearingly and waved around hands that were the size of tennis rackets as he talked nonstop. He opened the steel door to the elevator and piloted it with one of those bronze and black Bakelite levers mounted waist high on the wall. I believe there was one of those accordion style iron gates that had to be pulled closed before the elevator would run.

Reggie stopped the elevator at the 4th floor where Ives had his studio, and I walked down the narrow, creaking wood floored hallway to the oak door that belonged to studio 401. One of the students let me in and I descended the stairway from the balcony to the floor level of the two story studio. One wall was taken up by high windows facing north and divided into about a thousand panes. There were blackout shades drawn not from the tops of the windows but halfway up from the bottom.This had been William Paxton's studio, and I don't believe Ives had changed it much. Paxton's enormous blonde wooden studio easel with its crank and high mast stood in the middle of the room.

Ives spoke briefly to the other students, he had newspaper clippings of art criticism from the New York Times in his hand, and he was incensed at something a critic, perhaps Clement Greenberg had said. He dismissed his two students to studio 408 to spend the morning drawing figures as they did every day. Ives then beckoned me to a tiny living room under the balcony where he had a little sofa and a couple of chairs. Wearing a blue painters smock, he laid down on the sofa and told me what the format of our meetings would to be. Each day for three days I was to meet with him at 9:00. He would ask me three questions, and I would ask him three questions, each day.

He began by showing me a folio of his drawings from when he was very young at about the time of the Spanish American War. The drawings were, I think, of scenes of knights on horseback, perhaps they were illustrations for Ivanhoe. I don't remember too much about them other than that they looked OK, and that I thought I could match them. I didn't say that to Ives of course.

Each of the three days we met, and he asked me his three questions and I asked him mine. I remember him inquiring about my background and my interest in art. I have always spoken pretty well and I gave a good account of myself. He asked me about painters and painting. I had been studying for months to be ready.

The last question he asked me, I do remember, and that was, "Who was Alfred Stevens?" Now today with so many books around about 19th century painting you would find some artists who would know the answer to the question, but in 1974 being able to answer that was unusual in a 22 year old art student to say the least. I answered that there were actually two Alfred Stevens, one a painter from Belgium and the other an English sculptor whose lion for the railings of the British museum I had read about in Harold Speed. It was like an artistic version of the bar exam, and I had just passed it.

My last question to Ives was "Will you teach me to paint?" He answered that he had a full contingent of students already, but if I could secure a place in the studios somewhere, he would give me criticism. At no point did he have an interest at all in seeing my portfolio. He explained that it was impossible that I could know anything about drawing from the inadequate training I had received in the art schools . He merely wished to ascertain whether I was sufficiently interested to work diligently to learn the art and that I was smart enough to be worth the trouble of teaching.

Someone suggested that I talk to a student of another artist, Robert Cormier who had a studio in the building in which I could rent a place to sleep. There was no room in that studio for me to work, but the cadre of students quickly found me a spot to work that I could rent from an artist a few floors below, Sam Rose. I now had a studio and a place to sleep in Fenway studios. I took the bus back to Minnesota and packed a few belongings into my fathers old army footlocker, grabbed my Epiphone six string and took the train, The Empire Builder, back to Boston to begin my training in the art of Classical oil painting at the hands of R.H. Ives Gammell.

...Next, the final episode . Stapleton's Studies with Mr. Gammell

Friday, May 20, 2011

Studying with Mr. Gammell . Part I



Mr. Gammell Taught at Fenway Studio in Boston

RH Ives Gammell taught approximately 20-22 students during his years as a teacher. Most of them are still alive. Stephen Gjertson, who studied with Richard Lack, who was a student of Mr. Gammell, made up a list of them which he says is not complete:

Chronological List of the Pupils of R. H. Ives Gammell
. 1930 - 1981
  • George Melnick (32-40)
  • Jack Breslaw
  • Robert Cumming (47-53)†
  • Robert Cormier (49; 53-62)*
  • Richard F. Lack (50; 54-57)†
  • Robert Douglas Hunter (50-55)*
  • Richard Byron (55-57)
  • Samuel Rose (62-72)†
  • Mark Bellerose
  • Richard W. Whitney (66-71)*
  • Robert S. Jackson (1 summer)
  • Paul DeLorenzo (April 67-Dec. 67)‡
  • Chris Kendell (67-68)
  • David Curtis (69-71; 74-75)
  • Charles Cecil (69-71)‡*
  • James Childs (summers 71-73)‡*
  • Stapleton Kearns (73- )
  • Thomas R. Dunlay (73-79)*
  • Gary D. Hoffmann (75-77)‡
  • David Lowrey (75-79)*
  • David Zeigler
  • Jan Posvar (76-78)
  • Allan R. Banks (summer 76)‡*
  • Hilary H. Holmes (76)
  • Paul Ingbretson (75-78)*
  • Robert Moore (77-81)†*
  • Carl Samson (81)‡
‡ Artists who studied with both R. H. Ives Gammell and Richard Lack
* Artists who are currently teaching or who have taught in the past
† Artists who are deceased


(Curtis Hanson, who studied with Mr. Gammell for three years, should also be on this list.)

As you can see, my teacher Carl Samson was his last pupil. He had been accepted to Richard Lack's atelier, but his first meeting with Mr. Gammell changed his plans for the year:

Carl Samson: "Happily, I met and began studying with Allan Banks at age 14. It wasn't long before I heard Gammell's name. I read the Twilight of Painting, which spoke to me mightily. Meanwhile, I had been accepted at Atelier Lack in Minneapolis where I was to go upon graduating high school.

Feeling it to be a last chance to visit a living legend and link with the past, I decided to try calling Gammell to see if he might entertain a visit. So, at age 18 and with my sister's borrowed VW Rabbit, I drove to Boston during spring break to meet the man. He greeted me at the door of his Fenway Studios atelier, whereupon we had a very intense and memorable meeting.

I showed him examples of my work. When I asked for his advice on what to do going forward, he smiled and said he'd like for me to stay the week, then ask the same question. The week was filled with museums, tours and meeting other artists at the Fenway. It was a whirlwind. When we sat down again, he offered me a spot in his atelier for the fall of 1979. I accepted, and spent much time with Gammell in what was to be the final year of his life. It was transformative, and I'll always be grateful for this extraordinary experience.
"

Another student, Stapleton Kearns, has written more extensively on his experience at Mr. Gammell's school. These excerpts from his blog give insight into Mr. Gammell as a teacher:

Stapleton Kearns in the early 1970s

Stapleton Kearns:
"I am neither an expert on Gammell, nor am I anything like his best known student. Ultimately, I guess, I was one of the number who passed through his hands. I spent a time there, learned what I could, and then moved on and was influenced deeply by the Rockport school of painting. So I am not a typical Gammell trained painter although I guess I could still be called Boston school.

In the mid 70's, I figured out that art school couldn't teach me to do the kind of painting I wanted to do. In fact the teachers there were both dismissive and unaware of the historical art that interested me. I met a student of R.H.Ives Gammell whose work floored me. I had never seen anyone who could do figures as well as he could.

I read Twilight of Painting Gammell's book, then out of print. There was a student of Gammell, Richard Lack, who was running a training atelier in Minneapolis. I took a night course there but they didn't have room for another student and I wanted to get at the original stuff anyway, rather than learn it second hand. I began a correspondence with Ives Gammell and told him I would like to come to Boston and meet him. He agreed.

Through the Atelier Lack, I had met a few students who had met Gammell, and they told me what it would be like. He was an ancient and very demanding relic of the Edwardian age. He was at that point 82 years old and did not tolerate fools well at all. He was an intimidating curmudgeon. I was told that he was really only impressed by one or two qualities in young men. The first was if the knew their art history, particularly their 19th century art history. That took some doing, in those days there were very few books on the subject and much of what there was, resided in the graduate stacks at the University as it was written in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Today I could buy books to learn about these artists on Amazon, back then it was secret knowledge. You had to read Kenyon Cox, and R.A.M. Stevenson, Phillip Hale, Bernard Berenson, Eugene Fromentin, and Georgio Vasari. I studied Harold Speed and Lumsdens Art of Etching. I read about the old masters, there were books on them, particularly those published by Abrams. Those were thick, expensive, volumes with the old "tipped in" plates. That is, the pictures of the art were printed separately from the book on special paper and then glued in by their tops to the pages . I still have my books on Titian and Ingres that I studied then.

I bought a bus pass from Greyhound that gave me the run of the country for a month, I could get on and off as I pleased. I used this to travel across the country seeing as much art as I could in the museums scattered east of Minnesota, I saw a LOT of art. I had grown up with art books and touring art museums as a child with my mother who was a culture fanatic mostly interested in 18th century furniture. I knew my orders of furniture before I knew the facts of life. I stayed in cheap hotels and youth hostels and traveled much of the time in the company of European students who were more commonly the users of the month long bus passes. I ended the trip in Boston , where I was to meet with Mr. Gammell. I stayed at the old Armed Services YMCA in Charlestown' Massachusetts, across a short bridge from Boston.

Gammell was summering at his studio in Williamstown, Massaschusetts, and I took the bus a few hours to get there. I checked into a guest house, and one of the students came into town from the studio and picked me up. They were on their way to the grocery store and Ives was in the front passenger seat. He turned around in the seat and he looked just like a ferocious snapping turtle! Here is a picture of him.

RH Ives Gammell

I remember him grilling me for information about Atelier Lack. I couldn't give him much of that, as I had never been deeply involved with it. At the grocery store we all got out of the car, I think it was one of those huge station wagons from that era, it belonged to Gammell, but he always had a student drive. I don't believe he ever drove. As he got out of the cart, he tied his handkerchief to the radio antenna so he could tell his car from the others when the came out of the grocery. He said they all looked the same to him. I think it may have all been theater, but maybe he couldn't tell , he was born in 1893.

Now 35 years later I am trying to remember the details of what happened , but I only remember scenes in brief flashes like the night landscape illuminated by heat lightning. Gammell showed me the studios and introduced me to his students, Tom Dunlay and David Lowrey.

Gammell was returning in a few days to Boston, and he set up another appointment for me to visit him at the Fenway studios. This was the historic building where so many of Bostons impressionist painters had worked in their heyday. I returned to the Y and a day or two later I met as arranged with Gammell at his studio at 9.00 in the morning. The Fenway studios still exists, and it isn't much changed, but then it was in a time warp. Only couple of blocks towards Back Bay from Bostons famous Fenway Park.

Fenway Studios

I opened the massive wooden doors with their black iron strap hinges and entered the balconied two story lobby area. It smelled of paint and varnish. Oliver Brothers, the restorers were the closest tenant to the lobby and in those days they did hot wax relining , that and the varnish combined into the most fabulous and evocative smell. It smelled like art history...

...to be continued

Monday, May 16, 2011

RH Ives Gammell



RH Ives Gammell

We have listened to RH Ives Gammell tell us about his teachers and fellow artists from the Boston School of painting, and one might wonder, "What of Mr. Gammell himself?"

Robert Hale Ives Gammell has a significant place in the history of American art. Much more than the fact that he was a fine artist, he became a bridge. He spanned the chasm of modern art allowing the accumulated knowledge of classical art to pass over to the current generation.

"Born in 1893, the youngest son of a prominent Rhode Island family, Ives was reared in the patrician New England society which [often commissioned portraits from the Boston painters at the turn of the century]. That small group of artists, thoroughly trained in their profession, staunchly maintained the old standards of craftsmanship, at a time when the avant-garde forming in New York and Philadelphia had begun to reject such standards.

Gammell received his most important training from the Boston painters. His principal mentor, William McGregor Paxton, had studied with the eminent French academic painter Gérôme, whose teacher, in turn, had been a pupil of the great Jacques Louis David.

The Seamstress by RH Ives Gammell

Mr. Gammell became adept in the Boston style of painting, but his real passion was for imaginative painting--the creation of complex allegorical, historical, or literary scenes, composed of dramatic figural groups in elaborate costume and architectural settings. The choice of this most demanding of all painting genres was an extraordinarily challenging one for Gammell, since he was by his own admission a painter of only average talent (taking as his standard the great works of Western art), and his teachers could offer little specific guidance on this approach to picturemaking.

Gammell spared no effort toward the creation of an ambitious body of imaginative paintings. He traveled extensively in Europe, North Africa, and the Near East, visiting museums to study the Old Masters, and tirelessly recording exotic details of costume, ornament, and architecture that he observed in various locales. More remarkable, when he was past thirty and had been painting professionally with a fair degree of success for a decade, he interrupted his career to spend two years relearning drawing under Paxton.

Finally, in the early 1930s, he began work on his allegorical paintings. They are often stunning images, brilliantly composed, with complex groups of carefully drawn figures and a vivid sense of color.

Dream of the Shulamite Woman
RH Ives Gammell


That work may well have taken its toll on Gammell. By the end of the decade, he was exhausted, overcome by a growing sense of despair and isolation. By that time

  • the First World War and the Depression had transformed American society and culture
  • the other painters of the "old school" were dying off, and their elegant, well-crafted pictures were being relegated to museum storerooms, along with the work of the nineteenth-century French academic artists, reviled by the modernists
  • not only was there little likelihood of a wide audience for his own [type of] work, it seemed that the entire Western painting tradition was in jeopardy
  • moreover, a second great war threatened to annihilate civilization itself.
Gammell sank into a profound depression. When he emerged from that dark period, however, it was with renewed purpose and a significant shift of focus. Seeing himself as the guardian of a priceless cultural tradition on the brink of extinction, he began to write and, eventually, to teach--as well as continuing to paint.


His first book was Twilight of Painting. Written in the early years of World War II, it was first published in 1946. It was, the author said, "a painter's book about painting," addressed to the general public and to the future artists who might someday undertake to revive the "all-but-lost art of picturemaking."*


(It was this book that attracted many of his best students to his school which had been founded in 1951 in Boston. His students were young men looking to acquire the knowledge of past great artists; in turn, they are dedicated to passing this valuable body of information on to others.}

Following Twilight of Painting, Gammell wrote a monograph on one of the finest of the late-nineteenth-century Boston painters, Dennis Miller Bunker; compiled and edited Shop Talk of Edgar Degas; and wrote a collection of essays posthumously published as The Boston Painters, 1900-1930--apart from much still unpublished material. Evident in his writing are some of the qualities that must have contributed to his effectiveness as a teacher of a painting: breadth of vision, clarity of thought and expression, erudition without pomposity, and above all a passionate dedication to the art of picturemaking--a dedication informed by a virtually encyclopedic knowledge of the history and methodology of Western painting.

By all accounts, Gammell was a strict, often crusty, teacher, but he was also extraordinarily generous. He took no fees from his students, and frequently defrayed their studio expenses as well as their room and board, in addition to ensuring that they were exposed to a broad cultural program (also at his expense), which he considered essential to the development of an artist.

Undoubtedly, it was as a teacher and a critic and commentator, rather than as a painter, that he made his most significant contribution. Indeed, if the great painting tradition that is one of the glories of Western civilization survives and flourishes into the twenty-first century, it will be due in no small measure to RH Ives Gammell's teaching and writing on this art. It was a mission that he loved and to which he dedicated his life till his death in 1981.

There are many interesting stories from those who studied with him, and we shall hear first-hand from some of them beginning in our next blog.


* from RH Ives Gammell by Michelle Marder Kamhi in Aristos, May 1990

Monday, May 2, 2011

Boston Goes Impressionistic




Eleanor . Frank Benson

When I consider the Boston painters, I think of
  1. excellence in drawing
  2. acute perception of relationships between colors, edges and values
  3. seeing the subject matter as a whole
  4. beautiful application of paint

But there is another aspect of their painting that has surprised me - they were Impressionists! I heard that from Ives Gammell himself. He carefully pointed that out over and over in his conversations about Tarbell, Paxton, Bunker, DeCamp, Hale and a few others in his book, The Boston Painters.

Certain works look very Impressionistic to me:



Portrait of My Daughters
Frank Benson
The Crimson Rambler
Philip Hale

Other works did not strike me as Impressionistic.

William MacGregor Paxton (1869-1941)

That's because - until I finished reading Mr. Gammell's book - I would have defined Impressionism as majoring on the capture of light and its effects, about small brushstrokes of intense, pure color, and about a certain looseness i.e. not too refined. From what Ives told me, however, it is time to modify of that definition.

To get down to the bare bones, to paint Impressionistically is to major on capturing the visual impression that your subject makes upon your eyes.

As Mr. Gammell expatiates:* "The overriding purpose of all impressionists is to give pictorial form to their own reactions before the spectacle proffered by nature. They are so deeply stirred by the splendor of what they see that they accept it as the paragon of attainable beauty whose interpretation constitutes the painter's supreme task. The type [of artist] which we designate as Impressionist, however, is by a temperament disposed to obey that motivation much more single-mindedly than his fellow painters.

The Impressionist intent was adhered to by a certain painters ranging from Velasquez to Monet with the most recent distinguished painters of this persuasion having been our Bostonians. For example, Frank Benson had two working tenets.

  • The first principle underscored the desirability of maintaining from the very start of a painting the relative degrees of definition which the various shapes comprised in a chosen field of vision, present to eyes which have been focused so as to embrace the entire area to be depicted in a single glance. For it is this over-all aspect which the Impressionist is bent on rendering since it alone conveys the "sense of beauty and mystery which enchants us when we look at nature," to use an unforgettable phrase of Frank Benson's.

    To transcribe this "impression instantanee," as Claude Monet called it, constitutes the gist of Impressionism.

  • Benson's second principle came as a corollary to the first. When the colors in the given prospect are observed simultaneously in a mutual relationship, instead of being examined separately, they appear entirely transformed. This esthetically important optical phenomenon eludes the beginner's eye even more stubbornly than its above mentioned fellow partner. Yet one need only juxtapose a landscape by any member of the Hudson River School, for instance, with one by Claude Monet, Sisley or Benson to measure the gap separating the two perceptions. The comprehensive, broadly focused look registers a superior visual truth whose splendor has overwhelmed most of us from time to time unawares as we gazed at nature in certain exceptionally receptive moods. The Impressionist painter's task is to carefully analyze this truth and transpose it permanently to canvas.

The Impressionist practice of painting outdoors also heightened their ability to see color. As Mr. Gammell continues: "Watching the Impressionist, we are immediately struck by the crucial role played by the color key which he establishes as he begins his painting. Until the mid-nineteenth century landscapes had ordinarily been painted in studios from drawings previously made on the spot. Luminosity was obtained by opposing values ranging from pure white to tones verging on black. Courbet was still using this gamut in 1875. The contrast was always one of value rather than one of color.

But as painters began to take their easels out of doors they soon realized that the lowest color notes observable under the open sky lies well within reach of the paints laid out on their palettes. They were surprised that in broad daylight, the very darkest objects assumed a value both much lighter and more colored than they had suspected. They settled the dark tones first matching their actual value exactly and giving them the maximum coloration detectable in nature. The available color range, then, lay between those darks and pure white at the top. And they further discovered that if the intermediate hues were given their precise relative color saturation and value the desired brilliance could be attained." This also changed their perception of color in their indoor work as well.

How did the Boston painters come to be influenced by Impressionism?

The artists that we have talked about in previous posts had at least some of their studies in Europe...primarily in Paris and in Munich. All of them would have been exposed to the Impressionistic work in the art galleries and to plein air painting. As some of them came into contact with Claude Monet, they “spread the Impressionistic word” to their fellow artists and art lovers.

The Brook at Medfield, 1889, Dennis Bunker

For example, Bostonian Lilla Cabot Perry, who had begun her study of painting at the age of 40 under Dennis Bunker, also went to Paris and met Claude Monet and Pisarro at Giverny in 1889. She subsequently took a house in the village, where she spent some summers as the neighbor and friend of the great Monet who often dropped in for tea and talked painting. She became one of the intermediaries who transmitted Monet's Impressionism to other painters upon her return home – just as she had done while present in Giverny (she introduced Cecilia Beaux to Monet).

All this made the leading Boston painters authentic transmitters of Claude Monet's concepts, pictorial approach and visual understanding. Those - like Ives Gammell - who belonged to their youngest batch of direct pupils benefited from the instruction of men who had worked for years in constant touch with Monet himself and whose overall grasp of the art of painting in its totality greatly exceeded that landscapist's scope and successfully passed their lore on to a number of talented pupils - who are currently passing it on to their students.


humongously excerpted and adjusted from RH Ives Gammell's book,
The Boston Painters (1900-1930)

*Mr. Gammell regularly worked on expanding his vocabulary. He particularly loved obscure or archaic words. He wrote them out on index cards, kept a stack of them available, and used his word of the day in conversation. “Expatiate” had to be one of those words. It means “to enlarge in discourse or writing; be copious in description or discussion: to expatiate upon a theme.”


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ives Admires William Paxton - Mostly



Portrait of Louise ConverseThe Red Fan

What do you do when you absolutely love somebody's work, but find them a bit difficult as a personality? RH Ives Gammell in his book, The Boston Painters (1900-1930), had nothing but praise for William Paxton's paintings, but his admiration was tempered by the artist's lack of social graces.

We find Mr. Gammell describing Paxton's personality with phrases like "social maladroitness, brash exterior, and tactless outbursts. " (It is interesting that Paxton and Philip Hale were good friends, since Mr. Hale seems also to have caused some significant problems with some articles that he wrote as the art critic for the Boston Herald and Boston Evening Transcript.)

As Mr. Gammell writes: "Many of Paxton's acquaintances never suspected the fine intelligence and delicate sensibility immediately beneath the brash exterior of this sharply apparelled, rotund man whose bald head and tiny black goatee evoked the race track."

Then having expressed this, he begins to list William Paxton's admirable artistic accomplishments:

He was Literary: "Paxton and his close friend Philip Hale were the only painters in the Boston coterie who could properly be called cultured. He was well-read in both English and French literature and had a comprehensive understanding of several arts allied to painting."

He Had a Broad Interest in Art: "When it came to painting itself, his interest covered its entire range whereas most of his Boston colleagues ignored artists, however renowned, whose aims differed from their own. Indeed, in all matters pertaining to his profession his thirst for knowledge was insatiable."

He Possessed Unsurpassed Visual Acuity and Technical Ability: "William Paxton crowned the edifice of nineteenth century Impressionism by carrying their logical principles to their logical conclusion. His unsurpassed visual acuity combined with great technical command enable him to report his impressions with astounding veracity. Of all the painters whose color perception had been sharpened by plein air study, he was the most accurate draftsman and he never slackened his efforts to render both shape and color just as they appeared to his artist's eye. His best indoor paintings are distinguished by an ambient lucidity we do not find to a like degree in the pictures of other men. Let no one confuse this with photographic imitation, which it in no way resembles. Effects of this kind are only captured when the artist visualizes the depicted scene as an entity all of whose colors are accurately observed in their mutual relationship, a singularly difficult feat only understood by the talented after years of study."

He Was a Master of Composition: "Paxton was likewise a master of composition, that twin supporting pillar of the painter's craft without whose assistance even the finest representation will not elevate a painting to the status of art. Paxton was the most diligent and the most original. As the painting progressed, steadily improving the abstract pattern created by his light and dark shapes. More often than the others he successfully created handsome arabesques with the silhouettes made by his darks, an art of which Vermeer was a supreme master."

Girl Arranging FlowersLady on Staircase


He Captured Light: "The intrinsic nature of the objects he elected to paint meant comparatively little to this artist. His interest centered in the light and dark patterns and the intriguing color schemes they created in unison. Above all he was fascinated by the pellucid atmosphere and light which enveloped, transfigured and unified them. And this ambiance he captured with a truth and subtlety undreamed of before pleinairism had rendered the vision of painters more acute than ever before." *

A Short Bio: "William McGregor Paxton was born in Baltimore in 1869. At 18, he won a scholarship to attend the Cowles Art School, where he began his art studies with Dennis Miller Bunker. Later he studied with Jean-Léon Gérôme in Paris and, on his return to Boston, with Joseph DeCamp at Cowles. There he met his future wife Elizabeth Okie, who also was studying with DeCamp.
Paxton taught at the Museum School from 1906 to 1913. His compositions were most often idealized young women in beautiful interiors. Paxton gained fame for his portraiture and painted both Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge, and was made a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1928. He was working on his last painting, a view of his living room with his wife posing for him, when he was stricken with a heart attack and died in 1941 at the age of 72." **

* The Boston Painters (1900-1930) by RH Ives Gammell
** Wikipedia on William MacGregor Paxton