Friday, July 3, 2020

"The Art-Life of William Morris Hunt" by Helen Mary Knowlton, Pt. 1

Helen Mary Knowlton was a student of American artist William Morris Hunt's. She published notes that she had taken in his class, entitled "W.M. Hunt's Talks on Art" and his biography. The next several blogposts will be excerpted from the latter.

The Childhood of William Morris Hunt"In her early years William Morris Hunt's mother had shown a strong desire to draw and paint but the desire met with no encouragement. When she timidly showed her father a sketch that she had made he said, "Who did that?" "I did it," was the reply. "Take it away! and, mind you, no more of this!"

"Marguerite," 1870 by William Morris Hunt

Later in life, now a widow with five children to educate, Hunt's mother resolved that they should have the advantages which had been denied her. An Italian artist was in the town, New Haven, looking for orders or for pupils. His name was Gambadella, and, as a political refugee, he brought letters from distinguished philanthropists.

Mrs. Hunt gave him a room in the upper part of her house and endeavored to find pupils for him, but not one could she obtain. Nothing daunted, she declared that there should be a class, and it should consist of her children and herself. The little class worked with zeal, and, at the end of the term, an exhibition of their work was given. It aroused much interest in the town and there was a general desire for lessons. "You are too late!" was her proud and happy response and no one outside of the family was admitted.

Of her children, one was Richard M. Hunt, the eminent architect of New York. Another became a physician spending his life in Paris. A third gave up his profession of lawyer at the time of our Civil War, rendering good service as a colonel of a Vermont regiment. And William Morris Hunt became a famous artist.

Mrs. Hunt sent her children to the best schools the country afforded, but still was not content. When advised to take William to a southern climate to recover from an illness, Mrs. Hunt took him to the south of France - with the rest of the family - and then to Rome where William drew and modelled in the studio of H.K. Brown the sculptor. After they had returned to Paris, he chanced to see in an art store window French artist Thomas Couture's beautiful "Falconer." He stopped before it, and exclaimed, "If that is painting, I am a painter!"

 The Falconer" by Thomas Couture

*Excerpted from "The Art Life of William Morris Hunt" by Helen Mary Knowlton:

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Letters from Fitzwilliam, John Singer Sargent's Father

Letters written by artist John Singer Sargent or that refer to him are found in several good museum collections including the Smithsonian Archives of American Art. The excerpts below were written by his father, Dr. Fitzwilliam Sargent, to family and friends between 1854 and 1888, and give us a more complete picture of the artist's formative years.

Rossinievers, Switzerland, September 16, 1861
"My dear Mother, Johnny is well and is as fond as ever of drawing. I send you a drawing of a bunch of 'Johnny-Jump-ups' which he took from Nature the other day. And he is a remarkably well-behaved little boy...

Johnny is pronounced to be too big for petticoats, and he is accordingly to have constructed for him in Geneva a suit of 'knickerbockers', a sort of Zouave dress, consisting of loose trowsers extending halfway between the knee and the ankle, caught in tightly around the leg below, and a blouse or jacket. He will also have pockets allowed him.

Little Emily, by whom I am sitting in the garden, or the sunny side of the house, desires me to say that she will draw a little bird for you when she can do so as well as 'little brother Johnny.' She is taking to knitting and crochet, at which she works a little every day.

Both the children take a lesson in spelling daily, but I find that it is hard work for them. I dare say Grandma would have made much more out of them than I have succeeded in doing. Johnny particularly is much more fond of climbing and kite-flying than he is of spelling, and, in truth, I rather like him all the better for it, and believe it will be better for him so I don't push him too much.

Always most affectionately yours, F.W. Sargent"

Florence, May 20, 1871  
"My dear father, John has been studying very assiduously all winter, and his teacher gives a very good account of his progress and general behavior. A friend of ours, a Germanico-American Artist of reputation, has invited him to spend the summer with him in the Tyrol and the neighboring highlands where they will sketch together, fish, etc.

It is an excellent opportunity for the boy who is very fond of drawing, and who seems to be more desirous of an Artist's life as a profession than of any other vocation, and we intend to let him follow his bent. We shall keep near him so as to be able to get at him at any time in case of need. He is a very good boy, so far as I know, and as compared with other boys.

On the sketching tour John wrote back to his father in August saying that when the weather did not permit painting, the artist friend and he go trout fishing. He said that he caught eight fine trout, but that a cat ran off with two of the largest of the lot!

From John S. Sargent's Sketchbook on that trip

Paris, May 19, 1874
"We came on here especially to see if we could not find greater advantages for John in the matter of his artistic studies than we found in Florence. But we have not as yet had time to attend to that subject; however, we shall address ourselves seriously to work in a day or two..."

Paris, May 30, 1874
"We have placed John in the Studio of a rising painter, who takes a limited number of pupils and looks after their work. He has his own private Studio, and another Studio for his pupils from whom he received no compensation beyond what is necessary to defray the expenses connected with this public studio; Each pupil pays twenty francs a month, $4.00. There are only fifteen or twenty pupils, most of them English and American. They work here from 7 o'clock until noon, and have the rest of the day free. The boy seems to think that he has got into a good place and works industriously. He is obliged to get up not later than 5 o'cl in order to get his breakfast & arrive at his ground by 7 1/2 a.m. He works with great patience and industry and bids fair to succeed. I think his new master was much pleased with the results of the boy's labor hitherto."

Paris, March 1, 1877
"John has his daily work cut out for him fortunately, and performs it with good will. We do not see a great deal of him. He leaves the house at 7 1/2 or 8 o'cl. in the morning, excepting on Sunday, and returns to dinner at 5 1/2 or 7 o'cl. in the evening. He has just completed his first serious work, his, as yet 'opus magnum', a portrait of a young lady, half-length, in a sitting posture.

All his friends amongst the young artists like it very much, and to my uneducated eye it is - particularly if one considers that it is his first attempt at a serious, finished work, a very creditable and promising one. It is intended for the Salon, the great annual art exhibition of Paris, for which all the artist of the Capitol send contributions which are passed upon partly by a jury of artists partly selected by the Minister of Fine Arts of France and partly by the corps of artists themselves - in short it is the Olympic or Isthmian games of France for artists. John does not yet know if his picture will be admitted to the Salon, but his friends and his master, who is one of the prominent artists of France, entertain no doubt about it.

Another letter 
"We feel bound to pay John a visit every Spring, to see how he is getting on. And on this occasion we were very much gratified with the progress he had evidently made during the year. He sent to the Salon a portrait of his teacher Carolus-Duran, which was not only [praised] by his artists - and other friends, but also by the Paris Critics and the public, to be one of the best portraits exposed at this Spring's Exhibition. There was always a little crowd around it, and overheard constantly remarks in favor of its excellence.

But as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so the best, or one of the best evidences of a portrait's success is the receiving by the artist of commissions to execute others. And John received six such evidences from French people. He was very busy during the two months we were in Paris, and he is now about going to the vicinity of Chambray to paint the portrait of the wife of a gentleman whose portrait he was finishing when we left him. After this, he is going to Spain on a sketching and studying tour, and in the Autumn he thinks of crossing into Africa, to Tangiers, Algiers etc. I hope he will bring back with him some good studies, etc."

Chateau d'Oex, Switerland, Aug. 20, 1877 or 78
"John is still at Cancale, on the coast of Brittany - the famous oyster garden of France, where he has been all the month of June and July and up to this day - for I suppose he left Cancale this morning, or will do so this evening, for Paris, prior to spending a short time with us before going into his winter campaign at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He has been very well all summer, and has been busy in making drawings and sketches of the fishermen and fisherwomen for pictures. We hope to see him in the course of a week."

"Oyster Gatherers of Cancale"

Cadenabbia, Lake of Como, June 17, 1884: "John is just now in London, where he has some commissions for portraits to execute and is very well. He talks of going to Spain later on in the season, where he hopes to find some subjects for pictures. Spain affords more such suggestions than any other European country (of central Europe, at all events) and it is less visited than most countries and offers more that is novel and picturesque at the same time, baronial-looking beggars, weird-looking gipsies and smugglers and dancers and peasants, all in their quaint and old time costumes, together with bull-fights and brigands, etc., etc."

* The Smithsonian Archives of American Art collection of Fitzwilliam Sargent's letters:

* Collection of John Singer Sargent letters in the archive at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston:

Friday, June 29, 2018

Robert Hale Ives Gammell

R.H. Ives Gammell (1893-1981) was not only a remarkable painter, but a writer and, most importantly, a strong advocate and teacher of traditional art during a time when modern art was threatening its existence. This post pulls heavily from his own writings to share his life's journey as found in "Transcending Vision," a biography by his goddaughter, Elizabeth Ives Hunter and Gerald Ackerman.

Childhood Aspirations
As he wrote: "The idea of becoming a painter came to me a few weeks before my tenth birthday. I had already been drawing birds for a couple of years and my laudable ambition then was to be a second Audubon. But in my tenth year an attack of scarlet fever with protracted after-effects kept me out of school for several months, and I began to frequent an excellent private library, the Providence Athenaeum, to study the works of my favorite author."

Providence Athenaeum Art Room, 1897
"The Audubon volumes were kept in a rather dark alcove on the second floor of the building and I distinctly remember a cloudy day when, in search of better light, I discovered a room offering very superior advantages, which included a comfortably upholstered sofa. From that day on I carried my ornithological books to these agreeable surroundings. Officially entitled 'the Art Room', as I presently discovered, the place housed a comprehensive collection of books on painting, which were to be my delight for many years to come. But they held no interest for me until a day, also vivid in my memory, when I chanced to sit at a table bearing current numbers of various art publications and curiosity impelled me to leaf through a tan colored magazine at my elbow entitled 'Masters in Art'."

"There were few masterpieces to be seen in our art galleries before 1914. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts owned half a dozen fine paintings, the greatest of them being, then as now, Velazquez's 'Don Carlos and His Dwarf'. Until 1910, about the only pictures of the first rank by great masters in the Metropolitan were, with the Rembrandt of a man in a black hat, the admirable Vermeer of 'A Lady Opening a Casement', not yet seriously damaged by ruthless cleaning, Van Dyck's superb 'Duke of Lennox' and two excellent portraits by Hals."

"A major event occurred while I was twelve when Mrs. Gardner began her practice of admitting a limited public to her palace [now the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum:]. I think she sold two hundred tickets a day for two weeks every year. But the greater change came with the appearance of the Altman Collection and J.P. Morgan's magnificent gifts at the Metropolitan around 1914. It was a barren world for an art-minded boy to grow up in before that."
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 1902
"Perhaps even more striking is the contrast between the present attitude toward painting as a profession and the attitude prevailing in my boyhood. A strong desire to paint on the part of a growing boy was considered an unfortunate taste, to be ridiculed or at best condoned but certainly not to be encouraged."

"It was almost unthinkable that a normal, up-standing young man should seriously consider taking up painting as a profession. Among the well to do such a thing was thought not quite respectable whereas families in less easy circumstances rightly considered it a bad financial risk."

"Everything was done to discourage such unfortunate proclivities. While literature was an accepted topic of conversation in the more cultivated segments of conventional society the fine arts were ordinarily dismissed with a few stereotyped remarks. One or two communities, at Cornish and at Dublin, New Hampshire, for instance, seem to have been striking exceptions to this pattern."

"Almost inevitably American art students went abroad to escape this arid intellectual climate and many of them continued to live in Europe for most of their lives. I took it for granted that I would study in Paris for several years and probably spend much time abroad after that."

"The Seamstress" by RH Ives Gammell

Ives Studies with William Sargeant Kendall

"I realized that I needed professional my mother suggested William Sargeant Kendall, an artist who had painted her portrait some ten years earlier. The choice was a fateful one and, on the whole, fortunate. I remember vividly the day I knocked on his studio door. It was opened by a man in a blue painting smock whose solemn face and intense manner took me aback. When he heard that I wanted help he assured me that he was never too busy to help anyone really in earnest about painting and that he would gladly look at my work on the following Friday afternoon."

"What he said about my drawings is not relevant at this point but he did not conceal that he found them exceptionally interesting. Whenever I showed Kendall some of my work he invariably assumed a funereal expression, drew down the corners of his mouth and delivered his verdict in a strained, portentous voice. Although I soon began to have my doubts about the pontifical manner put on for my benefit I never lost my awe of Kendall and I have retained my respect for his artistic integrity to this day."
"The Interlude," 1907
by William Sargent Kendall
Discussing my future with my mother, Kendall asked the bewildered lady whether I had a very strong constitution. When she answered in the affirmative he solemnly commented, 'That is fortunate. A painter's life is a killing life.' He loved to present painting as an austere and somber calling, a kind of martyrdom, with himself as one of the victims. Other painters of my acquaintance have recognized the exceptional strain involved by an unremitting effort after excellence in a heartbreakingly difficult art but their attitudes were always tempered by a delight, an utter joy in the practice of their craft. Paxton used to murmur, 'Painting is so difficult none of us would keep at it if it weren't more fun than anything else in the world!'

"I remain deeply indebted to Sergeant Kendall for two things. His dedication to art as a high and important calling evoked an immediate response in my own heart. As a painter Kendall was utterly uncompromising in his attitude towards excellence and in his contempt for the trivial, for the opportunistic or the mercenary. He also had the true artist's humility before great art. These traits are hallmarks of the real artist and without them even the most brilliant gifts will not gain a painter admission to the kingdom. Secondly, Kendall sent me to the painters best qualified to give me the training I needed. I have never ceased to be deeply grateful that Sargeant Kendall sent me to Joseph DeCamp for advice."

"Alison" by William Sargeant Kendall

"I had grown up in the belief that Paris was the place where you learned how to paint. Kendall rightly told me it no longer was. The Boston  Museum School seemed to provide the best training. Kendall considered the leading Boston painters to be the most accomplished in the country."

Philip Hale's class at the Boston Museum School, 1911
"I have never forgotten how he sized them up. He called DeCamp the best trained. Tarbell, a finer artist, was not as well trained while Benson, even less well trained and a weak draftsman was still a distinguished picture maker. He had reservations about Philip L. Hale whom he had known as a student in Paris, full of strange theories. He had not met Paxton at the time and I do not remember that he commented on his work. In his view these men made up an impressive group and he felt that an art school in their hands must be a good place in which to work."

Advice on an Art Education
"So, Boston having been decided upon, the next problem was to persuade my parents to let me start studying painting immediately after graduating from boarding school, without benefit of college.

"At what age should a would be painter abandon the ordinarily prescribed course of studies to concentrate on his professional training? The professional painters whom I was able to consult were unanimous about one thing. If I was to become a competent painter I had no time to lose. I would have to begin at once working six to eight hours a day, week in and week out, learning to draw. The delay at this time necessitated by four years of college would cripple my career."

"Once he had accepted the idea that I was going to be a painter my father was prepared to follow the best professional advice about my training. We was also prepared to believe that this advice could be had from Joseph DeCamp, then at the height of his reputation. DeCamp had painted Theodore Roosevelt and a number of prominent men whom my father knew. My father wisely agreed to let me work at painting for one year, provided DeCamp thought me sufficiently talented. If at the end of that year my progress did not, in DeCamp's opinion, warrant my continuing I was to go to Harvard, for which place I had already passed my examinations."

"Sally" by Joseph Rodefer DeCamp
"So an appointment was made with DeCamp and one afternoon I knocked on his studio door carrying a bundle of drawings under my arm. Many years have passed since that fateful day but several details have remained fixed in my memory. I vividly recall looking down from the balcony of the high studio and hearing DeCamp's cheerful, 'Come on down, son.' There followed a leisurely examination of my drawings punctuated by an occasional rather quizzical comment and, finally, a few words of encouragement. Yes, there was a chance that I might develop into a painter but first I would have to 'cover barrels of paper and use up buckets of paint."

"Thirty years later DeCamp's widow told me that her husband had come home that afternoon and said, 'A kid walked into my studio today who is going to be a better painter than any of 'em.'  So I was to enter the Museum School in the fall of 1911."

Studies at the Museum School, Boston
"I entered the Museum School in the fall of 1911. The curriculum was rigid. A year of more of drawing 'from the antique' [casts] under William Paxton and two solid years of 'life drawing' under Hale were required before taking up painting."

Cast Drawing Class, Cornell University

"Then came a beginner's painting class under Frank Benson, and intermediate class painting from the half-nude under Tarbell and, finally, "advanced painting" of the nude figure, again with Tarbell. The entire course was supposed to take seven years."

"I no longer remember just why I attached very great importance to skipping Paxton's antique class. For one thing I had done a good deal of cast drawing with Kendall. For another I had heard derogatory things about Paxton. I was wrong. True, this sort of rigid curriculum in which a student graduates from one class to another was a major defect of the nineteenth century art school system. An art student should be made to work at whatever his immediate development requires at any given time, shifting back and forth from drawing to painting, from still life to landscape or to figures out of doors as his teacher decides."

"For centuries drawing from statues, or from plaster casts of statues, was considered the ideal starting point for a number of excellent reasons. Casts do not move, their uniform whiteness simplifies the problem of modeling and prepares the student to cope with the great complexity of values he will find in the human body, and the stylized forms of antique statues educate his eye. There is no substitute of comparable worth."

"But it is a mistake to treat cast drawing as drudgery to get through with and then to put away with other childish things. There are many lessons to be learned from drawing and painting from casts which completely escape a beginner. A student will have a far better understanding of what he is doing if he intersperses his cast work with life drawing and his painting with occasional returns to cast work."

In January of 1913, Gammell heard that Tarbell, Benson and Paxton, along with several other prominent faculty members, had submitted their resignations to the Museum School, effective in June. Gammell decided that the most productive course would be to go to Paris, which was considered the best place to study painting at the time.

Studies in Paris
In his own words: "So one October afternoon of the year 1913 I got off the Havre boat train at the Gare Saint Lazare and found myself in Paris at last: 'Paris cite de joie! Cite d'amour!' as I had heard it sung of in the opera 'Louise'. This was the moment I had dreamed of for eight years and had visualized as the beginning of my life as an artist. This was it!

Place Clichy, Paris, 1913

"I remain deeply grateful for that glimpse of Paris as it was before the fateful assassination took place at Sarajevo. I was fortunate to have had it when I was twenty years old. It broadened my outlook in many ways and it left vivid impressions of a way of life which very soon became almost as remote as that of the Ancien Regime itself."

"And, superficial though it was, my observation of the final phase of nineteenth century French painting gave me a perspective which few of the American painters of my generation ever acquired. All of my subsequent thinking and painting has been to some extent colored by this early contact with the civilization of France."

"I planned to draw every morning at Julian's and to paint from models in my little studio every afternoon. My American friends urged me to join the Atelier Baschet where most of them were drawing. The atelier of old Jean Paul Laurens was also at Julian's and the celebrated name attracted me. But the friends assured me that the great old painter rarely appeared and that the criticizing was done by his two sons. So to Baschet I went."

Marcel Andre Baschet . "Family Gathering at Madame
Adolphe Brisson's
"The Atelier Baschet took its name from Marcel Baschet, the titular head who for some reason was almost never there. I think I saw him twice during the eight months I attended the studio. He seems to have been pretty much the official portrait painter of France in those years, draped in the mantle which had slipped off the aged Bonnat. "Criticisms were given by Henri Royer and William Laparra. Laparra was a far more forceful character and he attacked my drawings with a severity which I found stimulating. I still remember his harsh, 'Vous ne savez pas dessiner, mais pas de tout!' ['You do not know how to draw, not at all!"], but he gave me no clue as to how I could escape from my predicament."

"In retrospect I can see that all these French painters represented a stage in a world-wide decline in the art of painting, a phase whose counterpart I observed in Boston a decade or two later. The severe training implicit in the paintings of Gerome, Bonnat, Laurens, Bouguereau and their contemporaries had not been given to their pupils who were turning out greatly weakened versions of what their seniors had done far better. For a time some of these thoroughly mediocre artists exercised considerable authority as teachers and as figureheads of the two official Salons."

"As teachers they merely dispensed minor corrections to large classes of students who naturally benefited very little by that sort of instruction. Ignorant of the rudiments of their art these fumbling practitioners of the third generation finally passed as the representatives of 'academic painting' in the nineteen twenties when they proved easy marks for the snipers of 'modernism' who wished to discredit the criteria of nineteenth century painting in as many ways as possible."

"I have sometimes wondered what would have happened to me had I stayed much longer in the fascinating city, as I had had every intention of doing. I was revolving a number of plans for the following year when the war broke out, and it was with a heavy heart and deep misgivings that I returned to the United States."

Studies with Paxton
"One grey September afternoon in Provincetown I was walking down the long front street watching the white caps whipped up by a strong southwest wind in the harbor when I ran into Paxton. I had never particularly liked the man when he came to criticize for Philip Hale and I knew next to nothing about him as a painter."

"But I was glad enough to talk to him and he was eager to hear about Paris. So we walked the length of the street  reminiscing about the glorious city which at the time was seriously threatened by the German invading armies. I told Paxton how much I had hated to leave and also how reluctant I was to go back to Boston and the reconstituted Museum School."

"His parting words to me were, 'If you ever get stuck come around and see me. I might be able to help you out.' I thanked him for the kind suggestion with the mental reservation that going to see him was about the last thing I could ever imagine myself doing in such a case. October found me once more in Boston. I rented a small studio with the idea of working by myself in the afternoons as I had been doing in Paris. It all seemed unutterably dreary after France and my fellow students at the Museum School were no more stimulating than formerly."

"What was I to do? The Museum School no long had anything valid to offer. Paris was cut off by the war for an indeterminate period and I had begun to suspect it was no longer a good place to learn the rudiments of the painter's trade. DeCamp had always been kind, interested and voluble but he had often made it clear that he was too busy to take a pupil. Then I remembered Paxton's parting words in Provincetown. Why not try going to him? So the next morning I knocked on his studio door."

"Gammell's relationship with William Paxton was to last until the latter's death in 1941 and grew into a genuine friendship between the two painters who shared an interest in diverse art forms."

"Paxton came weekly to criticize Ives' work, making sure that the model was available so that nature was immediately available for comparison with the painting in progress. In later years Paxton and Gammell drew from the model on Monday afternoons...Often the afternoon criticisms spilled over into drinks and then dinner at the St. Botolph Club, where the discussion ranged farther afield to art history, music and literature."

In Mr. Gammell's own words: "In any case, I stuck with my plan of getting the most thorough training possible along impressionist lines, impressionism being the only type of painting flourishing at the moment, and then, using that as a basis, to construct a system of my own suitable to my particular purpose."

"I was back in Boston comfortably settled in a good studio on Botolph Street which had recently been vacated by Frank Benson. I would have been greatly surprised had anyone told me that I was to keep it for twenty-two years. I hired a model for the mornings and another for the afternoons. I painted some portraits, for orders began to come in. I painted nudes,. I painted interiors with figures. I painted girls engaged in various occupations."

"And Paxton came in frequently criticizing, correcting, suggesting ways of improving a given composition or of giving unity to a design. He always did these things authoritatively, with complete understanding of the problem in hand and with absolute technical command."

"The great models of mural painting will always be found in Italy and in France and I made frequent trips to those lands in the post war years. In Florence I met a man who knew far more about the methods of the great Italians - Nicholas Lochoff."

"He was certainly an extraordinary figure. A huge bearded Russian, he had been sent to Italy around 1910, I think, commissioned by the Czar's government to copy Italian masterpieces for a museum to be established in Moscow. The Bolshevik Revolution ended commission and stipend together, leaving poor Lochoff stranded in Florence with a studio full of copies and no means of subsistence."

"The Annunciation" by Ambrogio Lorenzetti
"I watched the copy he was then making of the 'Annunciation' by Ambrogio Lorenzetti and he showed me copies in his studio. Although I never saw any of these completed copies side by side with the originals they seemed to me remarkable. We examined many paintings together in the Uffizi and the good man came all the way across to the Pitti to see my copy. I found his comments very enlightening and I have ceased to regret the language barrier which prevented my learning more from him."

"When Pietro Annigoni emerged as a major painter on the international scene at the close of WWII, I was hard put to explain his artistic origins. I had been well aware of the absence of any accomplished painter in the thirties who could have taught this admirable craftsman a way of working which had no parallel in this century."

"A biographical notice finally provided a key to the enigma. He had associated with Nicholas Lochoff during his formative years and the learned technician without creative ability had taught the talented Italian lad a tempera technique which Annigoni perfected and made his own. When I met Annigoni he gladly acknowledged his debt to the Russian exile whose most important contribution to art undoubtedly lay in the start he gave to the boy destined to become the only distinguished painter of his generation."

Liz Hunter, one of the authors of "Transcending Vision," writes: "Ives was back in Boston for a few days mid-summer in 1928 and working in his studio when there was a knock on the door.

He answered it and let in a young art student who had heard that he needed models and was hoping to make some money posing. In fact, Gammell needed a model right there and then, so he hired the young man. From that rather mundane beginning grew a personal and professional collaboration that lasted until Valsam's death in 1979."

"Years later I asked my father and Uncle Ives what stood out in their minds about that early meeting. For his part, Gammell said that my father posed well and was just the physical type he needed for the work at hand. In the fall of 1928 when they resumed work, he was delighted to discover that Ted had followed up on some suggestions about readings in literature and art history which had come up in their earlier conversations during the summer."

"Then late in the fall, halfway through a posing session, my father fell into a dead faint on the model stand. Gammell went up to try to revive him and saw a bandage on his leg from which red lines traced upwards under the skin. Ives knew enough to suspect a serious infection which was spreading, and he called his own doctor on the spot. When the doctor arrived he insisted that Ted be taken to the hospital at once where he was admitted. His stay lasted two weeks, but in the end he recovered."

"It soon became clear to both that their temperaments were complementary. Ives was an intellectual by nature and Ted was a pragmatist. As Ted learned more about historic styles in architecture and design he was able to help Ives establish more archeologically correct settings, and he drew well enough to handle the enlargement of sketches and the preliminary lay-in of larger canvases. He delved into costume design and was fascinated by the challenge of fabricating the objects needed for Gammell's concepts. On a practical level, he knew how to drive and had extensive knowledge of Boston and its environs so that he could suggest venues for landscape studies that were unknown to Gammell."

Mr. Gammell's Atelier
"He began to plan his own atelier, since he believed that the best way to teach painting was in an intimate and direct way. He felt that he was obligated to do his best to pass on what he had been taught and had discovered over his 35 years in the field."

R.H. Ives Gammell
"In his book, "Twilight of Painting, he criticized bad teaching and what he saw as the impossible art school system...and he understood that he must put it to the test himself. His goal was to 'try and teach a handful of the really talented kids the difficult art of painting.' For if he did not do this, he would be subject to Leonardo da Vinci's criticism, 'The supreme tragedy is when theory outstrips performance.'"

"Ives and Ted were giving a great deal of thought to how to organize the atelier. Students would begin with cast drawing in charcoal and then move on to life drawing. From life drawing they would go to still life and landscape and then to portraiture. They would progress from charcoal to pencil to pastel to oil and then watercolor. Later in their training, Ted would teach them perspective and the process to be used to transfer a small study to a larger version."

"He would also cover lettering, carving, gilding and frame design. Ives understood that it would be very unlikely that talented and interested prospective students would come from moneyed backgrounds, so he planned to encourage his students to read broadly and to provide them with opportunities to go to concerts, theater, ballet and opera."

"He proposed to charge no tuition and to provide art supplies and models. His teaching effort represented a prodigious time commitment and an important drain on his resources. He believed, however, that in order to succeed, his students needed to work at their art full time and he knew that few could do so if they also had to raise money for tuition and art supplies."

"Robert Homer Cumming had read "Twilight of Painting" in 1947 and expressed interest in studying with Ives. At this point another would-be student, Edwin Linneworth, turned up. After several months in April of 1948 Ives took Bob on a trip to Washington, D.C., to see two hundred or so pictures from the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin. They studied them in depth, visited some other galleries in the city and then moved on to New York to see the Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan. Ives felt confident that the trip had been worthwhile as a teaching device."

"Linneworth, his other student, was not along on this trip. Ives had pretty well decided that he should not pursue a career in painting and had told him so in May. That left an open spot in the studio, but Ives felt reasonably sure that another candidate would turn up to fill it. He was comfortable with the idea that not every postulant was suited to become a painter and believed that it was his duty to discourage students who he felt did not have what it would take to succeed."

"Bob Cumming had met a young man from Minnesota and suggested that he come up to Boston and talk to Mr. Gammell. Thus Richard Lack appeared on December 31 of 1949. The next day Lack brought over some examples of his work, and Ives was so impressed by the potential evident in the spotting and placement of the figures that he offered a trial spot in his studio. Lack seemed to be a promising student and the studio, Ives hoped, would work better with two students. It was different, in any case."

Richard Lack in His Studio
"As Ives came and went from his own studio he would often stop and chat with the Hensche students, engaging them in conversation about their work and their hopes for the future. One of his models was Robert Douglas Hunter, who was deeply impressed with what he heard Gammell saying about the art of painting. Hunter borrowed a copy of "Twilight of Painting, and read it from cover to cover. When Gammell offered him a spot in his atelier that fall on trial, he leapt at the chance."

"In addition to walking through a rigorous 5-year curriculum, Gammell students also came away with an understanding of their responsibility to the future. Of the  first group of students, Robert Cumming, Richard Lack, Richard Byron, Robert Douglas Hunter and Robert John Cormier, three men, Lack, Hunter and Cormier became actively involved in teaching the art of painting to students."

"In 1962 Ives bought 50 acres of land on Hopper Road in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and proveeded with his plan to build a summer studio to house both himself and his students. During the first summer there, his students Sam Rose, and Mark Bellerose who was 'on trial,' accompanied Ives. Over the ensuing sixteen summers a large number of students came to see if the life of a painter was to be their calling. Some lasted just a few weeks but many stayed on."

Mr. Gammell Teaching in Williamstown
"In all Gammell trained eighteen painters during these years: Allan Banks, Charles Cecil, James Childs, David Curtis, Paul DeLorenzo, Thomas R. Dunlay, Garry Hoffman, Hillary Homes, Paul Ingbretson, David Johnson, Stapleton Kearns, David Lowrey, Thomas Mairs, Robert E. Moore, Jan Posvar, Samuel Rose, Carl Samson, Richard Whitney and Davic Zeigler. (To see some of their work, click here.) Like their predecessors, these painters have included teaching as part of their commitment to art with the result that Gammell's methods and knowledge have spread to quite a wide audience."

"RH Ives Gammell was devastated at the loss of his long-time friend and assistant Ted Valsam in 1979, and, for the first time, frightened by an unknown future. He had episodes of tachycardia and the doctors' restrictions on his activities became more severe after a second, relatively mild, heart attack. Still he taught and painted and wrote, thanking God for each day in his diary. He lunched whenever possible at the Tavern Club, drawn by the fellowship of bright minds and the sociability of his friends."

"On March 25, 1981, Ives spent the day at his studio preparing two new students for their forthcoming attendance at a performance of "Der Rosenkavalier." He lunched at the Tavern and then rested before going a clock down the street that evening to see the Arthur Speare exhibition at the St. Botolph Club. Once there, he took the elevator to the second floor and began examining the pictures which were hung there and on the walls of the staircase going down."

In his diary that evening he wrote: "As we reached the ground [floor] my fatigue became very pronounced, my footing unsteady, my speech wobbly and stuttery. I told [Bob] Moore to take me home, which he did, leaving me upstairs a very much disappointed man. Does this mean that I shall never regain more strength? Eh, chi lo sa? (Eh, what's with this?)" Ives died in his sleep that night. In accordance with his instructions, there was no funeral, only a simple interment service at graveside."

And Mr. Gammell's influence still lives on, through the lives of his students - and those who have studied with them or have read his books. In many respects I think he would be gratified to know that there is a current movement through ateliers incorporating the traditional training of art students and the traditional principles and standards of the past...something to which he dedicated his life.

"Transcending Vision" by Elizabeth Ives Hunter and Gerald Ackerman:

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Excerpts from "Art-Talks with Henry Ward Ranger"

Henry Ward Ranger
American artist Henry Ward Ranger (1858-1916) was a prominent landscape and marine painter, an important Tonalist, and the leader of the Old Lyme Art Colony. His memoirs and observations about art were recorded in a book entitled "Art-Talks with Henry Ward Ranger" by Dr. Ralcy Husted Bell. I found it particularly interesting to read about the attitudes of America toward American artists at that time and also his experiences with European painters. Here are some excerpts:

"When I came to New York, American art was at its lowest ebb. The old Hudson River School, or the American Dusseldorf, which had been popular and fairly successful, had become thoroughly discredited, with the result that the two leading picture houses, Goupil and Schaus, had entirely given up the handling of American art.

I remember going to the Goupil Gallery, where I gave my twenty-five cents to see the pictures, and finding nothing but foreign paintings, turned and asked: "Sir, haven't you any American pictures?" I can recall now the contemptuous way in which he replied: "No sir, we have no American pictures! All our paintings are imported."

Looking back, it seems as though the galleries then were flooded with fine Barbizon pictures. It was no uncommon thing for a dealer, returning from his annual trip abroad, to bring back from fifty to a hundred examples of this school. And we really had a much better chance to study the works of these men here in New York, than in Paris where I shortly went.

I felt that if I could go to the place whence came these masterpieces which I admired so much, I could revel in them to my heart's content; but I shall never forget the shock I received at my first visit to the Salon. As I remember, I could not find there a single picture of the sort I had come to see. I found the French artists, and the public generally, indifferent to the Barbizon men; and I soon realized there were more good Barbizon pictures to be seen in America than in Paris.

I made friends, fortunately, among the dealers, from whom I found that when a good Barbizon picture came into the market, it was held back for an American customer at an American price. It was another case of the prophet being without honour in his own country.

"Bradbury's Mill Pond"

"The Windmill"
The art of that day was divided into as many movements as there are now. The usual ambition seemed to be to paint a Salon picture and to get a medal. The Salon of the rejected, headed by Monet and Manet, attracted a large following. I remember that I was very much impressed by them. The sense of illumination, the quality of outdoors, the spontaneity of their work appealed to me very strongly and I came near joining the movement. But after trying their methods enough to feel at home in them, I found the call of the Romanticists stronger.

One street would be full of men who insisted that the only way to paint was to use pure colour, and to put it on in dots. These were the Pointillists. The clique of the next street insisted that the colours should go on in stripes, which, as I now recollect, looked like little coloured worms crawling over the canvas. These were the Stripists.

The feuds and fights between the different adherents of the numerous cults were as furious as the feuds between the different schools of today. I kept to the museums and studied my old masters. At the Louvre, I found my first Constable, which opened another line of sensations, and which finally sent me back to Claude and Hobbema.

About this time I met a little French dealer who was employed by a number of  French and English connoisseurs to buy such things as he thought they might like. G.D. was a charming character. When he visited me in the country, he would usually bring along a little picture, a Corot often, which he would put on the foot of his bed to study while taking his morning coffee.

His father had been a dealer, and particularly a patron of Monticelli. At Monticelli's death, there came to him all the artist's remaining pictures, including the starts and unfinished sketches, besides many incoherent works of his late absinthe period. I recall studying Monticelli's method of painting - and with this advantage: the facility with which it could be traced from start to finish.

"Children at Play" by Adolf Monticelli
One day I ventured to ask G.D. if he thought varnish a safe thing to use in painting. "Why yes, certainly! the Barbizon painters all used it." I said, "Are you sure?" He replied, "Yes! I have often bought varnish for "Papa" Corot, who used to send to my father to have varnish and other things sent to him. My father would send me out to get them." "Well," I said, "do you think you could get some of that varnish now?" "Yes!" he answered, "the same shop is around there"

So we went three or four blacks to a colourman's and went in. He asked for the varnish, and we got a bottle of it. I did not know what I was using for the bottle was labelled only "Vernis a Tableaux," and my life of crime, according to the views of my confreres, the plein airists, began then."

My first sight of the works of Israel, Maris, Bosboom and Mauve gave me the same thrill which I had received from my first acquaintance with the Barbizon painters, and I wanted to know them also. So I went to Holland with my hat in my hand and love and admiration in my heart. I had the pleasure of meeting all and knowing some of the masters intimately; and I have always remembered their kindness.

"Homeward Bound" by Anton Mauve

I knew Mauve and talked with him a great deal. I had formed a habit in particular of always carrying a sketchbook, and if something flashed before my eyes that seemed so beautiful it must be painted, I got out my sketchbook and made a "thumbnail note" and then, when I got back, I tried to do the thing from memory.  

In France this habit of work I was almost ashamed of, because there the catchword was: paint everything honestly, literally and directly from Nature. Nothing that depended upon memory was considered as having any merit, and I remember I spoke of this to Mauve, and asked him if he thought the practice safe.

He laughed and said, "Why, all the old masters worked this way; and I paint all my pictures from sketches." Instead of carrying a small sketchbook, he carried a large one of grey paper in which to jot down his impressions with charcoal or artist's chalk. Many of these sketches, which later became pictures, were sold in this country after his death.

Mauve, after early years of struggle, had just arrived at the point where his pictures were marketed as soon as finished.

He had left The Hague and gone to Laren, a little hamlet near Hilversum. There he had built for himself a comfortable house with an inside studio and an outside glass studio, where he could study animals in any weather, if he wished. His income had become greater than his modest outgo; and I recollect his saying how good God was in letting his work be liked so that he could paint with a mind free from worry over money-matters.

"A Shepherd and His Flock" by Anton Mauve
One charming thing I remember of the Dutch painters was their universal simplicity. One seemed to feel, no matter how great they were, that they still considered themselves students. They were ever ready and willing to help and advise any youngling who was in earnest.

I am very much indebted to them for the technical suggestions and illuminating remarks I heard during their conversation. There was none of that pose of: "Look up to me! I'm a master!" which you encounter so often in Paris, and I am sorry to say, once in a while in America.

Reynolds often speaks of the advantages he received from his copying during his stay in Italy; and similar tributes to the value of this branch of study occur in the writings and history of all the great painters. 

Copy of a Van Dyck by Thomas Gainsborough
In London, where I saw my first Academy Exhibition, I was much impressed by some portraits that suggested two masters I had been studying seriously: Rembrandt and Velasquez. I looked up the name of the painter and found it to be Frank Holl and learned that he was the leading man in portraiture in England. Later I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with him at the Savage Club.

He talked to me in a very frank and kindly manner and told me that he still made it a rule to devote two months of each year to copying from Rembrandt and Velasquez - going to Holland or Spain expressly for the purpose.

It is only fair to say, a slavish, unthinking copy cannot be of value. I remember copying a Corot which taught me more on certain valuable points than I could have learned merely through observation in several years. It was an almost completed little picture which Corot, I think, had started from Nature and carried on in his studio. It belonged to my friend who allowed me to copy it.

I studied the picture for some days, trying to follow Corot's method step by step, and to understand perfectly the reasons why. When I had worked them out in a logical manner, I put the picture up before me and went to work as though I were doing it from Nature and not from a picture. The result was, what one might call, more of a spiritual than a literal copy. But the performance fixed in my mind certain truths that might have taken me years to discover by myself.

I would like to get into my pictures of this region a little of the love I feel for those who made it.
I understand naturally why the woodlot was kept, and why the lane over the hill to the barn must lead to a back pasture. A farmer can't cut down a tree or build a fence or dig a ditch or throw a bridge across a rill without helping to humanize his land.

"The Woodland Scene" by Henry Ward Ranger
And a sensitive person will unconsciously feel the spell woven by generations of husbandmen piling the stones from the fields into walls, often with their rifles lying close at hand. He will enter into their lives and share in imagination their troubles and rewards. A landscape is as human as an individual - so is a tree. Sometimes I feel that I, a poor descendant of these men, mark a decadence by merely painting amidst the scenes of their heroic labours instead of doing more virile work.

 I remember one thing that made a great impression on me, and has given me much food for thought since. It was relative to the importance of a thorough foundation in art."

Shortly after my arrival in Holland, I had the pleasure of meeting Francois Buffa, the great expert and deal, and close personal friend of Israel, the Marises and Mauve. It was he who Boussod & Valadon asked to advise them when they were uncertain as to whether they should take up the work of the Barbizon men or not. He went to Paris, took one look, and said, "Take all you can get." He was then a very old man, with long white hair that hung over his shoulders, and he walked with a long, ivory-headed cane.

One day, I told him how much I admired the Dutch painters, and he said to me, "Yes, it is a fine school. It is our first school in over two hundred years, but it is finished." I did not understand him and asked, "What do you mean? You have Israel, Maris and Mauve, and so on." He replied, "Yes, very true! They are great painters, but the school, it is finished. There are none coming up to take their places. The young men are starting where the old men are leaving off."

One looks over the Dutch school today and one is tempted to believe that Mr. Buffa gave voice to a great truth - the necessity of a firm foundation.

It seems curious now, as one looks back, that pictures of the academic type of the men mentioned as well as the Salon pictures of the plein airists, should have been received with so much favour, and that they should have brought higher prices than the work of the Barbizon painters which has justly become so valuable.

I remember when "The Potato Gatherers," (pictured below) by an artist named Hagborg, received as much adulation, perhaps even more than the Millets which came into the market at the same period.

"Potato Planters" by Jean-Francois Millet

"The Potato Gatherers" by August Hagborg

Many can recall the sensation Munkaczy made with his "Christ Before Pilate," an enormous canvas of the Salon type which was shown in a store on Twenty-third Street, the walls of which were draped with dark hangings. To augment the effect, lights were turned low and the picture was illuminated with a blaze of light from special reflectors. I recall paying my quarter and groping my way to one of the seats which were arranged in theatre fashion, and listening to a gentleman who hourly ascended the platform and delivered a lecture on the picture. In Paris where it had been exhibited as it was in New York, the management employed an old man to weep daily in front of the picture.

These names and hosts of others which you will only recall by looking over the Salon catalogues of that period, represent some phases of ephemeral art.  

I remember one thing that made a great impression on me, and has given me much food for thought since. It was relative to the importance of a thorough foundation in art.

Shortly after my arrival in Holland, I had the pleasure of meeting Francois Buffa, the great expert and deal, and close personal friend of Israel, the Marises and Mauve. It was he who Boussod & Valadon asked to advise them when they were uncertain as to whether they should take up the work of the Barbizon men or not. He went to Paris, took one look, and said, "Take all you can get." He was then a very old man, with long white hair that hung over his shoulders, and he walked with a long, ivory-headed cane.
"The Five Windmills" by Jacob Maris

One day, I told him how much I admired the Dutch painters, and he said to me, "Yes, it is a fine school. It is our first school in over two hundred years, but it is finished." I did not understand him and asked, "What do you mean? You have Israel, Maris and Mauve, and so on."

He replied, "Yes, very true! They are great painters, but the school, it is finished. There are none coming up to take their places. The young men are starting where the old men are leaving off." One looks over the Dutch school today and one is tempted to believe that Mr. Buffa gave voice to a great truth - the necessity of a firm foundation.   

* "Art-Talks with Henry Ward Ranger" by Ralcy Husted Bell is available free and online at 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Mihaly Munkacsy

(from "A Chronicle of Friendships, 1873-1900" by Will H. Low)

Mihály Munkácsy

No painter of foreign birth has in the past century received more honour at the hands of the French; successive medals in the Salon, a medal of honour at the Universal Exposition of 1878 and a grand prize at that of 1889, had been followed by the cross of Commander in the Legion of Honour in 1890. From the first, the dealers had fought for his pictures, and marriage had increased his wealth and social position.

"The Artist's Studio" by Mihaly Munckacsy
"Paris Salon, the Wife of the Artist" by Mihaly Munckacsy
"Woman Carrying Faggots" by Mihaly Munckacsy
Having known Mihály Munkácsy almost upon a footing of intimacy in my early sojourn at Barbizon, I had followed his career with interest. Fortune, artistic and material, had smiled upon him. He had a magnificent house with a studio that was one of the show places of Paris, and in every way he seemed marked as one of Fortune's favourites. Stories were told of visits to Budapest, the populace unharnessed the horses and drew his carriage through the streets in a burst of enthusiasm for their compatriot of world-wide fame.

The artistic appreciation of Munkacsy had hardly kept pace with his popular and material success, however, and artists and critics, once loud in his praise, had for a number of years looked coldly upon his work, and each successive Salon no longer marked a triumph at the time when, by chance, I met him one morning as I was on my way to my studio at Dubufe's.

Crossing the boulevard I saw that a tall stranger had dropped a portfolio, whence had escaped a number of drawings which he was now stooping to recover. As I came nearer and he rose before me, face to face, I recognized Munkacsy. I asked him if he remembered me. He looked at me intently with a puzzled air until I mentioned my name and that of Barbizon and then, true to his impetuous nature, he almost embraced me.

I gave him a brief account of myself and then told him that I was at work nearby on a ceiling for a new hotel in New York. "May I come and see ?" he asked. He tone seemed almost eager. "Now may I accompany you?" Of course I assented, very sincerely flattered, yet not a little puzzled by the strange insistence of his tone. We shortly reached the studio where my work was nearly completed. There was the most simple sincerity in his expression as he lavished his extravagant praise.

He returned again and again to dwell upon the clarity and lightness of tone of my work, and more than once he repeated, "Yes, I remember you were painting much lighter than the other men at Barbizon when you were there. It is evidently easy for you while I, I paint black. My work is heavy, it is the bitumen. Bitumen has been my ruin, everyone tells me so."

"And now you must come with me." Munkacsy's studio at Neuilly was, if possible, even larger than the one that I occupied, fitting with hangings of the most expensive nature, and the whole aspect was fairly palatial. A well-trained servant stepped forward to remove our coats, and drawing forward chairs, we seated ourselves.
Mihaly Munkacsy in His Studio
The work on which Munkacsy was engaged was a frieze for the Parliament house in his native country. It was about sixty feet in length by probably fifteen feet in height and stretched diagonally across the immense studio. Munkacsy began at once. "I have been ill, very ill, but I am determined to make this my best work, and above all to make it light in tone." Then calling two servants he directed them to set up the sketches for the work.

"The Hungarian Conquest" by Munkacsy
There were three and painted to quarter-scale, each fifteen feet long - formidable canvases in themselves. "There" he resumed eagerly, "that is the first sketch. It is like mahogany; and then I made the second one there. That is lighter, is it not? But it was not light enough, so I've made a third still lighter. And I hope that the big canvas may be yet lighter."

"I am reproached for my bituminous tones. Everyone is painting light for the Salon. Oh, much more than they used to do. No, I must paint light." Suddenly he broke out in a tone whose memory still haunts me, so dejected and hopeless it seemed to be, to come from one so favoured by fortune, so visibly surrounded by the evidence of his long-sustained success.

"You don't live in Paris. You have never known a Salon success. You are fortunate. It is pleasant, everyone praises you. It is "cher maitre" here, and "cher maitre" there, and year after year it goes on until it becomes a necessity of your existence. Then they begin to pick flaws. My Hungarian pictures bored them, so I gave them Parisians - and then they called my work upholstery and said that I was a creature of the dealers and incapable of affronting "la grande peinture."

Then I did my "Christ before Pilate," a real success with the public at least, and with the artists too, though some hung back. And then they began to reproach me with painting dark, and since then there has been no peace. It is like being thrown to the wild beasts. For what does it matter if the dealers clamour for my work, they, too, will stay away before the critics get through with me.

"Ecco Homo" by Munkacsy

Even now I hear whispers that my painting is only suited to Vienna or Budapest, and some day I may be obliged to retire there when Paris has sucked me dry. But you see I must paint light, or adieu to the Salon." His tone was so weird and unnatural that before he had ended I was convinced that his reason was unbalanced, any not many months after he was taken to a sanitarium."

Munkacsy's Last Years
"The damage to his nervous system from syphilis, which he had contracted in his youth worsened considerably. Because he felt so poorly, he had to leave early from the last great reception organized in his honour.  He spent a whole year in Baden-Baden, Germany, where his physicians continued to try the usual hydrotherapy treatments. However, he slowly fell into a state of dementia, and became upset by even the idea of creation. In January, 1897, he had to be transferred to the psychiatric clinic in Endenich, Germany.

Munkácsy died after a long illness and suffering in a state of unconsciousness on May 1, 1900. On May 6th, his body was delivered to Budapest where it laid in state in the Art Gallery. A cordon was set up around the building and the catafalque could be visited only with an admission ticket. The burial took place on May 9th in the Kerepesi Cemetery. The outstanding figure of the Hungarian and European painting, the painter prince, was accompanied by hundreds of thousand of people at this end of his life’s journey. The farewell speech was made by his fellow painter, Károly Telepy."

(These last two paragraphs are from an excellent site devoted to Munkacsy: )

(Also what Will Low did not know, or did not share in this account, was that Munkacsy had had an exceedingly difficult childhood as described in this very interesting article by Cathy Locke: