R. H. Ives Gammell: The Hound of Heaven

by Elizabeth Ives Hunter

 



 

Born in 1893, R.H. Ives Gammell was the third son of a prominent Rhode Island family and he benefited from the cultural and educational advantages of his class. From the age of ten, he was determined to become a painter. He first showed his work to William C. Loring, head of the painting department at the Rhode Island School of Design. Later, he studied with William Sargeant Kendall, who had taught at the Pennsylvania Academy and would eventually head the painting department at Yale University. In 1911, with the encouragement of Joseph Decamp, Gammell entered The School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, where the painting department was run by Edmund Tarbell and the faculty included painters of high caliber, such as Frank Benson, Philip Hale, and William Paxton.

In 1913 Gammell left Boston for Paris. In the mornings he drew at the Academie Julian. In the afternoons he spent time at the Atelier Baschet where he received criticism from Henri Royer and William Laparra. Through Kendall, his former teacher, Gammell was introduced to Pierre Cornillier, who had studied with Kendall in the atelier of Luc-Olivier Merson, a well-schooled academic painter. Unfortunately, Cornillier's age precluded serious teaching, and Gammell was not advanced enough as a painter to benefit from. the older man's painting instruction.

Gammell's time in Paris was cut short with the outbreak of the World War 1. He returned home and joined the Massachusetts Battery, which saw service on the Mexican Border in 1916. When he returned to France, he was transferred to intelligence because of his excellent knowledge of French.

Gammell remained in Paris for the duration of the Peace Conference and then returned to Boston, where he began his career in earnest. He painted diligently throughout the 1920s, but came to realize that his ability to paint the murals and allegorical pieces to which he naturally aspired was hindered by poor drawing and an inadequate sense of composition.

At the end of the decade Gammell virtually gave up his career and apprenticed himself to William Paxton in order to improve his drawing and composition. The deep bond between these two painters lasted until Paxton's death in 1941, and it was during the crucial period of apprenticeship in 1928 and 1929 that Gammell developed the skills of draftsmanship and composition which characterize his mature work.


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