Distinguished Artist Series
R. H. Ives Gammell
1893 - 1981
By Elizabeth Ives Hunter
Authorship of THE TWILIGHT OF PAINTING and the start of the atelier were the outward signs that Gammell had grasped that he was to be a solitary practitioner of an unpopular art form, passing the tradition on to those who would seek him out but doing so without the praise or honor for which he had hoped. Gammell had always put painting first, working seven days a week and systematically giving up anything which got in the way of his ability to perform professionally. The realization that it fell to him to play a larger role, despite what he perceived as deficiencies of training and temperament, and the acceptance of that role, became the true and personal lens through which he interpreted Thompson's poem and Jung's concept of the collective unconscious.
The Hound sequence was completed by 1956 - delayed perhaps by the large decorations which he did for the Providence National Bank depicting scenes from the history of Rhode Island.
Contacts made through the publication of THE TWILIGHT OF PAINTING facilitated a national tour of the panels and, as his first generation of students left the shelter of his atelier to go on to their own careers, Gammell could justifiably feel that he might be succeeding in his endeavors.
Gammell's painting style changed with the completion ofthe Hound. At 63 he was keenly aware that be had to husband his energy to give the best teaching possible to his students. The physical effort and expense of working on large easel pictures no longer appealed to bim. Moreover, he knew that shifts in education and public opinion required that he reconsider the idiom of his work, Pictures became smaller in scale and he forswore overt classical or biblical references in either the costumes of the models or the titles of the pictures. In their place he substituted figures in contemporary dress and for the titles he chose phrases which had a clear and contemporary application such as ERA'S END, THE INTRUDERS, PREDICAMENT, TRIXTER, THE SPIDER'S WEB, REBEL POWERS, STRANGERS AND SOJOURNERS, LITANY FOR MARTYRS, and HAUNTED CITY.
During the 1960's the number of young painters passing through Gammell's sphere of influence increased. The first waves of graduates were now on their own, painting and in some cases teaching. There was a small but increasing circle who understood and shared Gammell's ideals. His books on Dennis Miller Bunker and Edgar Degas were published and that too helped to spread his influence to a broader audience. Gammell was also working on other writings, ranging in subject from Titian and Rubens to his teacher William M. Paxton.
In 1963, at the age of 70, Gammell decided that it was time to leave his summer studio in Provincetown and relocate somewhere closer to a good hospital, just in case the infirmity of old age caught up with him during the summer. After considering several places he chose Williamstown, Massachusetts because of the proximity of both the Clark Institute and the North Adams Hospital. He settled on a 50 acre site on the foothills of Mt. Graylock and built a building to house both himself and his students in separate but connected quarters. The Williamstown landscape was a complete change from the dunes of the Lower Cape and in the first few years there he got much pleasure from painting the hills and vibrant greens of the Berkshires.
Of real interest is a series of small panels (39X13 inches) which Gammell worked on from the 1960's until his death in 1981 and which he called Fragments of an Uncompleted Cycle. These pictures specifically explore themes which are suggested but not necessarily fully developed in the Hound. Their pictorial development spans decades in some cases, as evidenced by sketches which go back to his early days at the Museum School and Groton. Yet there is a real sense of personal and philosophical evolution, so that some of the former hopelessness and desperation has been replaced by a more positive caste.
In the years since Gammell's death there has been increased interest in his work as painter, teacher and writer. His paintings have enjoyed commercial success. The Hound of Heaven series has completed a two and one half year international tour. His former students have continued their ateliers and are successfully training students who are then able to support themselves as painters. BOSTON PAINTERS 1900-1930 was published in 1986 and two years later THE TWILIGHT OF PAINTING was republished. At this writing, the Maryhill Museum of Art is planning a major traveling retrospective exhibition, to begin in the year 2001 and to continue until 2003.
From top to Bottom: Dressing, c. 1927, 40 x 17 inches, The Night of Foreboding, 1964, oil; Hound of Heaven #5; Hound of Heaven #15; Ulysses and Tyro, 1933, oil; Hound of Heaven #19; Hound of Heaven #1; Hound of Heaven #6; Litany for Martyrs, 1966, oil on board; Song of Lamentation, 1938, oil, 62 x 71 inches
All paintings are from private collections with the exception of the Hound paintings which are the property of the R. H. Ives Gammell Studios Trust. To reach the Trust offices, please call (508) 668-6073. Elizabeth Ives Hunter is Curatorial Advisor for the Trust. RL wishes to thank Josie DeFalla, Director of the Maryhill Museum of Art, for introducing us to Ms. Hunter.
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For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 10/28/11
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