Maryhill Museum of Art
(above image courtesy of Maryhill Museum of Art)
Transcending Vision: A Retrospective of the Works of American Realist Painter R.H. Ives Gammell
Maryhill Museum of Art will premier Transcending Vision, a major retrospective touring exhibition of the works of American realist painter R. H. Ives Gammell, from May 12 through November 15, 2001. Organized by the R.H. Ives Gammell Studios Trust and Maryhill Museum of Art, the exhibition reflects the resurgence of classical realism in American art.
(left: The Outcasts, 1942, oil on panel, 21 x 11 inches; right: The Janitor Boy, 1942, oil on canvas, 48 x 38 inches. Please click on thumbnail images to enlarge them)
Having studied at the School of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Academie Julian, and the Atelier Baschet in Paris, R.H. Ives Gammell was one of the last classically educated American artists whose training can be traced back to an academic tradition which flourished in the late 18th and 19th centuries in France under the notoriety of the French painters Jacque Louis David, Jean Auguste Ingre and Jean Leon Gerome.
(left: The Night of Foreboding, 1962, tempera on board, 31 x 23 inches; The Dream of the Shulamite, 1934, oil on canvas, 76 x 81 inches Please click on thumbnail images to enlarge them)
The exhibition represents the first major effort to bring together the range of Gammell's work, from his earliest portraits, to his large allegorical canvases. The exhibition includes The Hound of Heaven series, a 23 panel, allegorical sequence based on Francis Thompson's popular poem of the same name and 56 other paintings, drawings and etchings drawn from other museums and private collections.
The opening of the exhibition marks the donation of the R.H. Ives Gammell Studios Trust Hound of Heaven collection to Maryhill Museum of Art. After leaving Maryhill Museum the exhibition will travel to other venues including the Guild of Boston Artists, the Cape Museum of Fine Art in Dennis, MA, and to the Harris Gallery in Preston, England.
"We are truly pleased to have the collection go to Maryhill Museum of Art," said Liz Hunter, curator of the R.H. Ives Gammell Studios Trust. "The Museum's long history of commitment to American classical realism painting makes it the perfect home for the collection." Maryhill Museum of Art premiered Gammell's Hound of Heaven Series in 1957 and exhibited it again, in 1995, to enthusiastic crowds.
(left and right: Hound of Heaven Series. All panels are oil on canvas, 6 feet 7 inches x 27 inches. left: Panel I, I; right: Panel II, I Fled Him, Down The Nights and Down The Days. Please click on thumbnail images to enlarge them)
While his contemporaries were occupied with modernism, R.H. Ives Gammell held onto the academic traditions of the past and embraced the social concerns of the 20th century. His paintings attest to his passionate commitment to classical traditions and techniques, which he felt were on the verge of extinction, and to his efforts to convey the struggles and triumphs of the human condition. It brings the historic classical painting traditions into the 20th century via Gammell's mentor, Boston artist/teacher William Paxton.
Like his contemporaries, Gammell was haunted by the destruction and chaos generated by the events of his time: the Great Depression, the rise of Facism, WWII and the Vietnam War. As a result, over the course of his painting career, his approach evolved into a personal blend of what had gone before in both the United States and Europe. His mature work offers both a pictorial reflection on his perception of the human condition and a philosophical reconciliation to it.
(above left to right: Hound of Heaven Series. All panels are oil on canvas, 6 feet 7 inches x 27 inches. Panel VI, And Under Running Laughter; Panel VII, Adown Titanic Glooms of Chasmed Fears; Panel X, The Gust of His Approach; Panel XI, Would Clash It To; Panel XII, Drew The Bolt of Nature's Secrecies; Panel XIV, Laughed In The Morning's Eyes. Please click on thumbnail images to enlarge them)
Gammell became increasingly aware that his artistic impulse was at odds with the fashion and thought of the contemporary world. This, combined with his conviction that WWII would result in the annihilation of Western Civilization, brought him to a complete state of nervous exhaustion in 1939. During his recovery, he began to explore the work of psychologist Carl Jung.
Gammell's magnum opus, The Hound of Heaven, completed in 1956, is rich in symbols drawn from Jung, and from primitive and mythological sources. Its completion represented the culmination of more than thirty years of reflection and anguish, and was philosophically, the precondition for all his later works.
Transcending Vision: R. H. Ives Gammell 1893-1981
By Elizabeth Ives Hunter
I knew Ives Gammell, and his work, from the time of my earliest memories until his death in 1981. I accepted and loved him as part of my extended family and it was not until after his death that I began to examine his paintings with a more critical eye. I came to believe that the merit of his work had been overlooked by his contemporaries because his idiom was seriously out of step with the taste of the times in which he lived and worked. He enjoyed some economic and critical success during his lifetime, but there has never been an attempt to present his work systematically, and in chronological order. Working with the R. H. Ives Gammell Studios Trust, which he established in his will to last for twenty years from the date of his death, I conceived this exhibition and have worked to bring it to fruition. If Gammell's work has any lasting merit, this exhibition will give an opportunity to a larger public to make that determination.
Robert Hale Ives Gammell (1893-1981) was a prolific professional painter working in Boston, Provincetown, and Williamstown, Massachusetts. During the sixty-five years of his career, Gammell painted murals, portraits, landscapes, and still lifes, but the pieces which excited him most were the allegorical works drawn from his imagination. In his diary Gammell wrote that he was "fascinated by the drama of man in his relationship to the forces of the universe and of his own nature." Over the years he experimented using ancient myths and rituals as well as contemporary symbols in his attempts to articulate images of man's terror, wonder and yearning in the face of a century of upheaval. The exhibition Transcending Vision provides the first opportunity to review the full range of Gammell's work from 1915 until his death in 1981. The viewer can see the evolution of Gammell's ability to draw, his increasing command of the abstract elements of design, and the integration of his work from nature and the model, into his finished allegorical pieces.
Gammell's twenty-three panel series The Hound of Heaven, loosely based on Frances Thompson's poem of the same name, was completed in 1956 and represents the culmination of years of imaginative work. From the time he was a schoolboy onwards, Gammell's imagination provided him with a vision of what he wanted to convey in paint. His training, and the directions which he pursued in the 1920s and 1930s were all consciously chosen to equip him for that monumental task. He defined the parameters of the work in his diary in 1933: terror-wonder-yearning these three and these three alone, these three repeated, restated, carried to the limit of their expression with constant iteration and interminable changes - that is the theme. Thirty years later he wrote in the margin next to these words, it did eventually jell in the Hound of Heaven. In the Hound of Heaven panels the viewer can see the evolution of certain design elements from the early etching series Ave Atque Vale, which were done in the 1920's Gammell's ability to compose and render a sensitive likeness of his sitters, so well demonstrated in the portraits of Mrs. Huntington and Francis Easton Tufts, translates into the sensitively painted figures in the Hound. As the viewer can understand his use of landscape studies, such as the study from Menn's, for background information in Dream of the Shulamite and Bathsheba, so he or she begins to grasp the enormity of experience underlying the landscape and architectural settings used in the Hound of Heaven.
Gammell's work after completion of the Hound of Heaven continued to explore the relationship between man and the universe. In some cases the visual connection is obvious, as with panel III of the Hound of Heaven, panel I of the Fragments of an Uncompleted Cycle series, and Night of Forebeing. In other cases, the connection is thematic and therefore not as immediately apparent, for example, Dream of the Shulamite, Song of Lamentation, and Litany for Martyrs all deal with aspects of isolation, persecution and loss. In The Intruders and Leviathan Gammell introduces the notion that man himself can be the source of evil in the classically and Biblically defined world on which much of the work of his youth was based. As I have worked on Gammell's biography, and the Catalogue Raisonné which is still in progress, I have come to see the progression in his allegorical themes. Gammell was a philosopher whose medium of expression was the visual image, rather than the written word. His highly personal use of symbols drawn from various cultures and time periods sets up the objective conditions for a dialog with the viewer so as to allow each individual to personalize their exact interpretation. As Gammell said, with specific reference to The Hound of Heaven: "It remains an essential part of my intention that these pictures should be open to various interpretations and my purpose would be defeated were I to define the subject-matter strictly, thereby limiting its connotations. The age-old myths, rituals, and symbols from which this subject-matter is derived have meant many things to many men because they embodied the deep-seated fears and aspirations of mankind. Their lasting effectiveness has been in some measure due to their vagueness and ambiguity."
The last twenty years have brought a scholarly reconsideration of the work of artists who Gammell admired, Gerome and John Singer Sargent, to name two examples. This resurgent interest in and re-examination of, the work of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, coupled with renewed interest in representational and symbolist painting, has created a climate in which Gammell's work can be seen in its proper context. It is our hope that this exhibition will provide a baseline for his evaluation as a painter.
The exhibition will be shown at:
The catalog of the exhibition includes a biography of the artist by Mrs. Hunter and an analysis of his work by Prof. Gerald M. Ackerman, as well as more than 100 illustrations of Gammell's work.Â It will be available through each of the exhibition venues as well as the American Society of Classical Realism.
About Elizabeth Ives Hunter
Elizabeth Ives Hunter, is the God-daughter of R. H. Ives Gammell and the daughter of his assistant, Theodore W. J. Valsam. A graduate of McGill University, she worked as a banker before the birth of her first child in 1981.Â She has been Curatorial Advisor to the R. H. Ives Gammell Studios Trust from 1990 until the Trust's termination in March of 2001. Presently she is Visiting Curator at the Maryhill Museum of Art, Goldendale, WA.
She has edited two books on painting, Boston Painters 1900-1930, and Twilight of Painting, 2nd edition, both by R. H. Ives Gammell. She has written and lectured on Gammell's paintings and was the curator of the Hound of Heaven exhibition which toured twelve museums in the United States and England from 1993-1996.
Mrs. Hunter lives in Walpole, Massachusetts with her husband, Robert Douglas Hunter, and their three children.
rev. 2/28/01, 4/18/01
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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above 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. 5/23/11
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