Sailboats at Dock
oil on canvas
25 x 30 inches
signed lower right
Provenance: Estate of Ms. Mary Catherine Nichols, Philadelphia, PA
A prolific artist and an influential teacher, Emile Gruppé enjoyed a long and successful career that spanned over six decades. Best known for his vigorous portrayals of the harbors and houses of Gloucester, Massachusetts and the rural scenery of Vermont, his art reflects his belief that “When a man paints, he expresses his whole life; what he’s done and what he’s experienced. If you are bold and outgoing, your work will show it.”
Emile Gruppé was born in Rochester, New York on November 23rd 1896, a son of Charles P. Gruppé (1860-1940), a painter of Barbizon-inspired landscapes. In fact, Gruppé’s family was decidedly artistic; his brother, Karl, would go on to become a noted academic sculptor, his other sibling, Paulo, became a cellist, and their sister, Virginia, made watercolor painting her forte.
Gruppé spent his boyhood in Katwyk an Zee, a fishing village on the coast of Holland, where his father was active as both an artist and picture dealer. The family returned to America at the outbreak of World War I, at which time it was decided that Emile would pursue an artistic career. Having learned the rudiments of painting and drawing from his father, he went on to attend classes at the Art Students League, studying figure techniques under Charles Chapman and George Bridgman. His formal training also included studying landscape methods with John Carlson in Woodstock, New York during the late 1910s, an experience that led to his decision to specialize in outdoor painting. Gruppé also studied with Richard Miller in Paris and with Charles Hawthorne in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Although he appreciated all of his instructors, Gruppé later stated that it was “John Carlson who turned me into a painter,” teaching to him to see all “the pictorial possibilities of a subject.”
Emile Gruppé began his career painting landscapes in a subtle Tonalist manner that reflected the influence of his father, as well as the nuanced Impressionism of Carlson. He initially derived his subject matter from locales in upstate New York; however, on a visit to an exhibition at the National Academy of Design, he saw some paintings of Gloucester, the famous fishing port on Massachusetts’ North Shore, and decided to go and see this picturesque locale for himself. He made his initial visit to Gloucester in the summer of 1925 and was instantly attracted to its maritime ambience. Indeed, Gruppé began spending every summer in Gloucester, going on to establish a studio on Rocky Neck, in East Gloucester. As well as painting views of the town’s bustling waterfront and its streets and houses, he taught plein air classes to groups of enthusiastic students who were drawn to his artistic outlook, as well as his outgoing personality. In 1942, along with Bridgman, Carlson, Miller and Chapman, he established the Gruppé Summer School, which he continued to operate until 1970.
During the 1930s, feeling that he had outgrown his early tonal style and wishing to impart a greater degree of verve and sparkle to his paintings, Gruppé adopted a more direct and personal mode of painting in which he combined a dynamic brand of Realism with the light and atmospheric concerns of Impressionism. His mature work is much admired for its robust brushwork, rich palette, thick impasto, and keen sense of compositional design. A dedicated artist, Gruppé is said to have painted every day, producing about two hundred oils a year.
Gruppé exhibited at the major national annuals, including those of the National Academy of Design, where he made his debut in 1915. His paintings were also shown at regional venues, such as the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, the North Shore Art Association, and the Rockport Art Association, where they won numerous awards and prizes. His professional affiliations included Allied Artists of America, the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, the North Shore Art Association, the Gloucester Society of Artists, the Rochester Art Association, the Sarasota Art Association, the St. Augustine Art Association, and the Salmagundi Club of New York. While Cape Ann provided Gruppé with the majority of subjects for his brush, he also took winter trips to Jeffersonville, Vermont, where he painted views of birch trees, meandering country roads, and old barns and farmhouses. During his later years, he usually spent his winters in Florida, painting and teaching art classes. Considered a master of color and technique, Gruppé passed on his aesthetic precepts through his books, Brushwork for the Oil Painter (1977), Gruppé on Painting (1979) and Gruppé on Color (1979).
Gruppé died in East Gloucester on September 28th 1978. A retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the North Shore Art Association in 1997.
Gruppe’s paintings can be found in many public collections, including the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Hagerstown, Maryland; the Hickory Museum of Art, Hickory, North Carolina; the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Loretto, Pennsylvania; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey; the New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, Connecticut; the Oklahoma City Museum of Art; the Richmond Art Museum, Richmond, Indiana; the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida; the Springville Museum of Art, Springville, Utah; the Sheldon Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute, Indiana; and The White House, Washington, D.C.