Lines and Colors art blog

R. H. Ives Gammell

R. H. Ives Gammell - Hound of HeavenRobert Hale Ives Gammell was an artist out of sync with his times, for which I set the fault on the times rather than the artist.

Gammell was born in 1893, when academic realism and the classical traditions to which it adhered were about to be overthrown and temporarily (thankfully) submerged beneath the turgid waves of 20th Century Modernism.

Gammell trained at the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where he was a student of Edmund Tarbell, Joseph DeCamp and Phillip Hale. In particular he came to be profoundly influenced by his study with William Paxton, who had been classically trained in Europe and had studied with Jean-Léon Gérôme at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Gammell thrived on the nourishment of the classical traditions, but found himself in a century when those traditions and values were being denigrated and treated as passé. His large scale paintings of mythological and Biblical themes were not well received by an art establishment caught up in the sacred “newness” of whatever modernist “ism” was in this week, and he eventually suffered a nervous collapse. He credited his recovery partly to his study of the writings of the visionary psychologist Carl G. Jung.

As he recovered he laid the groundwork for his book Twilight of Painting (out of print, but available used), in which he laments the demise of those traditions and (wrongly, I think) lays the blame partly at the unfinished Academic training of the Impressionists; which left them unable bring a painting to a finished state, and established a permissiveness for unfinished works in the art establishment. He wrote two other books, The shop-talk of Edgar Degas and The Boston Painters 1900-1930.

He devoted the remainder of his life to teaching and perpetuating what he saw, and rightly so, as the threatened traditions of classical Western Art. A number of his students (and their students) went on to become notable realist painters.

He also started what would become his masterwork, a series of 23 related paintings (or “panels”) based on the poem Hound of Heaven by English poet Francis Thompson. You can see small reproductions of nine of the panels on Wikipedia (panel 12 shown here).

Gammell found himself at a loss for some of the imagery he needed to transform the ideas in the poem into the visual realm and found them in the writings of Jung, perhaps putting him more in touch with the times than he thought.



6 responses to “R. H. Ives Gammell”

  1. Interesting classical work with such talent. How do you compare that to more modern works? Do you look at subject or do you look at what kind of medium the artist used?
    I think it would be interesting to compare with an artist that has a different body of work that ban be found at:

  2. I was lead to an article on form and nature:

  3. I just wrote a short article about the ACR (—nothing of much interest, just a little riff off “The Twilight of Painting”.

    You might error-check this page. In particular, the “Gammell and his Students” link is broken. I will see if I can track that down on my own, but it would easier to just check back here.

    1. Thank you. Fixed. Unfortunately, it looks like ARC has changed their platform and all of my links to ARC pages are now broken (probably hundreds, sigh).

  4. Success! They just changed the name of the file. Why they would do that, I cannot say. Plus, there is a whole process for doing this so that the search engines can know if a change is permanent or temporary. Google did not know about the change, for example. Anyway, here it is…

    I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I am looking forward to it. Thanks for letting me (us) know about it.

  5. I just got around to reading *Gammell and his Students*. It is a very informative article. Unfortunately, it is written by an artist and not a writer, so it is somewhat scattered and awfully dense without being packed with enough information to justify it. However, it is *really* worth a read. If you take the time, you will learn a lot. Having read “The Twilight of Painting”, it doesn’t surprise me that Gammell was the kind of teacher he was. What does surprise me is how little he thought of his own talent. Admittedly, artists like Allan R. Banks, who came after him, are better technically:

    But Banks reminds me a lot of William Bouguereau–who I really like, but it *is* over a hundred years later. I still think that Gammell was a more creative artist. I think he understood that you start with technique, but then you move from there. Gammell was not a portrait painter. What I love most about him is how he mixes the classical with the modern: Botticelli with Manet or even Magritte. That’s the kind of stuff that will take me to a place where meditation can’t compete.