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 Richard Buckner Gruelle  (1851 - 1914)

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Lived/Active: Indiana/New York      Known for: landscape, portrait and marine painting

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Richard Buckner Gruelle
from Auction House Records.
Figures on a Hillside
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following, submitted September 2002, is from material developed for Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana by Tom Davis.

Though a great lover of nature and the outdoors, Richard Gruelle had painting as the driving force in his life. "The fragrance of sweet jasmine in the woods was not so sweet as the smell of new canvas and new tubes of color."

Believing in "art for the heart's sake," Gruelle felt the artist had "the duty of carrying the gospel of encouragement and uplift to all; to awaken a love and understanding of the beautiful and pure; and to so animate the impulse of this awakening as to bring its influence to bear on things of daily experience." (Gruelle, as quoted by Mary Q. Burnet, Art and Artists of Indiana, (New York, The Century Company, 1921), 185, 195)

Called by Jacob Dunn, in his History of Greater Indianapolis, "the most absolutely untaught artist who ever did really good work in the vicinity," ( 485), Richard Gruelle was born in Cynthiana, Kentucky, the youngest of the eight boys and three girls born to John and Prudence Gruelle.  Both there, and in Arcola, Illinois where the family moved six years later, young Richard drew on "everything he could find," and apparently, any time and all the time, for his teachers were constantly reprimanding him for drawing during class.  But with the whole-hearted encouragement of his mother, he would draw up scenes for his own "panorama shows," charging his friends and neighbors "five pins" to see his primitive "slide shows"of scenes of the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac.

Forced by the need of helping to support this large family of brothers and sisters, he became an apprentice house painter at the age of thirteen.  In those days, the painters had to mix their own colors, and Richard showed such prowess in his ability to mix and match colors of paint, and to use the leftovers in the pictures he was able to paint on "rainy days and Sundays" that his boss offered to pay him a full week's wages for just three days of house painting work.  He was made a partner in the business at the age of sixteen, but tiring of the periodic bouts of lead poisoning he got from working with the house paint, Gruelle soon left the business to try his hand at making a living by doing portraits, mostly of the recently deceased.

There just wasn't enough death or other business in small Arcola for a budding artist, and Gruelle took a job with a railroad surveying crew to provide him with an income. When a sketch he made of his bosses' own dearly departed child was so well received, he left the railroad and set up another portrait studio in the somewhat larger town of Decatur, Illinois.  This circumstance, combined with giving art lessons, provided him with a living for a couple of years.  Even more importantly, it provided him with a wife, Alice Benton, who had moved to Decatur from Massachusetts when in her teens.  Needing now to provide for two, the newlyweds moved to Cincinnati, where Richard took a job painting landscapes on the sides of steel safes.

When his father died in 1876, the couple moved to Arcola to care for his mother and an aged aunt.  It was not a good time for Gruelle, who wanted to make a living from his painting in a town that would only have the dead painted.  When the aunt died several years later, Richard packed up his mother, wife, and son John, who had been born in Arcola on December 24,1880, and moved to Gainesville, Florida where they stayed briefly with one of his older brothers before moving back north.  In 1882, the Gruelles sat up a household at in Indianapolis at 287 Davidson Street in the area around Lockerbie Street.  He turned his focus from portraits to landscapes, working both in oil and watercolor, and made a steady living.  In 1891, he was asked by his friend and neighbor James Whitcomb Riley to illustrate his works When the Frost is on the Punkin and "The Old Swimmin Hole."

As artists including Theodore Steele and William Forsyth began to arrive back in town after their studies abroad, Gruelle became a little self-conscious about his own lack of formal training.  But as he later wrote, "Not withstanding this influx of thoroughly trained talent, Mr. Gruelle has steadily held his own." Commenting later, in his 1916 book, Art in Indiana, William Forsyth observed that in some ways, Gruelle did more than hold his own. "Unfortunately Gruelle had no advantage of training and his sincere love of nature was hampered in expression all his life. Nevertheless, he enjoyed great popularity---possibly as much as any artist locally ever did.  Possibly there are more of his pictures owned in Indianapolis than of any other artist."

Gruelle had a knack for making friends, and very often friends in higher places. When Benjamin Harrison was U.S. President, a local art connoisseur named Herbert Hess, who was one of Harrison's many local appointees to bureaucratic offices in Washington, invited Gruelle to spend time in the Capitol painting and exhibiting. One of his works was purchased by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  It was also while on one of these trips that he visited the art collection of rich industrialist William Walters near Baltimore.  Gruelle described this collection in letters to his Indianapolis friend Carl Lieber, who was so impressed that he saw to it that Gruelle's descriptions of some of the paintings in Walters' collection were included in Joseph Bowles Modern Art periodical.  When a copy of Modern Art fell into the hands of Walters, he hired Gruelle to spend a year with his collection and write a complete catalogue of the works.  The result was a 217 page text entitled Notes: Critical & Biographical, which became one of the most prized works on art printed in the late 1900s.

On a more personal level, the time he was able to devote to looking at the works of master artists in great detail helped provided Gruelle with some of the formal training he had never been able to receive.  Seven of his oil paintings and three water colors were included in the Denison Hotel Exhibition in 1894 that eventually made its way to Chicago with the "Hoosier Group" exhibition.  Here his works were displayed next to those of his more schooled colleagues, a fact which must have given Gruelle no small satisfaction.

But at about the same time the Hoosier Group* was focusing their attention on all things Indiana, and even though he would say "No matter where I may be, Indianapolis is my home, the place where my heart is," Gruelle began to devote much of his attention to the east coast, continuing the associations he had made while in Washington and Baltimore.  Maintaining a new home at 537 Tacoma Avenue in what then was a sparsely populated part of town on the northeast side, he made regular trips to Massachusetts, and seascapes became as much a part of his repertoire as bucolic country scenes.

He left Indianapolis altogether in December 1905, taking the family to live in New York City where he hoped for "a little artistic rejuvenation amongst the art galleries and museums." A year of big city life was all Richard and Alice could stand, and the couple moved back to Indianapolis in 1907.  But their younger children, Prudence and Justin, were drawn by the opportunities of New York.  Prudence stayed behind to study at the Metropolitan Opera School, and younger Justin returned in 1909 to study art.  Again drawn by his east coast artist friends, with the added desire to be close to his children, in 1910 Gruelle purchased property near Norwalk, Connecticut, where he and his son and new son-in-law had a studio and much scenery to paint.  He was especially pleased when his oldest son John was hired as a cartoonist by the New York Herald Tribune and was able to move from Cleveland to be with them.

Gruelle continued to make trips back to Indianapolis to see friends and family and to exhibit his works.  After suffering a stoke in July 1912, he was unable to continue painting.  He remained hopeful of returning to the work he loved right up until his death on November 8, 1914, when he was in his beloved Indianapolis visiting his wife's family.

The next year his son, Johnny Gruelle, patented a doll whose name came to him by combining the names of two of the favorite characters from the poems of the poet he had known as a child and whose works his dad had sometimes illustrated.  The doll's name was Raggedy Ann.  Johnny's success soon outstripped that of his father. (He took his design for the doll from one his mom had made for his young daughter.) Recalling his father, who had been a constant whistler, the son once said: "He was a joyous soul, who loved life, and deeply savored the living of it, and his self-produced melody was an expression of this."

But Richard Gruelle's legacy is not limited to the fame of his son, nor to the constant but evanescent melody of his whistling.  Art Critic Martin Krause, writing The Passage, his study of the artists of the Hoosier Group, notes that "Gruelle, the most sporadic member of the "Hoosier Group" produced the most identifiable Indiana painting ever crafted, The Canal-Morning Effect.

It is Gruelle's acknowledged masterpiece.  With his innate sense of the dramatic, Gruelle alluded to both Indiana's history and to its future while painting the reality of contemporary Indianapolis.

Source:
Martin Krause, The Passage: Return of Indiana Painters from Germany, 1880-1905. Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1990, 144).

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com Glossary http://www.askart.com/AskART/lists/Art_Definition.aspx


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A self-taught landscape painter, illustrator and writer Richard Gruelle lived in Indianapolis and Norwalk, Connecticut.  He was apprenticed to a house and sign painter as a young man.  He initially practiced portraiture but was best known as a landscape painter in the tradition of the Barbizon school, having taken up landscape painting in oil and watercolor in Indianapolis, circa1882. He painted for several seasons during the1890s in Washington, DC and held several exhibitions there.

Gruelle was a member of the reknowned "Hoosier Group" which included T. C. Steele, William Forsyth, J. Ottis Adams and Otto Stark (see entries for each).  In 1897 he was commissioned to paint seascapes in New England and eventually made  annual painting trips to Cape Ann (MA ). In 1905 he moved to New York City, returning briefly to Indiana in 1907, but then settling permanently in the East in 1910 in Norwalk, Connecticut, near the Silver Mine River.

He died while on a visit to Indianapolis.

He was illustrator of James Whitcomb Riley's When the Frost is on the Punkin: and The Old Swimmin; Hole from Neighborly Poems. Author:

Exhibitions included the Denison Hotel, 1894; Five Hoosier Painters, Chicago, 1894; Art Institute of Chicago, 1897; Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis, 1904; Indianapolis & New Canaan (solos).

Source:
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

Courtesy, Gene Meier

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


Richard Gruelle is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Impressionists Pre 1940

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