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Gaines Ruger Donoho

 (1857 - 1916)
Gaines Ruger Donoho was active/lived in New York, District Of Columbia, Mississippi / France.  Gaines Donoho is known for impressionist painting, pastoral scenes and flower gardens.

Gaines Ruger Donoho

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Gaines Ruger Donoho
Gaines Ruger Donoho was born in Mississippi in December 1857. He early encountered the tragedy of life in general, and the Civil War in particular, when his father was killed, and he and his mother were moved to Vicksburg by General Ruger's Confederate cavalry. The General was his mother's relative. Donoho and his mother later went to Washington, D.C. where the young artist began to paint and study with area teachers. His interests tended to the Hudson River School painter Jervis McEntee.

After brief study at the Art Students League, New York City, in 1878, Donoho went to Paris, and the Academie Julian. He remained abroad until 1887, exhibiting regularly at the Paris Salon, and getting to know fellow American artists John Henry Twachtman, Edmund Tarbell, Frank Benson, and Childe Hassam, when the latter arrived in 1886. Hassam would describe one of Donoho's paintings as "probably the best out-of-door picture painted by an American at that time." Donoho would continue his relationship with these artists when all had returned to the United States.

By 1882, Donoho was shipping his work to America for exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; National Academy of Design, New York City; and, in 1885, the World International Cotton Exposition in New Orleans. Donoho had been back in America for two years by 1889 when he was awarded a silver medal in an important exhibition at the University Exposition in Paris.

Returned from Europe to New York City in 1887, where he established a studio, Donoho would, several years later, make his final move to Long Island, New York, inspired by the establishment there of the Shinnecock Summer School of William Merritt Chase in Southampton. Donoho moved nearby to East Hampton, to Egypt Lane, where he spent the rest of his life. He would exhibit widely in museums, art galleries and academies, his reputation growing.

Donoho, influenced by the Barbizon School and Impressionism, was a painter of lush, fecund landscapes, extremely responsive to nature in bursting abundance, as most-often manifested by paintings of his own grounds and garden on Long Island. The critic Royal Cortissoz said of Donoho, "He painted that garden over and over again in the same spirit in which he pottered over his flowers and hedges, loving it all and understanding it."

Paintings like "A Garden," 1911, with its incredibly lush foreground growth, in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada; and "The Garden Steps," c. 1913, with an Impressionist tangle of bushy garden, now in the collection of the Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, are characteristic examples of the artist's vision and his feeling for nature.

Since Gaines Ruger Donoho's death in 1916, little attention has been paid to his work by artists and scholars, though in his lifetime it was admired by artists like Pierre C. Puvis de Chavannes and James McNeill Whistler. A paperback, G. Ruger Donoho: A Painter's Path, was published in 1995 by the University Press of Mississippi.


Biography from The Johnson Collection
A Southerner by birth, Gaines Ruger Donoho spent most of his life far from his native region. He was born in Church Hill, Mississippi, a plantation community on the bluffs of the Mississippi River, eighteen miles north of Natchez. His father died in 1860 and, four years later, he and his widowed mother were rescued by Union cavalry and taken to Vicksburg. Soon afterward, they settled in Washington, DC, where he attended a private preparatory school.

Ruger Donoho—as he preferred to be known—studied at the State Normal School in Millersville, Pennsylvania, from 1874 to 1876, and for a short while was employed by the Office of the Government Architect. He also may have studied painting with Robert Swain Gifford, as well as Jervis McEntee. In 1878, he went to New York and enrolled at the newly founded Art Students League where William Merritt Chase and Walter Shirlaw were his instructors.

After only one year, Donoho departed for Paris and undertook a conservative course of study at the Académie Julian. During the summer months, he ventured to Étaples on the northern coast of France and the Barbizon area. Grez-sur-Loing, near the forest of Fontainebleau, was a favorite destination and while there he delighted in the rustic ambience and inexpensive accommodations. Donoho thrived during his seven years abroad and, between 1881 and 1886, his paintings were regularly accepted at the Paris Salon.

Donoho returned to New York in 1887, but soon found the demands, dirt, and bustle of city life unappealing. In late 1890, he established his primary residence in East Hampton, New York, located about one hundred miles from Manhattan on the eastern end of Long Island. The area enjoyed a colonial past and a bucolic present, and was even called “The American Barbizon.” In 1891, Donoho purchased acreage not far from the town’s historic center and built a substantial house for himself and his new wife.

Once Donoho was settled in East Hampton, his work became more intimate, lighter in palette, and increasingly impressionistic. Eventually, lush flower gardens replaced pastoral scenery as his primary theme. He also painted nocturnal scenes of area houses that recall the work of James Abbott McNeill Whistler. The shift in Donoho’s oeuvre has been attributed to his friendship with the Impressionist painter Childe Hassam, who frequented eastern Long Island and wrote the brochure for Donoho’s memorial exhibition at the Macbeth Gallery in 1916. Donoho’s work can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the Mississippi Museum of Art, among others.

Submitted by Holly Watters
Collection Assistant
The Johnson Collection
Spartanburg, South Carolina

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About  Gaines Ruger Donoho

Born:  1857 - Church Hill, Mississippi
Died:   1916
Known for:  impressionist painting, pastoral scenes and flower gardens