The following, submitted September 2002, is from material developed for
Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana by Tom Davis.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 Grue
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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).
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art
Courtesy, Gene Meier