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Gilbert Gaul

 (1855 - 1919)
Gilbert Gaul was active/lived in New York, Tennessee, New Jersey.  Gilbert Gaul is known for frontier-war genre and landscape painting.

Gilbert Gaul

Biography from the Archives of askART

Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, Gilbert Gaul became a painter of highly realistic western scenes showing interaction between Caucasian people and Indians.

He attended schools in Newark, New Jersey and the Claverack Military Academy, but ill health prevented him from pursuing a naval career.  In the 1870s, he began the study of art, enrolling in New York at the National Academy of Design where he studied with Lemuel Wilmarth and at the Art Students League with John George Brown.  In 1882, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Design.

He spent four years in Van Buren, Tennessee, painting Civil War depictions and rural genre and then worked as an illustrator for several magazines including Harper's Monthly.

Numerous times from 1876 he traveled in the West, living on Army posts and with Indian tribes and recording the various lifestyles with camera and brushes. From his studios in New York City and Nashville, Tennessee, he made paintings based on these studies.

In the 1880s, he was among a group of eleven artists including Peter Moran, Julian Scott, and Walter Shirlaw, who were commissioned by the Federal Government to illustrate the Eleventh Census of 1890.  As part of this project Gaul did a portrait from life of Sitting Bull, in September 1890, a few months before the Sioux Indian leader died.

The result of the Census was one of the most comprehensive sources of American Indian life ever published, a 683 page document, which Gaul wrote as well as helped illustrate. 

Between 1905 and 1910, he did paintings of women and children, sometimes in seaside settings and in dark tones reminiscent of work by Winslow Homer.

Many of his paintings are in the Birmingham, Alabama, Museum of Art, and an account of his travels in Mexico and South America was exhibited at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

Michael David Zellman, Three Hundred Years of American Art
Robert Taft, Artists and Illustrators of the Old West, 1850-1900

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born in Jersey City, New Jersey on March 31, 1855, Gilbert Gaul studied in New York City at the Art Student League and National Academy of Design under John George Brown.

Although based in New York City, he made many trips to the West from 1882-91. Going as far as California, he was an illustrator for Harper's and Century magazines. Best known for his military scenes and Western subjects, the black and white oil of On the Way to the Summit (Donner Party) in the Oakland Museum is typical of his episodic and dramatic compositions.

Gaul died in New York City on Dec. 21, 1919.

Member: National Academy

Toledo (OH) Museum
Peabody Institute (Baltimore);
Gilcrease Institute (Tulsa).

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers (Fielding, Mantle); Artists of the American West (Doris Dawdy); Artists and Illustrators of the Old West (Robert Taft).

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery
Though he was only six years old when the War Between the States began, Gilbert Gaul is remembered today for paintings and illustrations that capture the comaraderie of army life; the exhilaration of a battle won; the demoralization following defeat; as well as the fear, fatigue, loneliness, and hunger experienced on a personal level by men on both sides of the conflict.

His images are particularly sympathetic to the Southern cause, a fact attributed to family roots that ran deep in central Tennessee.

William Gilbert Gaul was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, March 31, 1855, to George W. Gaul and Cornelia A. Gilbert, a native of Spencer, Van Buren County, Tennessee.  He attended Claverack Military Academy in New York state in preparation for a naval career, but when poor health prevented the fulfillment of his ambition, he sought art instruction in New York City.

He enrolled in the National Academy of Design where his painting and drawing instructor was genre painter Lemuel Wilmarth.  When Wilmarth left the Academy in 1875 to teach at the newly formed Art Students League of New York, Gaul followed, becoming one of the first students of that academy.

Gaul also studied privately with John George Brown, whose sentimental pictures of well-scrubbed shoeshine boys and cooing couples adorned many a Victorian parlor.

Gaul first exhibited his work at the National Academy of Design in 1877.  The titles of his early submissions --- The Old Beau, Rainy Day in the Garret, Repose, --- suggest visions of domestic happiness like those favored by his instructors.

By 1881, Gaul had embarked upon a new path.  Holding the Line at All Hazards was the first of his many paintings illustrative of the War Between the States.  When exhibited at the American Art Association in 1881, it won a gold medal.  One year later The Stragglers was purchased by the National Academy of Design and won Gaul Academician status in that August body of artists.  Also in 1882 Charging the Battery entered the private collection of William T. Evans, then one of the country's leading art connoisseurs.  This painting took a bronze medal when Evans lent it to the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1889.

Upon the death of his uncle, Hiram Gilbert, in 1881, Gaul inherited a farm in Van Buren County, Tennessee.  The terms of Gilbert's will required Gaul to live on the property for four continuous years; accordingly Gaul and his wife left New York to make their home in central Tennessee.  Gaul converted a barn into a studio and made easel paintings of his newly adopted country setting, painting the rustic buildings, pond, meadows, and forests that he found on the property.  His neighbors, dressed in their own Confederate uniforms, or those of their fathers, posed for the War scenes that were just beginning to bring Gaul recognition and financial reward.

In the mid-1880s when Gaul was free to leave Van Buren County, he returned to New York City.  His work was sought after by the editors of Century Magazine and Harper's Weekly, for whom he provided covers, frontispieces, and illustrations to articles.  He was a contributor of illustrations to the Century Publishing Company's ambitious three-volume set, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (1887).  In 1886, the Philadelphia publisher J.B. Lippincott invited those whom it deemed to be the United States' leading contemporary figure painters each to contribute an original work of art for reproduction in Book of American Figure Painters.  Among those so honored, Gaul undertook a painting, John Burns at Gettysburg for the project.

Gaul was commissioned as a special agent of the United States census of 1890 to visit the Cheyenne and Standing Rock Indian Reservations in North Dakota.  There he sketched Sitting Bull only a few months before the chief's death.  The portrait was published in the official report of the census, as was Sioux Camp, also by Gaul.

Meanwhile, Gaul had not abandoned Tennessee entirely.  He took his second wife, the daughter of Admiral Halstead of the Royal Navy, back to Van Buren County shortly after their marriage in 1898.  Years later, those who knew the Gauls recalled that she was a very likable woman, much warmer than the first Mrs. Gaul.  She was a divorcee with three young children, whom Gaul often used as models in his paintings.

Gaul's work fell out of favor after the turn of the century, forcing financial hardship upon him, and leading him to seek teaching positions for the first time in his life.  He taught, first, at the Cumberland Female College in McMinnville, Tennessee, and in 1905, he joined the faculty of the Watkins Institute in Nashville.  He made his home and studio above a dry goods store at 610-1/2 Church Street, where he also offered private classes.  He illustrated about a half-dozen novels by author Thornwell Jacobs of Nashville.

In 1907, the Southern Art Publishing Company was formed in Nashville for the purpose of publishing With the Confederate Colors, a series of chromolithographs illustrating still-living military persons from the Civil War.  Gaul was called upon to provide twelve original paintings for the project.  Some of these had been painted years earlier, including Holding the Line at All Hazards, the painting that had earned him a gold medal in 1881.  Others he contributed were Leaving Home, Waiting for Dawn, Playing Cards Between the Lines, The Picket, The Forager, and Tidings.

Board members of the Southern Art Publishing Art Company included Gaul's friends and acquaintances, so the venture was undertaken at least in part in an attempt to reverse the aging artist's fortunes.  Mrs. Gaul's dentist, N.C. Leonard, was vice-president.  Secretary- treasurer Thornwell Jacobs, with whom Gaul had previously collaborated professionally, provided the text for the first part in which seven of Gaul's paintings were reproduced.  Unfortunately very few subscribers were found, and Gaul's five remaining paintings never were printed.

Discouraged by his financial affairs, Gaul and his wife moved to Charleston in 1912 to live with her daughter Mrs. Emmeline Hyams.  A year later they moved to Ridgefield Park, New Jersey.  These were years of semi-retirement for Gaul; he no longer taught, but when the First World War began, he again did illustration work, painting posters that were produced to generate support for the war effort.  After suffering a full year with tuberculosis, Gaul died at his home in the Bronx December 21, 1919.

Cynthia Seibels
Copyright 1990 Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc.

Biography from The Johnson Collection
Gilbert Gaul was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, though he became largely identified with the South and portrayals of the Civil War. He attended school in Newark and at the Claverack Military Academy. Poor health prevented him from military service and he moved to New York where he studied art with Lemuel E. Wilmarth at the school of the National Academy of Design from 1872 to 1876, and privately with the noted genre painter, J. G. Brown. He continued his training at the Art Students League during 1875 and 1876. Gaul first exhibited his work at the National Academy in 1877.

In 1881, he inherited a farm in Van Buren County, Tennessee, from his mother's family. He lived on the farm for four years to fulfill the terms of the will. During this period, he painted pastoral landscapes, rural genre scenes, and remembrances of the Civil War. His war paintings are characterized by a dramatic appeal and strong academic technique while his genre scenes often hinge on a poignant or sentimental depiction of a single figure.

Gaul also became highly regarded as an illustrator, garnering recognition for his contributions to Harper's Monthly; Century Magazine, Scribner's Monthly and Cosmopolitan. In 1885, he returned to New York though he also continued to spend time at the farm in Tennessee. He became a regular exhibitor at the National Academy annuals between 1877and 1902; in 1882, he was accorded the status of full Academician--the youngest artist to attain the honor. He exhibited at the 1889 Paris Exposition; the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago; and the 1902 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, where he was awarded medals.

An inveterate traveler; in 1876, Gaul made his first trip out West, an area for which he developed a particular affinity. He made numerous western trips in subsequent years, photographing and rendering scenes of Native Americans and the frontier, which he would later work up into paintings in his studios in New York or Tennessee. In 1890, he worked for the United States census on reservations in North Dakota. He also visited Mexico, the West Indies, Panama, and Nicaragua, an account of his travels was published in Century Magazine in 1892.

In 1904, he returned to Tennessee and settled in Nashville. The decreasing interest in Civil War subjects resulted in financial hardship for Gaul. He gave private art lessons, and taught at the Watkins Institute, Nashville, and at Cumberland Female College, in McMinnville. He also spent time in Charleston, South Carolina, living with his stepdaughter while taken ill. By 1910, he moved to Ridgefield, New Jersey, where he continued to paint and live out his remaining years.

His works can be found in permanent collections of many of the nation's museums, including the Cheekwood Museum, Nashville; the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.; the Georgia Museum of Art, Athens; the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa; Greenville County Museum, South Carolina; the Blanton Museum, University of Texas, Austin; the High Museum, Atlanta; the Brandywine River Museum, Delaware; the Morris Museum, Augusta; the New-York Historical Society, New York; and the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, II
Gilbert Gaul was educated at Claverack Military Academy.  He was the pupil of Lemuel E Wilmarth at the National Academy of Design 1872-76 and privately under John George Brown.  His early subjects emulated his teachers' popular and sentimental genre works. This was revised by his commission from Century magazine to illustrate the historical Battle and Leaders of the Civil War,  published in 1887.

He became known as a foremost American painter of battle scenes: "Uniforms and arms of many kinds were to be seen in his studio. The historic accuracy of each detail was studiously sought, and the models who posed as soldiers were fit types.  All of these canvases were remarkable for energy of action and, above all, their spirit of belligerency."

Gaul spent much time in the West at army posts and on Indian reservations in the 1880s.  He was one of the five special agents who took the census of 1890 among the Indians, illustrating the Report on Indians Taxed and Indians Not Taxed with a strong portrait of Sitting Bull painted from life.

Gaul visited the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock agencies then, with later trips to the northwest coast.  Some years after, Gaul commented that Indians were "very picturesque" and that "they were a good deal like the white men—some were very good fellows and some were very bad."

Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West

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About  Gilbert Gaul

Born:  1855 - Jersey City, New Jersey
Died:   1919 - New York City
Known for:  frontier-war genre and landscape painting

Essays referring to
Gilbert Gaul

Civil War Art