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 Bernard Finegan Gribble  (1873 - 1962)

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Lived/Active: United States/United Kingdom      Known for: marine-sailing ship, portrait, landscape

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Bernard Gribble
An example of work by Bernard Finegan Gribble
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from Chris Merriam-Leith:

Bernard Gribble was one of the leading figures in Poole's artistic history, as Roger Guttridge explains.

Typical Gribble: a Poole Scene, a sailing ship and a skillfully painted sea
The events that unfolded at Scapa Flow on 21 June 1919 were among the most dramatic in naval history, and with impeccable timing Bernard Gribble was there to record them.

The Poole-based marine artist had been commissioned by the US Navy to make sketches of the 74 German vessels interned in the anchorage following their nation's surrender seven months earlier. The High Seas Fleet was due to be retained by Britain under the terms of the peace treaty that followed the First World War. The German naval officers, however, had other ideas.

Gribble, whose method was to take preliminary photographs before beginning the sketches, was on board the patrol boat Sochosin with his camera when he noticed heliographs flashing between the German vessels. He moved to the bridge, where a British officer exclaimed in the lingo of the day: 'By Jove! I believe the blighters are scuttling their ships!'

The 'blighters' had taken their captors by surprise and within minutes 50 million worth of German naval hardware had slipped gracefully beneath the waves. Britain had been deprived of the greatest of its spoils of war but Gribble's pastel and pencil sketches suddenly assumed a greater importance. Churchill later referred to him as the first man to notice that the fleet was being scuttled.

"Attacking the Spanish Galleon" shows the artist in historical mode

"The Surrender of the German Fleet to the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow" was one of two Gribbles bought by Franklin D Roosevelt and installed in the Oval Office when he became president in 1933. The other - the confusingly named "The Return of the Mayflower'" for which Roosevelt paid $105 - features a flotilla of US naval destroyers arriving at Queenstown in May 1917 to protect commercial shipping from German U-boats. The event signalled America's arrival in the First World War and was of particular interest to Roosevelt, as it was he who ordered the despatch of the destroyers as Assistant Secretary to the US Navy Department. Both paintings remained in the Roosevelt family until February this year.

Bernard Finegan Gribble, although a highly active member of Poole's flourishing artistic community for much of his long life, was a native of London. Born in 1872, he was the son of the architect, Herbert Gribble, best known as the designer of the Brompton Oratory. The younger Gribble was equipped to follow in his father's footsteps, proving himself to be a fine draughtsman with work that included architectural drawings for the facade of the Brompton Oratory. However, he also had a growing reputation as a talented painter of oils and watercolours, having honed his brush skills at the South Kensington Art School.

Gribble and his wife arrived in Poole some time between 1915 and 1924 and settled at 3 Springfield Crescent, Parkstone, where he had a studio in the back garden. A regular visitor to the studio was Percy Wise, principal of the Poole Art School, who lived just three doors away. 'Wise believed that no-one could paint the sea as well as Gribble,' notes Peter Davies in his book, Art in Poole and Dorset. Wise was not alone. In his critical review of the Poole and East Dorset Art Society's exhibition in 1932, James Stanley Little commented in the "Bournemouth Daily Echo" that Gribble was the "foremost among living painters of marine subjects - an artist to be reckoned with". Little described Gribble's "Outward Bound, Poole Harbour" as 'not merely conspicuous for the architectural accuracy of the vessel's build and rigging' but "distinguished as a composition: the clever placing of the barquentine etc".

Gribble's depictions of Dorset were not confined to Poole, as this painting of Lulworth Cove shows

Both Gribble and Percy Wise were leading members of the Poole and East Dorset Art Society and the former was its founding chairman in 1924. This was no ordinary local art club, for its membership list also boasted such illustrious names as Augustus John and Henry Lamb, both of whom lived in the borough and contributed work to the society's prestigious annual exhibition.

Gribble did not, however, share the Bohemian lifestyle enjoyed by some of his colleagues. Not only did he live in the heart of "the respectable Parkstone" suburbia but was always faultlessly dressed and wore white spats on his boots. "He did not look like an artist like John and Lamb did for he was far from being a Bohemian," wrote Wilfred Clark, who added that Gribble was "extremely sociable" and an "eminently successful president" of the Art Society.

According to Frank Dodman, a member of the society in the 1950s, Gribble continued working well into his eighties. Dodman remembered attending a committee meeting at 3 Springfield Crescent and seeing a 'large oil of a dockyard scene which was destined for the boardroom of a shipping company on the Clyde, I think'.

As an artist, Gribble was both prolific and versatile. He was in demand as an illustrator and his work appeared in many leading magazines, including "The Illustrated London News" and "The Graphic", in many books, most notably Arthur Conan Doyle's "Captain Starkey", and even on postcards and chocolate boxes. He exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and the Paris Salon and his paintings were widely sought.

Roosevelt was one of many celebrity owners of Gribble paintings. Others have included Queen Mary, The German Kaiser and the late Jackie Onassis, widow of President John F Kennedy. The Kaiser was so impressed by his work that King George V summoned the artist to a royal residence to meet him.

Gribble's work included portraits and local scenes of Poole but it was as a painter of historical (and often romanticized) maritime scenes that he was best known. It was once suggested that he had painted "almost every historic event that took place on water, from the landing of William the Conqueror to the scuttling of the German Fleet in 1919". Spanish galleons and treasure vessels are well represented in his work and one critic described him, unkindly, as a 'specialist in burning ships'. Others, more generously, have compared his paintings to the fine marine vistas of the late 19th- century seascape artist, Henry Moore, acknowledging his skill in the accurate portrayal of costume and technical detail and his ability to convey an authentic period atmosphere.

It was not by chance that this was achieved. "In preparatory sketches of boats, notes were made on the precise structure and names of sails, masts and rigging," says Peter Davies in "Art in Poole and Dorset ". 'Gribble had also studied the movement of water closely, and had made highly technical analyses of the construction of rigging and sails to a level where it naturally informed his naval subjects. There was close attention, too, to the detail of costume." Davies adds: "The evident quality of Gribble's marine pictures lies in the artist's mastery of the oil painting medium adapted to a profound understanding of his chosen subject."

Bernard Gribble died in February 1962, aged 89. When his wife Eleanor (known as Nellie) died the following year, she left a large number of works by her husband and a few by his father to Poole Museums. Poole's Gribble collection numbers 250 paintings, drawings, prints and photographs, making it the biggest in the world. Typical paintings in the Poole collection are "The Plague Ship", "The Whelp of the Black Rover" and "The Return of the Argosy Galleons", but there are also some local topographical works such as the Guildhall, the Custom House, views of the Quay and harbour, a portrait of former Mayor of Poole, Herbert Carter, in civic regalia and one of a woman believed to be Nellie Gribble.



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