“Gammell was a philosopher whose medium of expression was the visual image, rather than the written word.”
– Elizabeth Ives Hunter, Art Historian
Childs Gallery is pleased to present R.H. Ives Gammell: Visual Philosopher, an exhibition of the largest known collection of paintings by American Realist painter R.H. Ives Gammell (1893-1981) in private hands. One of the last American artists to receive classical training, and a former student of William Paxton, Gammell was influential as a mentor who imparted the classical ideals of The Boston School to future generations of artists. Gammell’s imaginative paintings explore the complexities of human experience through the visual languages of Classical Realism and personal symbolism. This unique collection of Gammell’s paintings reveals both the artist’s versatility and his singular vision of the world.
Drawn from a private Boston collection, the exhibition includes works spanning the artist’s career, from Mamie Nunes, 1915, an early Provincetown portrait, to Trickster, 1981, the very last painting Gammell completed before his death. Gammell’s full range of ability is on display in a diverse group of landscapes, portraits, and primarily the allegorical paintings for which he is best known.
Gammell was born in 1893 and from the age of ten he was determined to become a painter. Despite family disapproval, he began studying under William Sergeant Kendall while still in high school and upon graduation, enrolled in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where he had the opportunity to study with several of the great painters of the Boston School including Philip Hale, Edmund Tarbell and Joseph Decamp. In 1913 he went to study in Paris, but the outbreak of the First World War changed the expected course of his career. He served in the US Army in France, first in the infantry and then in intelligence. After the War, he returned to Boston where he soon realized that his own ability to paint was inhibited by poor drawing and inadequate composition. William Paxton was the acknowledged expert in both areas and Gammell asked him for instruction, thus beginning a lifelong association which ended only with Paxton’s death in 1941.
While Gammell’s teachers were principally interested in recreating the look of nature, of light falling across form, he carried in his mind images relating to the relationship between myths, symbols, and
poetic imagery and the perpetually recurring emotional patters of human life from which they evolved. Of the symbols used in his allegorical work he said: “A symbol effectively used should give a sense of being appropriate and artistically right before it is fully understood, though it may convey different meanings to different people. If it fails to give a sense of rightness from the start it is artistically unsuccessful and no subsequent elucidation will alter the fact.”
Gammell considered his 23 panel sequence based on Francis Thompson’s poem The Hound of Heaven to be his most important work. The Hound of Heaven sequence, completed in 1956, is rich in private symbolism, as well as symbols drawn from Jung, and from primitive and mythological sources. The culmination of more than thirty years of philosophical reflection, the sequence is a pictorial representation of his perception of the human condition. The exhibition includes paintings related to The Hound of Heaven, such as Study for Panel VI. After the completion of The Hound of Heaven, Gammell continued to explore the relationship between man and the universe in his later paintings.
Gammell’s works can be found in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA; Maryhill Museum of Art, Goldendale, WA; The Boston Athenaeum; and the Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, MA.
R.H. Ives Gammell: Visual Philosopher will be on view at Childs Gallery from January 14th to March 12, 2016.