Emile A. Gruppé (1896-1978) painted views of Gloucester’s harbor at all times of day, taking great delight in conveying aspects of light and air, as well as a sense of place. Art historians (myself included) refer to him as a Regionalist painter whose work was informed by as Realism, Tonalism and Impressionism. However, from what I know of Mr. Gruppé––through reading his books on color and brushwork and from speaking with his daughter and colleagues such as Charles Movalli––he would quickly have dismissed these art historical labels and our tendency to categorize artists by their style. This isn’t surprising in view of the fact that Gruppé had a reputation as a boisterous extrovert whose goal, besides creating a beautiful work of art, was to infuse his paintings with aspects of his own character––hence his advice to his students to “have a good time when you paint” (see photo at left). As he informed his readers in Gruppé on Color, good art wasn’t just a matter of technique and motif; rather it was
personality, too. You paint the way you’re made. And the viewer, looking at your pictures, is interested because he senses your mind and emotions at work . . . If you’re bold and outgoing, your work will show it. If you’re small-minded and grasping, your work will show that too.
With these comments in mind, I’d like to present Gruppé’s Clear Morning, Gloucester Harbor, a view of the town’s waterfront with some fishing boats huddled up against a rickety pier. The scene is a classic Cape Ann subject––one that was, and still is, highly popular with collectors of American art and a testament to the fact that “Gloucester’s glory lies at the water’s edge.” What makes it so distinctive though––or perhaps I should say, what makes this a picture by Emile A. Gruppé, rather than anybody else––is the dynamic composition, notably the way the artist conceives the weather-beaten wharf as a strong diagonal that leads our eye into the vista. But that’s not the only feature I want to point out. In keeping with his gregarious nature, Gruppé was an advocate of what he called “broad and simple painting,” which he felt was an ideal way to convey his personal response to his subject and to make a work of art conspicuous when placed against a wall: look at the way he applies his pigments with quick, robust strokes, avoiding onerous details and finicky lines in order to emphasize mass and volume instead. In my opinion, Gruppé’s vigorous handling and keen sense of design are the keynotes of the painting, and they jive perfectly with what his Rochester dealer, Clara Trowbridge Wolfard, referred to as his own “lively presence.”