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Biography: Robert C. Gruppé (& family)

ROBERT CHARLES GRUPPÉ, a contemporary artist of note born in Vermont in 1944, represents the third generation of the renowned Gruppé family of painters and teachers. His impressionist plein-air paintings of landscapes and harbor-scenes capture the images and spirit of his native Vermont countryside, as well as south Florida (Naples) and Gloucester, Massachusetts.

The family tradition began with his grandfather Charles Paul Gruppé (1860-1940), who was born in Canada but whose family moved to Rochester, New York when he was ten years old following the death of his father. Charles Gruppé was primarily self-taught but his natural talent enabled him to surmount his lack of formal education. At the age of twenty-one he had earned enough money to travel steerage to Europe, where he traveled through France and Germany before settling in Holland, building a home and studio in the small fishing village of Katwyk Ann Zee. It was here, over the course of a twenty year stay, that he executed most of his European work, ultimately becoming so identified with the Dutch School of Painting that he was elected to the exclusive Pulchre Studio in the Hague, something highly unusual for an American. He became what today we would recognize as a ‘celebrity artist’, and members of the Dutch Royal family – as well as other European royalty – collected his work, which consisted of portraits of the Dutch people in addition to his en plein air marine and countryside scenes. He was the recipient of numerous awards and medals, including gold medals at exhibitions at Paris and Rouen, and two silver medals (watercolor and oil) at the 1903 St. Louis World’s Fair. Today his work is represented in many of the finest museums and private collections in Europe and America.

Charles Gruppé’s son – and Robert’s father – Emile Gruppé (1896-1978) was a legendary New England artist and teacher best known for his Monet-influenced landscapes and seascapes. Primarily working in the Impressionist tradition of broken brush-work and en plein air locations, he also painted figures and portraits . Emile’s father was determined that his son not suffer from the same lack of formal artistic education that he himself suffered from, and thus Emile received training at many prestigious art schools, including the National Academy of Design (New York City), the Hague (the Netherlands), the Art Students League (New York City) and the Grand Chaumiere (Paris). His tutors included some of the most sought after instructors of the period, such as George Bridgman, Charles Chapman, Richard Miller, and John Carlson.

During the 1930s, feeling that he had outgrown his early tonal style and wishing to impart a greater degree of verve and sparkle to his work, Emile adopted a more direct and personal mode of painting, in which he combined a dynamic brand of Realism with the light and atmospheric concerns of Impressionism. His mature work is much admired for its robust brushwork, rich palette, thick impasto, and keen sense of compositional design.

In 1942, in conjunction with several of his early mentors, Emile Gruppé co- founded the Gruppé Summer School of Art in Gloucester, where he taught plein air painting classes to groups of enthusiastic students who were drawn to his artistic outlook, as well as his outgoing personality. He also ran the Gloucester School of Painting (1940-1970), and, despite his teaching responsibilities, somehow produced thousands of works of art, as he was reputedly able to execute a large canvas in a matter of hours. Considered to be a master of color and technique, he passed on his aesthetic precepts through the authorship of three books: Brushwork for the Oil Painter (1977), Gruppé on Painting (1979), and Gruppé on Color (1979). Over the course of his lifetime he received many awards, including the Richard Mitton Award at the Jordan Marsh Exhibition in Boston in 1943. In one of the final interviews conducted with him prior to his death in 1978, he revealed his philosophy of art: “If you want exacting details in a painting, then you might as well look at a photograph. I make an impression on canvas, and let one’s imagination fill in the details.” Today his work, like his father’s, can be found in many of the finest museums and private collections, and one of his paintings hangs in the White House in Washington, D.C.
The Gruppé family’s artistic and creative reach also includes Robert’s Uncles (Emile’s brothers) Paolo and Karl. Paolo was an accomplished cellist, and Karl a well-respected sculptor. Robert’s Aunt Virginia (Emile’s sister) was a noted watercolorist in her own right.

Robert Gruppé served a twenty year apprenticeship with his father, Emile, at the Gloucester School of Painting. Upon his receipt of a scholarship from the Elizabeth Greenshield Foundation of Canada, he was able to study drawing under the tutelage of one of Cape Ann’s (Massachusetts) best-known sculptors, George Demetrios.

Robert Gruppé has traveled to the Bahamas six times to date, at least once with his father. The boats depicted in “Berry Islands, Bahamas” are no longer there as they were swept away by a hurricane. According to the artist, the painting was executed in either 1962 or 1966.

Each one of Robert Gruppé’s plein air paintings reflects his own evolving personal vision and style, embodying the influences of his heritage and his environment. His work is designed to capture the light, movement, and mood of the composition he views, seeking to get as close to the ‘truth’ of the subject as is possible. His own personal study of art takes him on a journey intended to expand his understanding of the physical and expressive qualities of his paintings. This exploration of design, composition, and technique begins on smaller canvases, ultimately leading to larger paintings where, using increasingly powerful brush strokes and a palette of vibrant colors, he is able to fully realize the potential of his vision and talent. The final product shares with the observer a story which blends the past and the present, combining the family tradition with a contemporary personal statement.

When questioned about his goals as an artist, Robert Gruppé answered simply, “I go outdoors and I paint. That’s about it. My paintings are my legacy. I try to get as close as I can to representing the truth as I see it. The truth is what’s important. Being honest with the observer. That and entertaining the eye. I want the observer to be able to see my painting while standing 25 feet away and know what I was trying to do. I don’t want he or she to require the use of a magnifying glass.”

Still going strong at the age of 70, his exhibition history includes over thirty years of showcases at Gloucester’s North Shore Arts Association and the Meriden, Connecticut Art Association. Some of his most recent awards include the Rockport Art Association’s Great Gatsby Award, the Roger Curtis Memorial Award, the North Shore Arts Association’s Gorton’s of Gloucester ‘Waters of the World’ Award and the Margaret Fitzhugh Brown Memorial Award, as well as the Gold Medal Award. His work has been shown along the entire Eastern seaboard and, in a continuation of the family legacy, represented in museums and private collections alike.

Written November 2014 by Brian Flon, author of "Hell's Kitchen Requiem" (2014), available as an e-book at Amazon, ITunes, and Barnes & Noble.

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