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GABRIELE HUMBERT (1898–1980) was an artist of Germanic descent who played an important role in Bermuda’s art world in the decades following the Second World War, not only as an artist but as a teacher, critic, and member of the new, bi-racial Bermuda Art Association.

Humbert was born in Constantinople, where her father was Imperial German Vice-Consul, and later she lived in London, where her father served as Consul. Her legal name following her marriage in 1937 to a Bermudian was Gabriele Martha Auguste Parker (Mrs. Thomas Henry Parker), but she chose to work under the name “Humbert.” Despite being married to a Bermudian, she was interned on the island during the mid-part of the war, from 1941 (when she had returned following one term’s study at the Art Student’s League in New York) until Christmas, 1943. With the exception of a lengthy sojourn in Fiji with her civil servant husband, she remained on the island for the rest of her life.

Humbert, who received artistic instruction from teachers such as Signor Pasani, K.C. Chatterton, and Alexander Abels, began painting in earnest at the age of ten, and is believed to have commenced painting on the island around the time of her release from internment. In 1945 she opened a studio and began teaching art. Her 1946 painting, The Shade of a Bermuda Tree, hangs in the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art. One of her 1947 paintings, the highly regarded Invitation to the Waltz, was inspired by a pre-war dance at the Elbow Beach Hotel, and was shown at the Art Association’s 1947 Annual Exhibition. Her c.1967 Bermuda Cottage (at “Westmount”) is recognized as another attractive example of her work, earning a citation in the March 25th, 1970 edition of the Royal Gazette, which noted that “Humbert’s Westmount shows a sunny corner of house and garden.” (For many years she was a contributor to the Gazette, penning art reviews.) She herself resided at “Westmount” (in Warwick) and operated The Humbert Galleries there from 1956 onwards. Before devoting herself completely to her artistic endeavors, Humbert, a graduate of the highly respected and renowned Gottingen University in Germany, had been a professor in the German Department at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and maintained an academic interest in Scottish folksongs, having published numerous papers on this subject during the 1930s. Her professorial career lasted until 1938, when she moved full-time to Bermuda.

In March 1946 Humbert was elected to the Executive Committee of the Art Association, and by April 1946 had earned a reputation for her skill at executing quick portrait-sketches. Her first major exhibition (incorporating about 40 pictures, both oils and pastels) was in early October 1946, at the A.S. Cooper Art Shop and Gallery. In 1947 she had a solo show at the Art Association Galleries (featuring a painting depicting an interior scene at Hamilton’s 21 Club bar), and another show at A.S. Cooper’s in 1948, which comprised 33 works, including several landscapes. In 1949 she was elected to head the local branch of the Altrusa Club (an international women’s organization), a post to which she was re-elected in 1950 and 1964. In late 1951 she had a solo show of thirty oil, tempera and pastel paintings at the Fine Art Gallery on Parliament Street, Hamilton. A review of this show in the November 14, 1951 edition of the Royal Gazette remarked that she was “one of the foremost artists at present painting in Bermuda.” A subsequent review in the November 18, 1951 edition of the Gazette noted “a pervasive seriousness in her work,” and that “her style in general is a personal one, characterized by crowded canvases, alive with nervous energy.” Works from this show included Paget ShoreNoon on the BeachOld HouseSpittal PondDevonshire Bay, and The Cedar Tree, as well as It’s Later Than You Think and Some Enchanted Evening, the latter two works singled out as “striking and mildly astringent social commentaries.&raquodquo; The year 1952 saw Humbert hold an exhibition at the new Society of Artists in Bermuda (a group that, together with the Art Association, merged in 1956 to form the Bermuda Society of Arts, which continues to this day). At year’s end she departed for Fiji with her husband, who had accepted a position with the Customs Service there. While in Fiji she held two solo shows of her work, one of them at the Fiji Arts Club. She returned to Bermuda in 1956, opening her Humbert Galleries and joining the newly-formed Society of Arts. In 1962 the Society held a retrospective show of 102 of her paintings, following that up in 1968 with an exhibition of 150 pictures titled 25 Years of Painting by Humbert. In 1975 she participated in a joint exhibition with Ruth Fountain and the photographer Birgit Falck. In sum, though her Bermuda oeuvre consisted mostly of oil florals and pastel portraits, she is remembered as a fully engaged member of the island’s artistic community, equally at home painting, writing reviews for the Royal Gazette, teaching, and holding leadership positions in various arts-related and civic-themed associations. 

SOURCE: Jonathan Land Evans, Bermuda in Painted Representation, Volume 2, pages 182–184

Written March 2015 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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