by Kevin Hudson
Charles Paul Gruppe was born in Picton, Ontario, Canada. At ten years of age, after the death of his father, he moved with his family to Rochester, New York, where he taught himself to paint. The family decided to travel around Europe, and eventually Charles settled in a fishing village1 in Holland just outside The Hague, around 1897. There, he was influenced by The Hague School, a group of painters who themselves were inspired by the realism of the Barbizon School.
In glorifying the relationship between man and nature, early nineteenth century Romantic painters reacted in part to the alienating effects of urbanism and the Industrial Revolution. Although they may have agreed with the Romanticists about the Industrial Revolution, Realists depicted scenes more telling of the human condition.
The Hague School style became impressionist, and oftentimes the subjects of its paintings were common laborers set in sea and landscapes. Gruppe’s Homeward Way depiction of a shepherd and his sheep illustrates one of the common themes for the Hague School and its followers.
One of the leading members of The Hague School was Anton Mauve. He painted several versions of sheep either grazing or coming and going. According to the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam, art buyers in the United States commonly requested this scene.2
By marriage, Anton Mauve was the cousin of Vincent van Gogh. Mauve had an important influence on Van Gogh in his early years, which is demonstrated in Van Gogh’s reference to him in 165 of his letters.3 One of these letters shows their relationship ending—Mauve had criticized Van Gogh for a relationship he was having with a prostitute. Mauve called Van Gogh a “vicious character,” as Van Gogh related in a letter to his brother Theo. Van Gogh was hurt emotionally, and in one line of the same letter he wrote, ironically and prophetically, “I do have ears, Theo.”4
Although Charles Gruppe didn’t follow Van Gogh’s lead by turning to darker subjects, he and Van Gogh were both in many ways products of the Dutch art world, Van Gogh having grown up there and Gruppe having spent his middle career there. While in The Hague, Gruppe also worked as an art dealer for Dutch painters in the United States.5
After nearly twenty years in Holland, Gruppe moved back to the United States. He quickly started a painting school, dividing his time between Cape Ann and New York City.6 In 1929, he and his son purchased a schoolhouse in Gloucester, Massachusetts, converting it into a gallery. Gruppe was father to a family of artists. His sons, Emile and Karl, were artists, and Emile ran the Gloucester school of painting for thirty years, until 1970.7 Today, his grandson Robert is carrying on the tradition, still painting and showing his family’s work in the same schoolhouse.
1. “Gruppé Family History.” The Gruppé Gallery. Accessed March 04, 2016. http://www.gruppegallery.com/Family.htm.
2. “Anton Mauve.” Rijksmuseum. Accessed March 05, 2016. https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/explore-the-collection/overview/anton-mauve.
3. Vincent van Gogh: The Letters. Van Gogh Museum. Accessed March 07, 2016. http://vangoghletters.org/vg/letters.html.
4. Van Gogh, Vincent. Vincent van Gogh to Theo Van Gogh, on or about Sunday, 7 May 1882. Letter. The Van Gogh Museum. Accessed March 04, 2016. http://vangoghletters.org/vg/letters/let224/letter.html.
5. “Charles Gruppe.” Dawson Gallery. Accessed March 05, 2016. http://www.dawsongallery.com/Gruppe_Bio.html.
7. “Gruppé Family History.”