Editor's note: The following essay was published in Resource Library on August 17, 2011 with permission of the New Britain Museum of American Art. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the New Britain Museum of American Art directly through either this phone number or web address:
Academic and Impressionist Traditions in Provincetown
by Elizabeth Ives Hunter
By the 1950s young painters who were fascinated by nature and wanted to be able to render their vision on canvas were facing difficult times. The art press was focused on the modernist movement, in all its variations, and many art schools were shifting their emphasis from traditional classes in drawing and composition toward a celebration of personal expression lacking more formal disciplines. There were two painters in Provincetown, Henry Hensche (1901-1992) and Robert Hale Ives Gammell (1893-1981), who were providing serious, traditional training, and their efforts drew an impressive number of young people who wanted to become representational painters.
By the early twentieth century the pure distinction between academic and Impressionist art had become blurred, as artists were drawing on aspects of both traditions. In its purest form, the academic point of view, while acknowledging the need to study nature and make detailed studies, was based on what the mind knows about form and light falling across it. For example, a landscape would be based on both memory and on-site studies but would actually be painted in the studio and the colors used would be dictated not by seeing and recording nature but by employing color conventions that enhanced what nature had to offer. According to a purely Impressionist view, if an artist properly studied and recorded the colors of nature firsthand, he would have no need to draw, as his observations would provide a complete composition and the properly observed and recorded variations in color and value -- that is, the degree of lightness or darkness -- would provide an accurate rendition of form without drawing. The teaching available in Provincetown in the 1950s drew on both traditions.
Hensche (1901-1992), born in Chicago to German immigrants, studied sculpture at the Chicago Art Institute -- training that gave him a true sense of three-dimensional form. He learned to draw the figure with great attention to the underlying skeletal and muscular structure. Hensche later studied in New York at the National Academy of Design, the Art Students League, and the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design and individually with Charles W. Hawthorne and George Bellows. In 1919 Hensche went to Provincetown to study with Hawthorne (1872-1930) and became a disciple of his method of teaching.
In 1893 Hawthorne enrolled at the Art Students League, where he studied with Frank Vincent Dumond, George deForest Brush, and Henry Siddons Mowbray. All three men had extensive academic training in Paris and agreed with Brush, who said that after years of training at L'École des Beaux-Arts he had acquired "only the art of imitation." In 1896 Hawthorne began studying with William Merritt Chase at his summer art school at Shinnecock on Long Island, New York. Chase had been invited there to teach by four prominent families that wanted to create an art colony devoted to plein air painting. A large studio and numerous cottages supplied living space for the students, all set on a huge tract of land that provided ocean and dune views. Many of Chase's pupils were affluent amateurs, but among the serious students were Charles Demuth, Hawthorne, Georgia O'Keefe, Rockwell Kent, and Joseph Stella.
After the first summer, Chase asked Hawthorne to stay on and assist him and then to become his assistant at the art school that he was planning to open in New York-an idea that Chase gave up the following fall, leaving Hawthorne suddenly at liberty. The latter decided to embark on his first trip to Europe, going to Holland to paint by the sea at Zndvoort, lured there by the picturesque dunes and fishing village.
While in the Netherlands, Hawthorne went to the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem to study works that he had previously known only from reproductions. He was awed by Hals's vigorous brushstrokes and economic style. Hals's influence on Hawthorne was profound and he returned to the United States determined to paint like the Dutch master. To that end, he began using a palette knife instead of brushes-a decision that became one of the keys to his future teaching method.
In 1899 Hawthorne went to Provincetown for the first time, looking for a place to establish a summer school. The charm of the village and its fishermen, the clear steady light, and the beauty of the dunes captivated him. In addition, the town was easily accessible by rail from New York as well as by boat from Boston. There were five hotels and numerous boardinghouses where students could find lodging for a reasonable fee. The Provincetown that Hawthorne visited was the town with the largest year-round population on Cape Cod, according to the 1890 census.  Commercial Street was shaded by towering elm trees (which stood until the 1938 hurricane), and there were boardwalks along the inland side of the street. As time went on, Hawthorne got to know the people of Provincetown and often used them as models for his figurative compositions, painted to capture the essence of the human spirit. The Fisher Boy (cat. no. 48) is a perfect example of this kind of work.
Nineteenth-century painters were already familiar with Provincetown. Isaac H. Caliga, William Halsall, and Marcus A. Waterman painted there, and Caliga maintained a studio for several years. Waterman found the dunes particularly attractive and much easier to visit than the North African coast, where he had painted previously.
Childe Hassam (1859-1935) went to Provincetown in 1900, also the first year of Hawthorne's Cape Cod School of Art. Hassam was an organizer of The Ten American Painters along with John Henry Twachtman and Julian Alden Weir. The group was soon joined by the artists Frank Benson, Joseph Rodefer De Camp, Thomas Dewing, Willard Metcalf, Robert Reid, Edward Simmons, Edmund Tarbell, and, upon Twachtman's death, William Merritt Chase. Presumably, Hassam knew Hawthorne through Chase and may have expressed interest in the teaching efforts of Chase's former assistant. He completed some wonderful pictures during his visit, one of which, Rigger's Shop, Provincetown (cat. no. 46), captures the picturesque working fishing village.
Summer art schools were popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as they provided a reason for both teachers and students to escape the cities and go to more pleasant places, often near the sea. Once settled in Provincetown, Hawthorne acquired a large house and a nearby studio. He knew that he had to tailor his instruction to both the abilities of his students and the relatively short summer season, so he concentrated on portrait heads and figures, using them to teach certain aspects of painting and observation. His believed that by working outdoors he could encourage students to break down a face or a figure into a series of abstract shapes defined by color and value -- the degree or lightness or darkness. This Impressionist approach presupposed a sophisticated knowledge of drawing, which not all of Hawthorne's students possessed. He had them work on a new canvas daily, and at the end of the week these so-called mud heads were lined up for criticism. For some pupils this approach represented a wonderful release from the discipline of studio drawing, though this view was not unanimous.
The artist Peggy Bacon (1895-1987) studied at the Art Students League with George Bellows, Kenneth Hayes Miller, and John Sloan. Like these Realists, Bacon painted aspects of ordinary life but treated her subjects with a touch of humor and in a more modern style. In Varied Wares (1952; National Gallery of Art, Washington), done in her favorite print technique of drypoint engraving, she exaggerated the man's craning neck to suggest amusement at how intently he studies the vegetable stand. Bacon is known to many as the illustrator of more than sixty-four children's books, including The Lionhearted Kitten (1927). Her satirical sketches of the New York art world in the 1920s and 1930s appeared in the New Yorker and Town and Country magazines. Bacon spent the summer of 1908 in Provincetown studying with Hawthone; while she did not remember the episode fondly, her reflections do give a good picture of the summer art student's experience.
In an interview with Paul Cummings, for the Archives of American Art, she recalled some of the best and the worst of her studies with Hawthorne.
By 1919, when Hensche came to study with Hawthorne, Provincetown had become a thriving art colony with a number of well-known painters adding to the intellectual and artistic atmosphere. As Dorothy Lake Gregory (later, Mrs. Ross Moffett) wrote to her father: "Lots of real painters are in Provincetown now. Richard E. Miller, Max Bohm (see fig. 46), George Elmer Browne, Mathew Walters and oodles more arriving. The table is overflowing with the real article." The presence of these men, many of whom had lived in France, known Claude Monet and, in Miller's case, were actively teaching students in Provincetown, introduced an updated sense of plein air painting and the meaning of Impressionism to the studio lore of the town."
The marine painter Frederick Judd Waugh (18611940) went to Provincetown in 1928, drawn in part so that he could be closer to his children, Coulton and Gwyneth, who were both married and living there. Waugh was a hard worker who preferred to spend his days in the studio. He did not take on students but did enjoy intellectual conversation and a good game of chess. Waugh built a magnificent studio behind his house on Commercial Street and there he painted numerous large canvases based on the sketches he had previously done in other parts of the world Breaking Surf (cat. no. 113) is an excellent example of Waugh's ability to capture the monumental action of the sea on a large scale in the studio, based on sketches done previously. WaughHe frequently played with the portraitist Edwin Dickinson (1891-1978) and was also close to the artists Tod Lindenmuth (1885-1976), Cleveland Woodward (19001986), and his son-in-law Floyd Clymer (1893-1982). Dickinson had come to Provincetown in 1912 and stayed there as a year round resident until 1937. He was a man who enjoyed the company of good friends but the tragic deaths of his mother and brother early in his life definitely contributed to periodic bouts of depression. His work is often characterized by the sensitive use of gray tones, which are a characteristic of the look of Provincetown at certain times of the year Provincetown Harbor, Railroad Wharf in the Rain (cat. no. 26), is a characteristic example of Dickinson's work. Tod Lindenmuth came to Provincetown in 1915 and remained until 1940 when he and his wife moved to St. Augustine, Florida. Known as both a printmaker and painter, Lindenmuth was one of the founders of the Provincetown Art Association and is represented in this exhibition by Tremont Street (cat. no. 70). The Waugh circle extended to writers as well, including John Dos Passos (1896-1970). Virtually all the painters and writers active in Provincetown at the time were members of the Beachcombers Club and therefore had a weekly opportunity to meet socially.
In his biography of Waugh, George Havens notes: "The Waughs did enjoy entertaining at small, friendly dinner parties and they gladly kept open house, as we have seen, for the gay onrush of many boys and girls of the younger generation. With Charles W. Hawthorne, however, relations for some reason were never close, but Hawthorne, although eleven years younger than Waugh, died in 1930 only three years after Waugh's final establishment in Provincetown." 
Mary Hackett (1906-1989) went to Provincetown with her husband, Chauncey, in the late 1920s or early 1930s. Mary became friendly with Ross Moffett, a former Hawthorne student and a key figure in the art colony. After Chauncey's death, she lived and worked at the Fenway Studio Building in Boston, where both Gammell and the still-life painter Robert Douglas Hunter (b. 1928) also had studios. Hackett was self-taught and her work is characterized by a charming naiveté. She is represented in this exhibition by The Front Room (cat. no. 41)..
Even though Hensche became Hawthorne's summer assistant, he did not immediately succeed Hawthorne at the Cape Cod School of Art and was not able take over the school studio. Thus Hensche opened his Cape School of Art in 1932 -- two years after Hawthorne's death. Over time he acquired various buildings around the end of Pearl Street and had his teaching atelier in the barn at the end of the road.
That barn had a lot of history. Originally brought over the water from the first Provincetown settlement on Long Point at the very tip of Cape Cod, it was divided by a wall into a two-studio building under the ownership of Cy Young, who later moved a cottage next to the left side of the building for the painter Edwin Dickinson's sister, Tibi, so that she could spend the winter of 1925-26 near her brother in the studio next door at 46 Pearl Street. During that winter Dickinson and Tibi grew tired of going outdoors to visit each other, so they built an eighteen-inch passage between the studio and the cottage. That little connector made for grand quarters for artists and their families in later years. R. H. Ives Gammell stayed at 44-46 Pearl Street from 1933 until 1963, when he moved his summer studio from Provincetown to Williamston. After Gammell left, the studio was taken over by his student Hunter, who remained there through summer 1981. Then the studio and cottage were taken over by Cedric and Joanette Egeli, who were succeeded in due course by other artists.
Hensche followed Hawthorne's model of offering courses in the summer only. Whereas Hawthorne was a theatrical presence, impeccably dressed and worldly, Henry wore a simple wardrobe and approached his students without bombast. Like Hawthorne he insisted that they use a pallet knife so as not to become lost in the details of their subject. He was primarily concerned with teaching pupils to interpret the interrelationship between shape and color and to be aware of how the component parts related to the whole. He set the beginners outdoors with simple objects -- a ball, a cone, a rectangle. or a square -- painted in primary colors or white. The objects were arranged so that part of each surface was in full light and part in shadow. Students worked on one arrangement in the morning and on another in the afternoon so that the movement of the sun would not materially change the shape of the shadows. Rather than advancing students to more visually complicated assignments, Hensche kept them working on these simple shape exercises because he believed, as did Hawthorne, that in the short summer season it was best for to learn to do simple and basic things better and better. This method of teaching echoes Hawthorne's words, "The weight and value of a work of art depends wholly on its big simplicity -- we begin and end with the careful study of the great spots in relation one to another. Do the simple thing and do it well. 
Hensche gave weekly portrait demonstrations in the garden behind his house on Cornwell Street. He often talked while he worked, making it clear to the students what he was doing and why. Hensche painted still lifes, landscape, and figures. He frequently received portrait commissions, one of the most remarkable of which is a three-quarter view of Christopher Hyland (fig. 47) that he painted early in summer 1968. The picture shows a young man dressed in a white linen suit standing in the sunlight, squarely facing the viewer. The pose, with the subject's face in full sun, presented a challenge to Hensche, and his ability to articulate the features and successfully record the look of light falling across form testifies to his skill as a portraitist. Hensche's longtime friend and former student William Draper, a successful portrait painter, spent several days watching Hensche work on this canvas and frequently spoke of Hensche's technique with admiration. 
While Hensche's students worked away with their pallet knives morning and afternoon outside the studio at 48 Pearl Street, Gammell was working inside at number 46. He had known from age nine that he wanted to be a painter. For a young man born into an upper-class family, that aspiration was difficult at best, yet he convinced his family to allow him to pursue his dream and he enrolled in 1911 at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where he studied for two years under such masters as DeCamp, Philip Hale, and Tarbell. Gammell spent the summer of 1912 in Provincetown studying with Hawthorne.
In spring 1913 Tarbell abruptly resigned as head of the painting department in Boston. Unsure of what to do, Gammell decided to return to Hawthorne's class for the summer and then go to Paris for further study. Once there, he planned to draw every morning at the Académie Julian and then work from a model in his own studio in the afternoons. He was, however, persuaded by friends to join the Atelier Baschet, where most of them were working. Criticism was given by Henri Royer and William Laparra, both of whom were displeased by Gammell's method of drawing. Gammell considered joining Richard E. Miller's class but ultimately decided that it did not make sense to go to Paris to study with an American. (Later, in Provincetown, Gammell had a chance to get to know Miller and noted, "He certainly possessed the trick of holding a class and giving his more talented pupils a work-a-day approach to painting pictures which made these young painters seem more competent than was actually the case and which sometimes led to an initial success." )
World War I brought Gammell home from France in spring 1914, and he, along with many other expatriates, went to Provincetown for the summer -- if not longer. He was frustrated in his attempts to find the kind of training that he knew he needed to paint the pictures that he had imagined since his school days. He tried the Boston Museum School again but was disappointed, feeling that Hawthorne's criticisms were not helpful, and he constantly regretted not taking drawing there with William McGregor Paxton (1869-1941). Gammell was almost at his wits end in winter 1915, when he remembered a chance encounter the previous fall in Provincetown when Paxton had told him to be in touch if he ever needed advice. 
Gammell took Paxton up on his offer, and that was the start of a relationship that would last until Paxton's death. The two artists shared an interest in diverse art forms yet painted very different sorts of pictures. In the beginning Paxton came weekly to criticize Gammell's work, making sure that the model was available so that "nature" was immediately available for comparison with the work in progress. In later years, Paxton and Gammell drew side by side from the same model on Monday afternoons, sometimes accompanied by Gammell's first student, George Melnik.
Paxton had studied in Paris with Jean-Leon Gérôme and at the Cowles Art School with Dennis Miller Bunker. He was forty-six years old and well established as a painter when Gammell began his studies. Paxton was able to augment his teaching of drawing and composition with the systematic reflections of a mature intellect, and that was particularly attractive to Gammell. Paxton practiced the sight-size method of painting and he made sure that he passed it on to his student Gammell. Whereas Hensche used Hawthorne's model of a summer school as a template for his own teaching, adopting and modifying that example at a relatively young age, Gammell came to teaching much later in life and had to invent his own model for instruction. From the late 1920s on he was increasingly distressed by the direction that the art world was taking and by 1940 the combination of art having lost its direction and the world's political situation seemed overwhelming. Gammell was impelled to try to change the way that painting was viewed and taught. He writes in the preface to The Twilight of Painting, "The purpose of this book is twofold. It is primarily an attempt to put before the reading public a painter's estimate of the factors which have brought the art of painting to its present state. It is also an attempt to analyze those factors for the benefit of the genuinely talented young people who, sooner or later, will address themselves to the task of rediscovering for their own use the now all-but-lost craft of picture making." 
In his book, Gammell identifies what he saw as the weakness in the way artists were taught, proposes corrective measures, and supports Sir Joshua Reynolds's view, as expressed in his Discourses, that the art of painting was indeed teachable. Having written the book, Gammell set about putting his theories into practice by establishing a small atelier where he planned to train no more than four students at a time. When it opened, in 1946, Gammell was able to accept pupils studying on the GI bill and thus made instruction accessible to any young person interested in learning what he had to teach.
In the summer, Gammell was working next door to Hensche's Cape Cod School of Art. Young people who were interested in painting nature as they saw it were often frustrated because many art schools were discontinuing their classes in drawing and artistic anatomy, which they felt would stifle creative instincts and encourage free experimentation with various media. The commercial art schools, however, continued to teach drawing and composition -- skills needed in order to have a successful career as an illustrator working for fashion houses, newspapers, or publishers. Enrollments soared as students came to pursue their art education with funds provided by the GI bill. Young people interested in traditional representational painting often chose the commercial art schools because of the disciplined training that was offered. These schools were also a fertile field for recruiting students interested in traditional methods. Hensche made annual visits to the Vesper George School of Art in Boston, where he put on painting demonstrations and talked about the importance of learning to be able to see color accurately before beginning to paint in the Impressionist manner. These visits drew many interested students to Hensche summer school. In 1949 alone, Varujan Boghosian, Ciro Cozzi, Salvatore Del Deo, Ed Giobbi, Robert Douglas Hunter, Marge Osborne (later Mrs. John Whorf Jr.), and Raymanos Rizk all went to study with him.
Gammell and Hensche agreed on what constituted a great painting, but they approached teaching in different ways. They were also tenant and landlord. Gammell's students had their own rented studios where they worked independently, with Gammell coming around to give criticism, whereas Hensche's students were busy working outside 4648 Pearl Street. Gammell never tried to recruit Hensche's students, but he was able to offer them work as models, which was very much appreciated. To keep his models alert, Gammell engaged them in conversation, and when the models were art students the subject of painting was a natural one. Hensche's student Hunter was particularly fascinated by Gammell because his intelligence and his palpable commitment to both painting and teaching.  As the relationship developed Hunter became fascinated by the body of information that Gammell had assembled from years of experience and study. He was also impressed that Gammell worked at his art seven days a week.
In due course, one of Gammell's students left the atelier to serve in the Korean War and Hunter was invited to join the group. He completed the five-year course with Gammell and then stayed on as his assistant for two years. The two remained friendly until Gammell's death, and that collegial relationship was reinforced when Hunter married Gammell's goddaughter in 1968.
Hunter moved into the studio and cottage on Pearl Street after Gammell left. He and Hensche had a cordial relationship, and the latter would often drop in for a painterly chat in the afternoon. Hunter believes that his own work benefitted tremendously as a result of the time he spent with these two teachers and that the combination of the sight-size method of painting and the attention paid to accurate observation of color, value, and shape were invaluable in his development as a painter.
Hunter did not carry on Gammell's atelier tradition in a formal way; he believed, however, as did Gammell, that he had an obligation to share his knowledge with younger artists. He taught one day a week at the Vesper George School of Art, held private classes in various suburban locations, and worked individually with students. He often referred young people to Hensche's summer classes, as did other well-known former Hensche students such as William Draper, Richard Goetz, and Nelson Shanks. Hunter knew that there was much to be learned about the art of painting from summers with Hensche and he also realized that Gammell's five-year program was not the best course for every talented student. Over many years, Hunter was able to work with dozens of aspiring painters and to play a substantial role in the development of perhaps two dozen who went on to become professional artists.
Tensions between the modernists and the traditionalists were evident within the Provincetown art colony from the teens through the 1920s, and by the 1950s the artists of the town, regardless of how they chose to practice their art, had learned to respect one another. For example, when Marion Campbell Hawthorne collected her late husband's studio lore and had it published in 1938, the volume had an introduction by Dickinson, a former student, and an appreciation by Hans Hofmann. Hofmann, an Abstract Expressionist who articulated the push-pull principles of how color can be used to give the illusion of both depth and motion, had a great deal in common with Hawthorne when it came to the use of color and shape. The ability to see the points of congruence between abstraction and representation as two expressions of the creative urge is hugely important to an understanding of the Provincetown of the painters who lived there in the mid-twentieth century.
1. Nancy Douglas Bowditch, George deForest Brush: Recollections of a Joyous Painter (Peterboro, N.H.: Noone House, 1970), p. 11.
2. Rev. Elias Nason, M.A., A Gazetteer of the State of Massachusetts, with Numerous Illustrations; revised and enlarged by George J. Varney (Boston: B. B. Russell, 1890), pp. 551-54.
3. Interview, May 8, 1973. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
4. This may be a transcription error since other sources identify her teacher as B. J. O. Nordfeldt.
5. Quoted in Josephine C. Del Deo and Ross Moffett, Figures in a Landscape: The Life and Times of the American Painter Ross Moffett, 18881971 (Virginia Beach: Donning Co., 1994) p. 53.
6. George R. Havens, Frederick J. Waugh: American Marine Painter (Orono: University of Maine Press, 1969), p. 184.
7. Quoted in Marion Campbell Hawthorne, Hawthorne on Painting (New York: Dover, 1960), p. 53.
8. Conversations with the author, summer 1968.
9. R. H. Ives Gammell, "Studio Crosslights," unpublished ms., private collection.
10. Gerald M. Ackerman and Elizabeth Ives Hunter, Transcending Vision: R. H. Ives Gammell, 18931981 (Boston: R. H. Ives Gammell Studios Trust, 2001), p. 21.
11. R. H. Ives Gammell, The Twilight of Painting (Boston: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1946), p. 9.
12. Sir Joshua Reynolds, The Discources of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Illustrated by explanatory notes and plates by John Burnet (London: J. Carpenter, 1842).
13. Conversation with the author.
About the author
Elizabeth Ives Hunter is Executive Director, The Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, Massachusetts.
Resource Library editor's note
The above essay was published in Resource Library on August 17, 2011 with permission of the New Britain Museum of American Art, granted to TFAO on August 15, 2011.
Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Alexander J. Noelle, Assistant Curator, and Claudia Thesing, Director of Development, of the New Britain Museum of American Art for their help concerning permission for reprinting the above text.
RL readers may also enjoy biographical
information on selected artists cited in this article in America's
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