Richard Buckner (R.B.) Gruelle
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Richard Gruelle was born in Cynthiana, KY on February 22, 1851. His family soon moved northward to Illinois, finally settling in the small town of Arcola. Gruelle decided he wanted to be an artist at an early age, and much of his youth was spent drawing and, eventually, apprenticing himself to the local sign painter. He began pursuing his own painting projects in his spare time, mixing leftover house paints and learning how to build and stretch his own canvases from local tradesmen.
After his apprenticeship with the local painter, Gruelle struck out on his own and began to try his hand at portraiture. Unable to financially support himself in the small town of Arcola, Gruelle moved to western Illinois, followed by Decatur in central Illinois. He married Alice Benton during this time, and the two of them moved frequently over the next several years before finally settling down in Indianapolis in 1882.
Gruelle took up landscape painting after this move and began to work with T.C. Steele, William Forsyth, J. Ottis Adams, and Otto Stark: an informal association that would firmly establish Hoosier art’s reputation throughout the region and beyond. The self-taught painter managed to hold his own amongst these other, academically-trained artists.
In the late 1800’s, Gruelle began to take regular painting trips to Washington, D.C. During one of these visits, he was asked to examine the well-known art collection of William T. Walters in Baltimore, Maryland. This was followed by an offer from Modern Art for Gruelle to write a formal article about the collection for the magazine. Gruelle’s essay impressed William T. Walters so much that he asked the artist to write a full-fledged book about his collection.
Gruelle spent much of 1893 and 1894 working on this project. The book, entitled Notes: Critical and Biographical, was considered one of the best volumes on art at the time, and it cemented Gruelle’s reputation as an accomplished writer.
Later in 1894, Gruelle participated in the famed Five Hoosier Painters show with William Forsyth, Otto Stark, T.C. Steele, and J. Ottis Adams. The exhibit received much praise from Indianapolis and Chicago critics alike, and reinforced the relevance of these Indiana artists.
At the end of 1905, Gruelle closed his Indianapolis studio and moved with his family to New York City. He felt that he explored much of what Indianapolis had to offer, and was hoping to find greater artistic opportunities on the East Coast. However, the pressures of such a large city soon began to wear on the Gruelles, and they moved back to Indianapolis in 1907.
In 1909, though, Gruelle decided to resettle on the East Coast. He purchased a large parcel of land in Norwalk, Connecticut, along the Silver Mine River. In spite of his enthusiasm for his new, rural surroundings, Gruelle maintained regular contact with friends still in Indianapolis, and made frequent trips back to Indiana.
In 1912, Gruelle suffered a debilitating stroke that left him unable to paint and his body severely weakened. He died on November 8, 1914, during a family visit back to Indianapolis.
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