Landscape and marine painter Charles Paul Gruppe was born in Picton, Canada, September 3, 1860. Largely self-taught, Gruppe did study in Holland and a good portion of his work consists of Holland inspired scenes. He should not be confused with his son, artist Emile Gruppe, who painted many well-known New England scenes.
When Charles was ten, he moved with his family to Rochester, New York, after the death of his father. Interested in painting from an early age, he spent much of his time sketching and creating watercolors and oils. To help support his mother and sisters, he worked in a sign painting shop, soon mastering the craft.
Eventually, at age twenty-one, he had earned enough money to travel steerage to Europe, where traveled through France, Germany, and Holland, searching for a place to settle and practice his art. He was taken with Holland, perhaps attracted to its fishing villages with their picturesque boats and quaint houses, and decided to stay. He built a home and studio in the little fishing village of Katwyk Ann Zee and painted much of his European work in the vicinity of that town.
While in Holland, his skill at subtle coloration and careful draftsmanship became so identified with the Dutch School of painting that he was elected to the exclusive Pulchre Studio in the in the Hague, something highly unique for an American. Members of the Dutch Royal Family collected his work, which included portraits of the Dutch people as well as genre, marine, and countryside scenes. Many of his paintings are of the Zuider Zee and of Sheveningen, where he had a vacation villa. Altogether, Gruppe spent over twenty years in Holland, becoming a celebrity artist and ultimately being patronized by the royalty of Europe. His work is represented in many museums in America and Europe.
Gruppe returned to America, becoming both a painter and dealer/broker in the art of Dutch painters, and popularizing Dutch art among American collectors and art connoisseurs. His son, Emile, who was to also become a great painter, was born at the family residence in Rochester in 1896. Soon thereafter the Gruppes moved back to Katwyk Ann/Zee, Holland, but in 1909, the family returned to the United States as the clouds of W.W.I gathered.
Although their ancestry was originally the Hamburg area of Germany, they at this time added an accent to e of the Gruppe name to make it appear less German.
The elder Gruppe found an apartment/studio at Carnegie Hall in New York City. His son Emile also wanted to paint, and, in addition to teaching him himself, Charles sent him to the best teachers, including Bridgeman (figures/drawing), Carlson ( landscapes / values) and Hawthorne (a colorist). Charles had been an essentially self-taught artist but his son would have the best teachers.
In 1925, after seeing an exhibition in New York that featured the beautiful winter harbor scenes of Gloucester by Frederick Mulhaupt, the Gruppe father and son team headed to Cape Ann, to see for themselves. "Mulhaupt got the smell of Gloucester on canvas", Emile had said. Father and son were already fond of seacoasts and seaports and both Gruppes soon fell in love with Cape Ann.
They both continued to paint in the Cape Ann area for the rest of their lives. The elder Charles P. Gruppe died in Rockport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1940 at his studio. He was 80. (a stay of 15 years). During those years Charles spent his summers in Rockport and the remainder of the year at his New York studio. The younger Gruppe (Emile) died in 1978 (a stay of 53 years) He was 78. Until 1929, the two Gruppes shared a studio on Bearskin Neck in Rockport. Then Emile decided make his own fortune and moved to nearby Gloucester where he purchased an old school house on Rocky Neck.
Despite his stern look, Charles Gruppe was said to have a sunny and optimistic disposition. He had little formal education and no visible advantages in his early youth. All he did have was a strong love of painting which seemed inborn to him, as it was to generations of his family. He painted thousands of paintings in his life that are in the finest collections of Europe and America.
All four of his children were exposed to art and artists at tender ages, and eventually all established themselves in the arts: sculptor, Karl, was a member of the National Academy; musician, Paulo, is a cellist. Virginia was a watercolorist/art dealer who painted Rockport and Gloucester scenes and owned a gallery selling Gruppe and other paintings in Rochester, NY, where she lived until her death in the 1960s. Charles son, Emile, was a highly regarded painter. Emile's son, Robert C. Gruppe is also an artist and operates a studio in Rocky Neck today. A remarkable family legacy.
Charles Gruppes work, This Painting, (ca 1903), which depicts a sailboat tied to a quay in icy waters, is one example of the silver gray tonalist paintings in which he specialized when he was in Holland.
He was honored with numerous awards and medals, including gold medals at Paris and Rouen, and two silver medals (watercolor and oil) at the World's Fair in St. Louis in 1903. Charles P. Gruppe was also a member of the Salmagundi Club in New York.