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Gilbert Gaul 1855-1919Type: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 12 x 10 inches
The Apple Picker, 1880

About the artist

Born William Gilbert Gaul in 1855 in Jersey City, New Jersey, Gaul is best known for his genre scenes and his depictions of the Civil War and Native American life in the West. After graduating from the Claverack Military Academy in Claverack, New York, at the age of seventeen Gaul moved to New York City, where he studied at the National Academy of Design from 1872 to 1876 with Lemuel Everett Wilmarth (1835–1918) and at the Art Students League when it opened in 1875. He also studied privately in New York with the renowned genre painter John George Brown (1831–1913).

Although too young to witness the Civil War, Gaul’s early military training and his interest in military imagery developed into what would become a very successful career as an illustrator of military and Western scenes, including works that reconstructed many of the Civil War battles. Due to the lingering fascination with the Civil War in the popular press, Gaul’s works were seen frequently in publications such as Century Magazine, Harper’s Weekly, and Scribner’s Monthly. In 1876, Gaul traveled west, where he observed first-hand some of the United States Army’s campaigns against the Sioux, an experience that provided him with material for many future works. Gaul became fascinated with the Native American tribes, making numerous additional trips west throughout the 1880’s, often living among the American Indians while sketching and painting. In 1890, Gaul participated in a census of the American Indians, illustrating The Report on Indians Taxed and Indians Not Taxed, a now rare 683-page volume documenting the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Reservations in North Dakota.

During this period, Gaul kept a studio at the famous Tenth Street Studio building in New York City. Gaul began exhibiting his work at the National Academy of Design in 1875, and in 1882, at the age of twenty-seven, he became the youngest artist to attain full academician status at the National Academy.

In 1881, Gaul inherited a farm near Fall Creek Falls in Van Buren County, Tennessee, from his mother’s family, with the stipulation that he would live there for at least four years. Gaul built a cabin and studio on the property and fulfilled the terms of his inheritance by living there until 1885. Although he retuned to New York in 1885, Gaul maintained his Tennessee farm for thirty years, returning there frequently. Both the landscape and people of rural Tennessee had a lasting influence on Gaul, and provided him with an abundance of subject matter for the remainder of his career.

Following the success of being included in the 1886 volume, The Book of American Figure Painters, Gaul began to receive numerous commissions. In addition to exhibiting regularly at the National Academy from 1877 to 1902, Gaul also exhibited regularly at the Boston Art Club, the Brooklyn Art Association, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Gaul was widely recognized and was the recipient of numerous awards, including medals in the 1889 Paris Exposition, the 1893 Columbian World Exposition in Chicago, and the 1902 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.

Gaul also traveled widely in the later part of his career recording subjects in Mexico, the West Indies, Panama, and Nicaragua. An illustrated account of these journeys was published in Century Magazine in 1892 and exhibited at the 1893 Columbian World Exposition in Chicago. Gaul returned to Tennessee in 1904, accepting a teaching position at Cumberland Female College in McMinnville. In 1905, he taught at the Watkins Institute in Nashville, where he maintained a studio until 1907. Gaul subsequently lived in Charleston, South Carolina before moving to Ridgefield, New Jersey in 1910, where he continued to paint landscapes and figurative works until his death in 1919.

Gaul’s present work, The Apple Picker, painted in 1880, is an exceptional example of 19th century American genre painting. It is painted in a style that can be favorably compared to and is unmistakably reminiscent of the works of Winslow Homer (1836–1910), one of America’s most influential and original artists of this era. At the core of Homer’s artistic enterprise was the concept of modernity, a concept rooted in his believe that it was the responsibility of an artist to express the life of his own time. This focus on modern life was not only the province of painters in this period, for it was equally evident in contemporary literature, such as in the works of Mark Twain. Perhaps its popularity stemmed from a shared sense of a lost past, or from a yearning for simplicity and innocence intensified by the moral and spiritual vacuum that followed the Civil War. Rustic American life, and childhood in particular, was Homer’s principal subject in the 1870’s. Gaul likewise devoted much of his time and efforts to the portrayal of rural life, often focusing on the youthful innocence of children and an identification of bountiful nature. The Apple Picker is a masterfully conceived and executed work, and a quintessential expression of these themes. Employing a simple but dynamic composition, it is painted with a freshness, a beautiful sense of light, and an informality that are characteristics of many of the finest works of this style.

Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, n.d.
National Academy of Design, 1875 (his last name was misspelled as Gault), 1877–1900, 1906–1919
Brooklyn Art Association, 1877–1886
Boston Art Club, 1881–1898
American Artist Association, 1882 (gold medal)
Prize Fund, 1886 (gold)
Art Institute of Chicago
Paris Exposition, 1889 (bronze medal)
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893 (medals)
Pan-Am. Exposition, Buffalo, 1901 (medal)
Appalachian Exposition, Knoxville, 1910 (gold medal)

National Academy of Design, Associate Member, 1879
National Academy of Design, Full Member, 1882
Salmagundi Club, 1888.

Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania
Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art, Nashville, Tennessee
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, District of Columbia
C. R. Smith Collection; Tennessee State Museum, Nashville, Tennessee
Democratic Club, New York, New York
Desert Caballeros Western Museum, Wickenburg, Arizona
Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis, Indiana
George Walter Vincent Smith Museum, Springfield, Massachusetts
Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, Georgia
Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Greenville Museum of Art, Greenville, South Carolina
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia
Jack S Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas
Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia
National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
National Portrait Gallery, Washington, District of Columbia
The New-York Historical Society, New York, New York
Oakland Museum of Art, Oakland, California
Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
The Columbus Museum, Columbus, Georgia
The Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, Virginia
The Sid Richardson Collection of Western Art, Fort Worth, Texas
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio
West Point Museum, West Point, New York
Westervelt-Warner Museum of American Art, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Witte Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut

American Art Analog, Chelsea House Publishers
Who Was Who in American Art, 1564–1975, Sound View Press
Art Across America (Central/South), William H. Gerdts
Annual Exhibition Record, 1901–1950 National Academy of Design, Peter Hastings Falk
Greenville County Museum of Art, The Southern Collection, Martha R. Severens

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