Hugh Gumpel, who died in May 2011 at the age of 84, was a formidable watercolorist, but he worked in many media; his subject matter ranged from landscape and cityscape to still life and the figure. Exhibiting nationally and internationally, he received many prizes and awards. He had numerous one-man shows in New York City, and his work has been shown in Paris, London, Germany, Mexico, and Canada. He was a longtime member of both the National Academy of Design and the American Watercolor Society.
Born in New York City, Gumpel grew up in Mamaroneck, NY, where he learned to draw and paint. He studied with George Grosz at the Art Students League in Manhattan before entering the U.S. Navy in 1943 at the age of 17. He served in the Pacific as a signalman on the USS Eldorado, the flagship for the operations in Iwo Jima and Okinawa. After the completion of his service in 1947, he attended Columbia University, and in 1951 went to Europe, where he attended the Grande Chaumière art school in Paris, painted, and traveled. Following his return to the U.S., he married and raised a family. For many years, he taught painting and drawing at the National Academy School, the State University of New York at Purchase, and other institutions. He was an inspiring and encouraging teacher, who would tell his students, if they were fearful of a commitment to making art, “Come on in, the water’s fine!”
Gumpel’s Maine chapter began in 1988, when he married Virginia Peckham, who is also an artist. The couple vacationed in Maine and decided to move permanently to the state. “Living in Maine gave us the opportunity to take chances and do things we probably wouldn’t have back in New York,” says Virginia. “Hugh, having retired from teaching, was free to explore new techniques and new subject matter, and he was producing work right up to the end of his life. In his last decade, his work became more cerebral, more surreal, and musical in its structure and sense of movement – a kind of world between worlds. When asked in recent years if he was ‘still painting,’ he would reply, ‘Of course I am! Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel when he was my age!”