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Gruelle, Richard B. The Canal, Morning, 1894


Richard B. Gruelle was born in Cynthiana, Kentucky. At age 6 he was taken by his family to Illinois, and within a few years he began drawing long lines of Civil War soldiers marching into battle. His mother always encouraged his drawing. At 12 or 13 he had to begin earning a living. He tried farming but finally apprenticed as a house and sign painter and learned to grind and mix colors. The village carpenter taught him how to make easels and stretchers. He joined an engineering corps in Illinois and later painted portraits there, but still had not seen an artist paint. Gruelle is said to have been self-taught. He found he was a good landscape painter while painting pictures on iron safes in Cincinnati. He came to Indiana in 1882 and devoted himself to painting. Wilbur Peat wrote that Gruelle “stayed here 20 years, turning from portrait, dull in color and execution, to landscapes that are colorful, airy, and vibrant.” He is considered a member of the Hoosier Group, and died in Indianapolis.

  • The Canal, Morning, 1894
  • 32 1/2″ x 38 1/8″
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art
  • Keywords: paintings, natural landscapes, cultural landscapes, oil on canvas
  • Subjects: outdoors, trees, canals, bridges, people, hats

This landscape depicts a segment of the Central Canal in Indianapolis with a bridge crossing. The State House dome and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument are shown in the center distance, painted on a pinkish sky. The hat on the figure serves as a focal point because it is red. The cool colors of the background suggest the coming of morning. The bridge cuts the canal in half.

The Central Canal was part of a massive infrastructure improvements program that the state began in 1836. Canals were planned and constructed throughout Indiana, but the system was never completed. Fragments of the many canals remain in various places throughout the state. The Central Canal has become a focal point for Broad Ripple Village and for urban development in downtown Indianapolis.

Some Points To Consider

  • Ask students to describe what the artist used to pull the viewer’s eye to the center of the painting. Ask: What mood did the artist create by painting the atmospheric conditions and reflections as he did? (Art 4.3.1)
  • Help the class respond to the painting. Ask students if they would like to visit this place or float down the tranquil canal to explore the rest of it. Ask them to describe what they think the scenery looks like beyond the view in this painting. Discuss whether artists find such perfect scenes or if they paint only the beautiful parts of what they see. (Art 4.5.1)

Suggested Activities for Classroom Follow-Up

Allow class time for students to research canals, or fragments of canals, near the school. Have students present their findings to the whole class. Ask students to describe why were they constructed and why they might not have been completed. Ask why canals were important to the state in the 19th century, and why they are important today.