Theme/Style – Figural sculpture, portrait busts, medals, decorative arts
Media – Bronze, marble, plaster
Artistic Focus – An academic sculptor who worked mainly in marble and bronze, Karl Gruppe was best known for his bronze medals and portrait busts of personalities such as Charles Lindbergh, working in a style combining free-form Beaux-Arts naturalism with his own more refined and subtle craftsmanship.
Career Highlights –
- Karl Heinrich Gruppe was born in Rochester, New York in 1893. The son of painter Charles Paul Gruppe (1860-1940) and brother of landscape painter Emil Gruppe (1896-1978), he was raised in the Netherlands, and at the age of 12 his father enrolled him at the Royal Academy in Antwerp, Belgium where he studied with sculptor Frans Joris.
- His family moved back to the U.S. in 1909, where in New York City Gruppe became the assistant to the sculptor Herbert Adams and enrolled at the Art Students League.
- At the Art Students League, Gruppe was chosen to be studio assistant to the influential sculptor Karl Bitter, who invited him to model the finial statues for the Italian Towers at San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915.
- In the wake of Bitter’s untimely death that same year, Gruppe assumed the task of making an enlarged replica of Bitter’s figure of Pomona for the Pulitzer Memorial Fountain in Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza; and in 1916, Gruppe exhibited in the Art Institute of Chicago’s Annual Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture.
- After serving in World War I, Gruppe returned to New York where he worked for the sculptor Charles Cary Rumsey, and gained a reputation in his own right by winning the Avery Prize at the New York Architectural League in 1920 and exhibiting with the National Sculpture Society in 1923.
- Gruppe joined the New York City Department of Parks’ Monument Restoration Project under the auspices of the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP). Gruppe acted as their chief sculptor from 1934 to 1937, overseeing a committee of sculptors who worked to restore monuments and fountains throughout the city.
- In 1938, Gruppe was charged with executing the late Karl Bitter’s design for the 16-foot statue atop the Henry Hudson Memorial Column in the Bronx.
- During the late 1930s Gruppe created medals for the New York City Department of Parks, and from the 1940s through the early 1980s, Gruppe created numerous Presidential Medals for the New York Numismatic Club.
- Gruppe was among the final group of artists elected to the Life Membership category of the National Arts Club in 1950, and he designed the group’s Medal of Honor in 1951. He served as President of the National Sculpture Society in 1949 and 1960, and as Vice President of the National Academy of Design in 1957.
- In 1968 Gruppe won the National Sculpture Society’s Lindsey Morris Prize, and in 1970 his sculpture of Dwight D. Eisenhower won the Bronze Medal for Sculpture at the National Arts Club’s annual exhibition.
- In 1980, Gruppe was awarded the National Sculpture Society’s “Special Medal of Honor” for his “notable achievement in, and for encouragement to American Sculpture.”
- Gruppe’s medals are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Numismatic Society, New York; the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT; and the Cleveland Museum of Art, OH, among others.
- Karl Gruppe passed away in Southold, New York in 1982.