Artist Biography

Henry Martin Gasser

(1909 - 1981)

Table of Contents

    An influential teacher, accomplished author, and talented artist recognized for his powerful watercolor portrayals of urban life in his hometown of Newark and throughout New Jersey during the twentieth century.

    By Alison Kowalski

    I. Biography

    Henry Martin Gasser was an American painter in every sense. From his working-class industrial town, he sought out the greatest artists in the area in order to study from them, and he found inspiration in his backyard. Through persistence and a spirit of originality, Gasser turned humble scenes of urban American life in the mid-twentieth century into extraordinary works of art that were widely praised by the art world. After achieving fame for his paintings, he extended his reach further by educating future artists and writing instructional books on his innovative techniques.

    Gasser was born in Newark, New Jersey, where he lived for most of his life. He studied painting at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts as well as at the Grand Central School of Art and the Art Students League in New York City. The well-known artist John R. Grabach (1886–1981), a fellow New Jersey native, privately tutored Gasser, and the two artists developed a close relationship.

    Despite its highly individualistic style, Gasser’s work still fits neatly into the tradition established by his American predecessors. In addition to exhibiting influence from Grabach, Gasser’s realist depictions of every­day life continued the legacy of the Ashcan painters. The majority of Gasser’s work portrays his native New Jersey. By the time he reached artistic maturity in the mid-twentieth century, Newark had become a major industrial center. Such cities, although the life force of American industry and ingenuity, were not known for their scenic qualities. Nonetheless, Gasser found beauty in his surroundings. His artworks typically feature urban scenes, such as residential streets lined with houses, and blue-collar suburban communities. Along with painting in New Jersey and New York, he embarked on excursions with Grabach to New England to capture coastal views and winter scenery. During World War II, Gasser was stationed in South Carolina as a sergeant in a Visual Aid Unit of the army, where he painted the vibrant Southern culture surrounding him.

    Although adept at painting with oils, he found his stride in watercolors. Paralleling his ability to transform unassuming subjects into captivat­ing pictures, Gasser elevated watercolor — a medium that was more common at the time for preliminary sketches or commercial use — to a fine art. [1] He pushed the boundaries of the medium, using experi­mental techniques to create his vibrant, evocative paintings. His work is often filled with radiant blues, greens, and yellows, and even those paintings that utilize a range of muted grays are accented with unusual tertiary colors. Within his exceptionally large body of work, winter scenes figure prominently; the expanses of white provided the perfect arena for his inventiveness.

    During his life, Gasser exhibited his paintings widely to remarkable critical acclaim. He was honored with several solo exhibitions in New York and New Jersey and was included in countless group exhibitions at the country’s finest museums and galleries. Critics noted his extraordinary technical abilities and his penchant for picturesque compositions. Gasser won more than one hundred exhibition prizes nationally, including the prestigious Hallgarten Prize awarded by the National Academy of Design. Besides his numerous accolades, Gasser was actively engaged in the art community, belonging to more than twenty organizations, including the Allied Artists of America, the Art Students League, the National Arts Club, and the Salmagundi Club. He served as vice president of both the National Academy of Design and the American Watercolor Society, and designed the latter’s certificate of membership. A contemporary writer referred to Gasser as “one of the most popular artists in the East,” and the noted art historian William Gerdts Jr. proclaimed that among the finest watercolorists in New Jersey, Gasser stood at the vanguard.[2] Today, his work resides in more than sixty museums and college collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

    In addition to Gasser’s prolific career as a practicing artist, he dedicated much of his life to teaching and writing. He returned to his roots by serving as the director of the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts and teaching at the Art Students League. Gasser authored seven instruc­tional books on the painting methods that he had become so celebrated for. Furthermore, he was a contributing editor of American Artist magazine and served as art director for the Prudential Insurance Company.

    Gasser once said, “The search for a picturesque or readymade land­scape, comprising ideal color, composition, and subject matter often actually results in an unexciting dull picture.” [3] The validity of this precept is affirmed by Gasser’s success. By scrutinizing the ordinary and questioning notions of appropriate subjects and materials, Gasser sowed the seeds of great American painting. The fruits he bore were honest, identifiable, and imperfect — true works of art.

    II. Chronology

    • 1909 Born in Newark, New Jersey
    • 1930 Marries wife Joan­­­
    • 1940s Stationed in South Carolina at Camp Croft, and holds rank of Sergeant in a Visual Aid Unit of the United States Army
    • 1943 Has first solo show in New York at Macbeth Gallery
    • 1946–54 Serves as director at Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts
    • 1949 Visits Bermuda
    • 1952 Designs a certificate of membership for the American Watercolor Society
    • 1953 Elected vice-president of the National Academy of Design and the American Watercolor Society; publishes Oil Paintings: Methods and Demonstrations; invited to teach as guest instructor at San Jose State College in California
    • 1955 Becomes second vice president of the American Watercolor Society
    • 1956 Travels to Europe
    • 1957 Elected as fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London
    • 1959 Publishes Techniques of Painting the Waterfront
    • 1962 Demonstrates painting techniques in film Exploring Casein, produced by Grumbacher art supply company
    • 1963 Publishes Techniques of Picture Making
    • 1964–70 Teaches painting and composition at the Art Students League
    • 1966 Serves as juror for Two Hundred Years of Watercolor Painting in America, An Exhibition Commemorating the Centennial of the American Watercolor Society, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
    • 1981 Dies in South Orange, New Jersey

    III. Collections*

    • Brigham Young University Museum of Art, Provo, Utah
    • The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
    • Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, Wisconsin
    • Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio
    • Dallas Museum of Art, Texas
    • Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine
    • Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa
    • Frye Art Museum, Seattle, Washington
    • Greenville County Museum of Art, South Carolina
    • Hickory Museum of Art, North Carolina
    • The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina
    • Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Massachusetts
    • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
    • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • Morris Museum, Morristown, New Jersey
    • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
    • National Infantry Museum & Soldier Center, Columbus, Georgia
    • New Britain Museum of American Art, Connecticut
    • Newark Museum, New Jersey
    • Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma
    • Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
    • Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania
    • Seattle Art Museum, Washington
    • Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
    • Springfield Art Museum, Missouri
    • The Westmoreland Museum

    IV. Exhibitions*

    Solo

    • 1940 Rabin and Kreuger Gallery, Newark, New Jersey, November 25–December 1
    • 1942 New Jersey Gallery, Newark, New Jersey, January 26–February 7
    • 1943 Macbeth Gallery, New York, New York, Exhibition of Water Colors by Henry Gasser, October 11–30
    • 1946 Newark Art Club, New Jersey, Paintings of the South, Henry Gasser
    • 1947 Macbeth Gallery, New York, New York, Water Colors, Henry Gasser, November 3–22
    • 1949 Macbeth Gallery, New York, New York, Exhibition of Water Colors by Henry Gasser, November 1–19
    • 1951 Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, New York, Henry Gasser, December 4–15
    • 1952 Vose Galleries, Boston, Massachusetts, Henry Gasser, November 24–December 13
    • 1954 Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, New York, Henry Gasser, Exhibition of Paintings, April 26–May 8
    • 1956 Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, New York, Exhibition of Recent Water Colors, Henry Gasser, January 10–21
    • 1957 The Illinois State Museum, Springfield, Henry Gasser: Casein Paintings, through March 25
    • Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, New York, Watercolors and Drawings of France and Italy by H. Gasser, March 5–16
    • 1959 Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, New York, Recent Watercolors of France and Italy, Henry Gasser, December 8–19
    • 1965 Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, New York, Henry Gasser, Exhibition of Water Colors, December 7–23
    • 1966 The Prudential Insurance Company of America, Newark, New Jersey, An Exhibition of Watercolors by Henry Gasser
    • 1969 Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, New York, Henry Gasser, December 9–20
    • 2003–4 Morris Museum, Morristown, New Jersey; The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; Springfield Art Museum, Missouri; Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey; Henry Gasser: Beyond City Limits, July 1, 2003–March 7, 2004 (traveling)

    Group

    • 1939 Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • 1940 Philadelphia Water Color Club, Pennsylvania
    • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, first-place award
    • New Haven Paint & Clay Club, Connecticut
    • Washington Water Color Club, Washington, DC
    • 1941 American Watercolor Society and New York Water Color Club, New York, combined exhibition
    • Oakland Art Gallery, California
    • Philadelphia Water Color Club, Pennsylvania
    • Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, first-place award for watercolors
    • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, first-place award
    • New Haven Paint & Clay Club, Connecticut
    • Washington Water Color Club, Washington, DC
    • 1942 American Watercolor Society, New York, New York
    • The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
    • Baltimore Watercolor Club, Maryland, purchase prize
    • Denver Art Museum, Colorado
    • Guatemala National Fair, Guatemala City, Guatemala
    • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • National Academy of Design, New York, New York
    • New Haven Paint & Clay Club, Connecticut
    • Philadelphia Water Color Club, Pennsylvania
    • Washington Water Color Club, Washington, DC
    • 1943 Albany Institute of History & Art, New York
    • Allied Artists of America, New York, New York
    • American Watercolor Society, New York, New York, George A. Zabriskie Prize
    • Denver Art Museum, Colorado
    • The Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina
    • Mississippi Art Association, Jackson, Mississippi
    • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, prize
    • National Academy of Design, New York, New York, Julius Hallgarten Prize
    • New Haven Paint & Clay Club, Connecticut
    • Oakland Art Gallery, California, prize
    • Philadelphia Water Color Club, Pennsylvania
    • Springfield Art League, Massachusetts, Robert R. Steiger Award
    • Texas International Exhibition, Texas
    • Washington Water Color Club, Washington, DC
    • Watercolor Society of Alabama, various cities, Alabama, prize
    • 1944 Albany Institute of History & Art, New York
    • Allied Artists of America, New York, New York
    • American Watercolor Society, New York, New York, William Church Osborne Prize
    • Associated Artists of New Jersey
    • Carnegie Institute’s International Exhibition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    • Denver Art Museum, Colorado
    • The Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina, first-place award
    • Mississippi Art Association, Jackson, Mississippi
    • Montclair Art Museum Annual, New Jersey, first award
    • National Academy of Design, New York, New York
    • New Haven Paint & Clay Club, Connecticut, John I. H. Downs Prize
    • New Orleans Art Association, Louisiana
    • Oakland Art Gallery, California
    • Philadelphia Water Color Club, Pennsylvania
    • San Francisco Museum of Art, California
    • Washington Water Color Club, Washington, DC
    • 1945 Allied Artists of America, New York, New York
    • American Watercolor Society, New York, New York
    • Carnegie Institute’s International Exhibition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    • Delgado Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana, Ellsworth Woodward Prize
    • Macbeth Gallery, New York, New York
    • The Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina
    • Mississippi Art Association, Jackson, Mississippi
    • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • National Academy of Design, New York, New York
    • New Haven Paint & Clay Club, Connecticut
    • New Orleans Art Association, Louisiana, prize
    • Oakland Art Gallery, California, prize
    • Philadelphia Water Color Club, Pennsylvania, prize
    • Piedmont Art Fest, North Carolina, prize
    • San Francisco Museum of Art, California
    • Springfield Art Museum, Missouri, first-place award for watercolor
    • Washington Water Color Club, Washington, DC, prize
    • Watercolor Society of Alabama, various cities, Alabama, prize ; first-place award
    • 1946 The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
    • California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California
    • Indiana State Teachers College, Indiana, Pennsylvania, prize
    • Macbeth Gallery, New York, New York
    • The Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina
    • Mississippi Art Association, Jackson, Mississippi
    • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, first-place award
    • New Haven Paint & Clay Club, Connecticut
    • New Orleans Art Association, Louisiana, prize
    • High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia
    • Salmagundi Club, New York, New York
    • Southern States Art League, Charleston, South Carolina, prize
    • Washington Water Color Club, Washington, DC, first-place award
    • Watercolor Society of Alabama, various cities, Alabama, prize
    • 1947 American Artists Professional League, New York, New York, first-place award
    • Chamber of Commerce, Santa Paula, California, purchase prize
    • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • National Academy of Design, New York, New York
    • Salmagundi Club, New York, New York, Henry F. J. Knobloch Prize; popular prize; exhibition committee member
    • 1948 American Watercolor Society, New York, New York, Clara Obrig Prize
    • California Water Color Society, Los Angeles, California, Cowie Purchase Award
    • Macbeth Gallery, New York, New York
    • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • National Academy of Design, New York, New York
    • Salmagundi Club, New York, New York, exhibition committee member
    • 1949 American Veterans Society of Artists, New York, New York, first-place award
    • The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
    • Brick Store Museum, Kennebunk, Maine, Spaulding Memorial Prize
    • Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, New York, 3 Watercolorists: Gasser, Kautzky, Whitaker
    • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • National Academy of Design, New York, New York
    • Salmagundi Club, New York, New York, Arthur Turnbull Hill Memorial Prize; club prize for watercolor; exhibition committee member
    • 1950 Baltimore Watercolor Club, Maryland, first-place award
    • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • National Academy of Design, New York, New York
    • Salmagundi Club, New York, New York
    • 1951 Oakland Art Gallery, Oakland, California, silver medal
    • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, first-place award
    • Salmagundi Club, New York, New York, Misha Sevipert Memorial Purchase Prize
    • 1952 Oakland Art Gallery, Oakland, California, gold medal
    • Audubon Artists, New York, New York, first-place award
    • Connecticut Academy of the Fine Arts, various cities, first prize
    • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, first-place award
    • 1953 American Artists Professional League, New York, New York, grand national exhibition, honor roll prize
    • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • Rockport Art Association, Massachusetts, Hilliard Memorial Prize
    • 1954 Allied Artists of America, New York, New York, gold medal of honor
    • The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio, purchase prize
    • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • National Arts Club, New York, New York, bronze medal
    • 1955 Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • National Arts Club, New York, New York, bronze medal
    • Palm Beach Art League, Florida, first-place award
    • 1956 Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • New Haven Paint & Clay Club, Connecticut, active members prize
    • 1957 Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • North Shore Arts Association, Gloucester, Massachusetts, Wilhelm Prize
    • 1958 Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • St. Augustine Art Association, Florida, first-place award
    • 1959 Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • National Arts Club, New York, New York, Frank Vincent DuMond Award
    • 1960 Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • National Academy of Design, New York, New York
    • National Arts Club, New York, New York, bronze medal
    • New Jersey Water Color Society, various cities, award
    • 1961 Academic Artists Association, Harford, Connecticut, Ward Memorial Award
    • Springville Museum of Art, Utah, purchase award
    • Mississippi Art Association, Jackson, purchase award
    • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • 1962 Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • Southern Vermont Arts Center, Manchester, Vermont, award
    • 1963 American Veterans Society of Artists, New York, New York, Burr Medal
    • Columbus Museum, Georgia, American Traditional Artists of the 20th Century
    • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
    • 1964 Council of Art Societies, bronze medal
    • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, first-place award
    • 1965 Art Centre of the Oranges, East Orange, New Jersey, New Jersey State Exhibition, first-place award
    • 1966 Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, California, Twentieth Century Realists
    • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, Two Hundred Years of Watercolor Painting In America, An Exhibition Commemorating The Centennial of the American Watercolor Society
    • 1969 American Watercolor Society, New York, New York, award
    • 1971 American Watercolor Society, New York, New York
    • National Academy of Design, New York, New York
    • 2010 New Britain Museum of American Art, Connecticut, The Great American Watercolor

    V. Memberships*

    • Allied Artists of America
    • The American Artists Professional League
    • American Watercolor Society, 1944; second vice-president, 1955
    • Art Students League, life member
    • Asbury Park Society of Fine Art
    • Audubon Artists
    • Baltimore Watercolor Club
    • Grand Central Art Galleries, life member
    • Irvington Art and Museum Association
    • Mississippi Art Association
    • National Academy of Design, academician 1950; vice president, 1953; recording secretary, 1960–67
    • The National Arts Club, 1951, life member
    • New Haven Paint & Clay Club
    • New Jersey Art Association
    • New Jersey Water Color Society
    • North Shore Arts Association
    • Philadelphia Watercolor Club
    • Rockport Art Association
    • Royal Society of Arts (London), 1957
    • Salmagundi Club, 1946
    • Springfield Art League
    • Washington Water Color Club

    VI. Notes

    1. “Henry Gasser, Artist,” Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences Museum Bulletin 30 (January 1948): 27.
    2. Ibid.; William H. Gerdts Jr., Painting and Sculpture in New Jersey (Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand Company, 1964), 247.
    3. Henry Martin Gasser, quoted in Gary T. Erbe, Henry Gasser: Beyond City Limits (Youngstown, OH: The Butler Institute of American Art, 2003), 8.

    VII. Suggested Resources

    • “Henry Gasser, Artist.” Bulletin. Staten Island Institute of Arts and Science (January 1948): 27–28, MR 1950.
    • “New Artist Life Members.” National Arts Club Bulletin 32 (April 1951): 2. [AAA, National Arts Club records, 1898-1960, Series 8: Printed Matter, 1893-1960, undated, Reel 4260, Frame 976-1138; Reel 4261, Frame 7-997]
    • “Newark through a Native Artist’s Eye.” Art Digest 16 (February 1942): 20.
    • Erbe, Gary T. “Henry Gasser: Beyond City Limits.” American Art Review 15 (November/December 2003): 136–141.
    • Erbe, Gary T. Henry Gasser: Beyond City Limits. Youngstown, OH: The Butler Institute of American Art, 2003.
    • Gasser, Henry. “Henry Gasser’s Paintings of Newark.” American Artist 30 (November 1966): 48–53, 75–77.
    • Henry Gasser. Boston: Vose Galleries, 1952.
    • Henry Gasser. Grand Central Art Galleries, 1969.
    • Henry Martin Gasser. Spartanburg, SC: Arts Council of Spartanburg County, 1986.
    • Lowrey, Carol. A Legacy of Art: Paintings and Sculptures by Artist Life Members of the National Arts Club, 102–3. New York: The National Arts Club in association with Hudson Hills Press, 2007.

    Titles by Henry Gasser

    • Casein Painting: Methods and Demonstrations. Edited by Arthur L. Guptill. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1950.
    • Exploring Casein (film). New York: Grumbacher, 1952.
    • Oil Painting: Methods and Demonstrations. New York: Reinhold Publishing, 1953.
    • How to Draw and Paint. New York: Dell Publishing, 1955.
    • Techniques of Painting. New York, Reinhold Publishing, 1958.
    • Techniques of Painting the Waterfront. New York: Reinhold Publishing, 1959.
    • Techniques of Picture Making. New York: Reinhold Publishing, 1962.
    • Henry Gasser’s Guide to Painting: The Techniques of Handling Oil, Watercolor and Casein. New York: Golden Press, 1964.
    • (Also contributing editor to American Artist magazine)

    Artist Files

    • Frick Art Reference Library Photoarchive files, Henry Martin Gasser, “Study Photographs and Reproductions of Works of Art with Accompanying Documentation 1930–1990,” Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1930–1990.
    • Frick Art Reference Library Photoarchive files, Henry Martin Gasser, “Study Photographs and Reproductions of Works of Art with Accompanying Documentation 1920–2000,” 1999.
    • Henry Gasser papers, 1939–1972. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
    • Watson Library Artist File, Gasser, Henry: [miscellaneous ephemeral material]. n.d.
    • *While these lists are intended to be as comprehensive as possible, they are assumed to be incomplete for this prolific, active artist.

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