Overlooked No More: Granville Redmond, Painter, Actor, Friend

Overlooked No More: Granville Redmond, Painter, Actor, Friend

2021-04-08 20:00:09
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This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about notable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, were not reported in The Times.

In the opening scene of the classic silent film & # 39; City Lights & # 39; (1931), Charlie Chaplin's character, the Little Tramp, comically dangles from a statue as the sculptor looks on in horror, raising his hand to his mouth in surprise and wiping his forehead in fear.

The actor portraying the sculptor Granville Redmond appeared in seven Chaplin films, recognizable by his wild head of hair. Redmond was deaf, and his performances were early examples of the deaf representation in Hollywood. Some believe that Redmond even taught Chaplin, famous as pantomime, how to use sign language.

But Redmond was an artist first and foremost, one who inspired Chaplin with paintings of California's natural beauty: tranquil, brown tonal scenes; lonely rock monuments towering over a peninsula; tree-strewn meadows lit by a warm sun; blue night swamps under the dramatic glow of the moon. His paintings are today considered one of the finest examples of California Impressionism.

Los Angeles Times art critic Arthur Millier wrote in 1931 that Redmond was "unmatched in the realistic portrayal of California's landscape". Yet his style was never uniform: some paintings left parts of the canvas exposed and thick deposits of pigment, while others looked smoother.

He was best known for his paintings of golden poppies, the state's official flower. Its poppies accentuated its renditions of the rolling meadows of the San Gabriel Valley, often accompanied by purple lupines. Sometimes they complemented a coastal scene with bursts of yellow highlights.

& # 39; He painted them better than anyone else; I don't think that can be argued, & # 39; & # 39; said Scott A. Shields, trustee a show of Redmond's work last year at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. “You can feel the seasons. You can feel when it is spring, you can feel when it is winter, and you can feel when it is starting to be summer. "

His paintings of poppies became a popular keepsake for tourists, much to the chagrin of Redmond; he preferred to paint scenes of loneliness.

"Unfortunately, people are not going to buy them," he told The Los Angeles Times. "They all seem to want poppies."

Chaplin supported Redmond's painting career, offering him a room to paint in the attic of an unused building on his studio lot. During breaks, Chaplin would visit Redmond there and watch him quietly at work.

"Redmond depicts loneliness, and yet through a strange paradox, loneliness is never loneliness," Chaplin told Alice T. Terry in a 1920 article for The Jewish Deaf, a magazine.

He had such an appreciation for Redmond's paintings that he took pictures of movie celebrities off his walls so as not to detract from Redmond's work that he placed over his mantelpiece.

"You know, something surprises me about the photos of Redmond," Chaplin said in 1925 in The Silent Worker, a newspaper for the deaf community. "They all have a great joy."

& # 39; Look at the joy in that sky, the bright colors in those flowers, & # 39; he continued. "Sometimes I think that the silence in which he lives has developed a certain meaning in him, a great capacity for happiness that we miss others."

Grenville Richard Seymour Redmond was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on March 9, 1871, the eldest of five children born to Charles and Elizabeth (Buck) Redmond. (He changed the spelling of his name to Granville in 1898 to distinguish himself from an uncle.) His father was a Civil War veteran in the Union army and a laborer who worked in a variety of professions.

Redmond lost his ability to hear when he was 2, after contracting scarlet fever. The following year, his family moved to San Jose, California, to live near a relative who owned a farm.

In 1879 he enrolled at the California Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb, and the Blind (now the California School for the Deaf) in Berkeley. There, Redmond found an affinity with drawing under the instruction of another deaf artist, Theophilus Hope d & # 39; Estrella, who introduced him to a Saturday art class at the California School of Design. He went to enroll in the school. In 1893 he was selected by the faculty to make a drawing for 1893 The world's Colombian exhibition in Chicago

Redmond communicated through sign language and writing, but because of his focus on art, he never mastered written English, a hiatus in his education that he regretted. “In my early days at school I was always drawing, drawing,” he wrote.

After graduating he studied in Paris at the Académie JulianIn 1895, his painting "Matin d'Hiver" ("Winter Morning"), depicting a ship on a bank of the Seine, was admitted to the Paris Salon, a great honor for an artist at the time. He painted in France for a few more years, hoping to get another painting at the Salon and win a medal, but struggled financially and returned to California in 1898, depressed.

He married Carrie Ann Jean, who was also from Indiana and deaf, in 1899, and they had three children.

Redmond's early works Tonalist in nature, a nod to his training in San Francisco and to the artists of the 19th century Barbizon school, whose landscape paintings he had become acquainted with in France. Many of his paintings are scenes from Terminal Island, Catalina Island, and Laguna Beach in Southern California. In 1908 he returned to Northern California, where he lived and painted in the counties of Monterey, San Mateo and Marin.

"Many papers would write that he could see more than the average person because his vision was elevated," Shields, the Crocker Museum curator, said in a telephone interview. "Redmond believed that himself."

Redmond's work was well received, but a lack of money – due in part to an economic downturn at the start of World War I – led him to move back to Los Angeles and try acting.

In the silent film era, Redmond's disability, combined with his artistic inclination, worked to his advantage. Chaplin saw him as a natural for small parts in his films because Redmond expressed himself through gestures, Shields said. The two men communicated on set by drawing with each other.

Sometimes Redmond's deafness continued into storylines. In Arthur Rosson's "You'd Be Surprised" (1926), Redmond played a coroner posing as a deaf attendant. Only viewers who knew sign language could follow the conversation.


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