The Canal—Morning Effect

Richard Buckner Gruelle (American, 1851-1914)

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  • Urban and rural spaces, past and present, intermingle in this now iconic portrait of downtown Indianapolis. A tree-lined branch of the Central Canal, a pioneer waterway built in the 1830s, foregrounds the city’s skyline, which is tinged lavender in the morning light.
  • The last decades of the 19th century witnessed the construction of the city’s most recognizable monuments: the State Capitol and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Both structures are present in the picture, though the latter had not yet been completed.
  • Gruelle was self-taught. He had been employed decorating iron safes in Cincinnati when he found his calling. In 1882 he relocated to Indianapolis and devoted his time fully to painting the city and its environs.
Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

In this painting by Hoosier Group member Richard Gruelle—his masterpiece—the artist combined observation and invention to depict downtown Indianapolis at the end of the 1800s. Unlike most Hoosier Group scenes, which evoke a general sense of the Indiana landscape, the image in this canvas is an identifiable location. The Indiana capitol building, constructed a few years earlier, rises in the center of the composition and casts its reflection in the waters of the canal. Behind and to the left of the capitol is a monument in the shape of an obelisk that commemorates the Civil War and the victory of the Union over the Confederacy. The obelisk was under construction while this canvas was being painted, so Gruelle used his imagination to complete the structure. The tiny figure of a woman in a red hat crossing the bridge over the canal creates a striking focal point that draws the viewer into this serene morning landscape.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art has an extensive collection of works by Indiana artists, including the Hoosier Group, who in the late 1800s and early 1900s rendered their state's landscapes in an Impressionist style. Besides Gruelle, the group included T.C. Steele, J. Ottis Adams, William Forsyth, and Otto Stark. Gruelle, who was largely self-taught, was the only one of the group who did not study abroad.

The Hoosier Group was a circle of Indiana painters nationally recognized as among the most important regional artists who painted in the Impressionist style.


Richard Gruelle was born in Kentucky and raised in Illinois. He began drawing as a child. When he was a teenager Gruelle worked as a sign and house painter to gain the knowledge needed to mix and use paints. The budding artist began his career painting portraits. In 1882 he moved to Indianapolis where he painted landscapes in oil and watercolor. Gruelle's efforts were so successful that he was included in an exhibition whose artist's became known as the Hoosier Group. Gruelle traveled to Washington where he saw the Walters collection in Baltimore. He wrote an article on the collection for Modern Art that was read by William T. Walters who commissioned Gruelle to write a catalog of his collection. The intimate study of the Walters collection was the closest Gruelle came to a formal art education. Gruelle maintained a studio in New York and spent his summers at Gloucester on Cape Ann, painting numerous land and seascapes. In 1910 Gruelle and his family moved to Norwalk Connecticut where he died a few years later. His youngest son John (Johnny Gruelle) created Raggedy Ann and Andy.

The Canal – Morning Effect is Gruelle's acknowledge masterpiece. With his innate sense of the dramatic, Gruelle alluded to both Indiana's history and its future while painting the reality of contemporary Indianapolis. In 1836 a canal was dug as part of an ill-fated undertaking to connect landlocked Indianapolis with the great Lakes and the Ohio River. The junction was one block from the west side of State House Square; where in 1888 a new state capitol arose, casting its shadow on the waters of this failed project. Working from a vantage point in Military Park, Gruelle also painted the “monument” to the left of the capitol. The Indianapolis landmark, erected to commemorate the Civil War, was actually only in the middle of the construction in 1894. Igniting the subtle harmonies of Gruelle's cityscape is the bright red hat worn by the woman crossing the bridge. The small, solitary figure is a perfect foil for the manifestations of civic pride that stand against the rising sun.


Mary Q. Burnet. Art and Artists of Indiana, New York: The Century Company, 1921. ASIN: B00122RQVQ

The artist;
purchased by the Art Association of Indianapolis for the John Herron Art Institute, Indianapolis, Indiana, now the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, in 1894 (94.1).

Object Information

Richard Buckner Gruelle (American, 1851-1914)
creation date
oil on canvas
32 x 38 in. (canvas)
37 x 43 x 2-3/4 in. (framed)
mark descriptions
Signed and dated in brown oil paint at lower left: R.B. [obstructed by frame] Gruelle | 94 [obstructed by frame]
accession number
credit line
John Herron Fund
Public Domain
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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