GILDER, ROBERT (1856-1940)
Robert Fletcher Gilder once identified himself as a journeyman printer by trade, despite the fact that he had a successful career as a professional journalist in Omaha, Nebraska, and achieved lasting recognition as an artist and archaeologist. He painted many Nebraska and western landscapes that were admired, exhibited, and collected during his lifetime. Gilder's paintings capture many aspects of the beauty and subtle variety of the Plains landscape and contribute notably to the region's artistic legacy.
Born October 6, 1856, the son of a minister, in Flushing, Long Island, New York, Gilder attended public schools in Newark and New Jersey and the Gunnery School in Washington, Connecticut. He studied painting under August Will, a Jersey City painter of urban scenes who directed a school in New York City. After arriving in Omaha in 1887, Gilder worked at the Omaha World Herald, first as a typesetter, then as a reporter and editor for the newspaper during a career of nearly twentyfive years before he retired in 1919.
The extent of Gilder's formal artistic training with Will remains unknown; he may have been largely self-taught. Friend and fellow Nebraska artist Augustus Dunbier (1888–1977) believed Gilder may have been influenced by Omaha artist J. Laurie Wallace. He often worked outdoors and drew inspiration primarily from the Missouri River basin, especially the Fontenelle Forest area. He also made many paintings of the desert landscape of Arizona as well as scenes in California and Connecticut. His technique can be described as impressionist in that he concentrated on the atmosphere or feel of particular places, sought to capture their natural appearances during brief periods of time, and used bright pigments in broken, broad brushwork. In an untitled winter landscape of 1914 he sensitively rendered the season's cold pale light, which casts faint shadows of trees on a riverbank. In Shadow of the Bridge (n.d.), a view of Omaha seen from across the Missouri River, the blue shadows of the bridge cut bold diagonals across the canvas to the blue horizontal of the river, above which the city skyline rises. Known especially for his winter landscapes, which were avidly collected by Omahans, Gilder also painted autumn and spring scenes. An example such as Passing Storm (c. 1916), with its heavy lavender gray clouds lifting to disclose clear sky, reveals his skillful use of color, brush strokes, and composition to depict rapidly shifting atmospheric conditions. Broad and broken brushwork, strong but not overstated color, and tight composition characterize many of his best paintings.
Gilder exhibited regularly at Whitmore's Art Gallery in Omaha and had his work shown in Arizona, California, St. Paul, Minnesota, and New York City. Modest, energetic, and consistent in the quality of his work even late in his life, he produced thirty-four paintings the summer before he died in Omaha on March 7, 1940. Nebraska's major art museums, private collections, and several public schools hold examples of his work, in addition to Amherst College and the St. Paul Institute.
See also MEDIA: Omaha World-Herald .
Sarah Erwin Gilcrease Museum
Gerdts, William H. The Plains States and the West: Art across America: Regional Painting in America. New York: Abbeville Press, 1990.
Geske, Norman A. Art and Artists in Nebraska. Lincoln: Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery in Association with the Center for Great Plains Studies, 1983.