Overlooked No More: Granville Redmond, painter, actor, friend


This article is part of Overlooked, an obituary series about notable people whose deaths, from 1851, were not reported in The Times.

In the opening scene of the classic silent film “City Lights” (1931), Charlie Chaplin’s character, the little tramp, comically swings at a statue as his sculptor watches in horror, raising his hand to his mouth. with surprise and wiping his forehead. distress.

The actor representing the sculptor, Granville Redmond, has appeared in seven films by Chaplin, recognizable by his wild mane. Redmond was deaf, and his performances were the earliest examples of deaf portrayal in Hollywood. Some believe that Redmond even taught Chaplin, famous as a pantomime, how to use sign language.

But Redmond was first and foremost an artist, the one who inspired Chaplin with paintings of California’s natural beauty: calm, brown scenes; solitary rock monuments protruding from an island peninsula; meadows dotted with trees lit by a hot sun; Blue nocturnal swamps under the dramatic moonlight. His paintings are considered today among the best examples of Californian Impressionism.

Los Angeles Times art critic Arthur Millier wrote in 1931 that Redmond was “unrivaled in the realistic portrayal of the Californian landscape.” Yet his style was never uniform: some paintings left parts of the canvas exposed and large deposits of pigment, while others took on a smoother appearance.

Above all, he was known for his paintings of golden poppies, the official flower of the state. His poppies accentuated his interpretations of the rolling prairies of the San Gabriel Valley, often accompanied by purple lupines. Sometimes they complemented a coastal scene with bursts of yellow highlights.

“He painted them better than anyone; I don’t think it can be argued, ”said Scott A. Shields, who hosted an exhibition of Redmond’s work last year at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. “You can feel the seasons. You can feel when it’s spring, you can smell when it’s winter, and you can smell when it starts to turn into summer. “

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His poppy paintings have become a popular souvenir with tourists, much to Redmond’s dismay; he prefers to paint scenes of solitude.

“Alas, people won’t buy them,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “They all seem to want poppies.”

Chaplin supported Redmond’s career as a painter, gifting him a room to paint in the attic of an unused building on his studio grounds. During breaks, Chaplin would visit Redmond there and watch him quietly work.

“Redmond paints loneliness, and yet, by 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 the paintings of Redmond that he removed the photographs of cinema celebrities from his walls so as not to interfere with the work of Redmond which he placed on his fireplace.

“You know, something puzzles me about the images of Redmond,” Chaplin said in 1925 in The Silent Worker, a newspaper for the deaf community. “There is a wonderful joy about them.”

“Look at the joy in this sky, the riot of colors in these flowers,” he continued. “Sometimes I think the silence he lives in has developed within him in a way, a great capacity for happiness that we all lack.

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

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Redmond lost his ability to hear at the age of 2 after contracting scarlet fever. The following year, his family moved to San Jose, California to live near a family member who owned a ranch.

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. This is where Redmond found an affinity for drawing under the guidance of another deaf artist, Estrella’s Theophilus Hope, who introduced him to a Saturday art class at the California School of Design. He continued to enroll in school. In 1893, he was chosen by the faculty to create a design for the Colombian Universal Exhibition of 1893 in Chicago.

Redmond communicated through sign language and writing, but due to his focus on art he never mastered written English, a gap in his education that he came to regret. “When I started school, I always drew, drew,” he writes.

After graduating, he studied in Paris at the Académie Julian. In 1895, his painting “Winter Morning”, representing a barge on a bank of the Seine, was admitted to the Paris Salon, a great honor for an artist of the time. He painted in France for a few more years, hoping to enter another painting at the Salon and win a medal, but he experienced financial difficulties and returned to California, depressed, in 1898.

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

Redmond’s early works were tonalist in nature, a nod to his training in San Francisco as well as to 19th-century Barbizon school artists, whose landscape paintings he had come to know in France. Many of his paintings are scenes from Terminal Island, Catalina Island, and Laguna Beach in Southern California. He returned to Northern California in 1908, living and painting in Monterey, San Mateo, and Marin counties.

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“A lot of newspapers wrote that he could see more than the average person because his sense of sight was enhanced,” Shields, curator of the Crocker Museum, said in a telephone interview. “Redmond believed it himself.

Redmond’s work was well received, but a lack of funds – in part due to an economic downturn at the start of World War I – caused him to return to Los Angeles and try his hand at the game of actor.

In the age of silent movies, Redmond’s handicap, coupled with his artistic inclination, worked to his advantage. Chaplin saw him as a natural for the small parts of his films because Redmond spoke through gestures, Shields said. The two men communicated on the set by signing.

Sometimes Redmond’s deafness has made its way into the storylines. In Arthur Rosson’s “You’d Be Surprised” (1926), Redmond played a coroner posing as a deaf valet. Only viewers who knew sign language could follow the conversation.

Films also provided him with a new market for his art; buyers included the Hollywood elite, such as Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.

Redmond died of heart disease on May 24, 1935. He was 64 years old (Chaplin died at 88 in 1977.)

Alice Terry, the writer of The Jewish Deaf magazine, saw artistic commonalities between the two friends.

“For over two years now, these two have been working side by side,” she wrote in 1920, “Chaplin, silently and dramatically, by his ingenious banalities, creating mirth and sunshine for millions of tired people; and Redmond, silently and no less effectively, illuminating the lives of all, with his radiant and attractive images on canvas.


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