Earlier this year, we received two paintings from the James Hervey Johnson Charitable Education Trust. These paintings might seem familiar to those who have more than a passing interest in Freethought history. Robert G. Ingersoll and D.M. Bennett are the subjects of these two portraits soon to be displayed at the Center for Inquiry.
The two paintings appear to be enlarged photographs that have paint applied over them. That is also why the portraits are so familiar; they are taken from well-known photographs of the gentlemen, which was how I was able to determine the Bennett portrait was indeed Bennett.
The Ingersoll portrait has written in marker on the back:
The Man The Myth The Legend
Portrait of R.G. Ingersoll
(American Idol Series)
The Bennett portrait had no writing on the back.
The James Hervey Johnson Foundation, when offering these items, told us that the portraits were the work of William Gambini, an abstract expressionist painter who had lived for some time in the San Diego area (the JHJ Foundation is also located in San Diego).
Gambini (1918-2010) was one of the lesser known members of the New York School of Painting (abstract expressionism). According to the website devoted to his works (www.williamgambini.com), Gambini helped to organize the Tenth Street Co-op Gallery Movement (this artist run co-op was an antithesis to the high end galleries in other areas of Manhattan). He was involved with and friends with such luminaries as Rothko, Hofmann, Pollock, Gorky and de Kooning, all major artists from this time. Gambini was not as well-known because he left Manhattan to work in San Diego for family concerns.
Gambini had exhibitions of his work world-wide, and also had major exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, Norfolk Museum and others.
According to his obituary, he had drinks with Ernest Hemingway, drew for Martha Graham, and was in a movie with Norma Jean Baker (later Marilyn Monroe). He was a character.
I contacted Vito Gambini, his son who maintains the website, to ask if he had any information about these two portraits. He did not have any, however he was able to verify that these paintings were indeed the work of his father.