Three panels from “The Hound of Heaven: A Pictorial Sequence” painted by R.H. Ives Gammell, (1956). Inspired by Francis Thompson’s poem The Hound of Heaven, (1893).
Unlike the artists of the Boston School, Gammell’s art dealt with the profoundest of human concerns—mankind’s constant preoccupation with the enigma of its condition and position in the cosmos, and with the mystery of the relation of our mind and imagination to powers and forces beyond us. The work that most personally expressed his own visionary experience and that represented twenty years of actual work and over forty years of contemplation, was his epic twenty-three painting sequence The Hound of Heaven, based on the poem by Francis Thompson, the English poet, an opium addict who became homeless on the streets of London and was taken care of by prostitutes. His poem describes how the grace of God in Jesus Christ came into his life; how God sought him out in his sin and misery. J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings said this about the poem:
“The name is strange (The Hound of Heaven.) It startles one at first. It is so bold, so new, so fearless. It does not attract, rather the reverse. But when one reads the poem this strangeness disappears. The meaning is understood. As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and steady pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by his divine grace. And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to return to him alone in that never ending pursuit.”
The 23 paintings themselves can be seen at the Maryhill Museum of Art, Goldendale, WA, USA or in Gammell’s book.