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 Oscar Florianus Bluemner  (1867 - 1938)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts/New York / Germany      Known for: modernist architecture painting, landscape, colorist

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born near Hanover, Germany, Oscar Bluemner early followed in the architectural careers of his father and grandfather.  In the early 1880s, he studied painting and architecture at the Royal Academy of Design in Berlin and then traveled to America hoping unsuccessfully for an architectural commission with the 1893 World Exposition in Chicago.

He did win a competition in 1900 for the design of the courthouse in Bronx, New York, but his partner stole the commission from him.  Eventually he won a lawsuit against the partner, but by then he had turned to painting and away from architecture. Bluemner first adopted the impressionist style and urban subject matter of Maurice Prendergast, but after a trip to Europe, his style changed drastically to that which was geometric and reflected Cubism and Futurism.

His work was well received by the critics, especially when he was endorsed and promoted by Alfred Stieglitz who sponsored Bluemner's first American exhibition. However, sales were not strong during most of his career.  As he suffered increasing poverty and poor health, he became more and more depressed and committed suicide in 1938. 

From 1926, he had lived in Braintree, Massachusetts.

Source:
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art


Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, A-D):
The son and grandson of architects, Bluemner was born in Hanover, Germany, in 1867, and was encouraged to follow in his family’s trade.  He showed early promise as an artist as well, and his first one-man show of portraits was held at the Berlin Latin School in 1886.  In 1892 he won a medal at the Royal Academy of Design in Berlin where he studied painting and architecture.  Dissatisfied with the restrictive aesthetic policies of Emperor Wilhelm II’s government, Bluemner left for America that same year.

Bluemner arrived in New York, then moved on to Chicago in 1893, hoping to gain architectural commissions at the World’s Columbian Exposition.  He designed prefabricated units for the Exposition and freelanced as a draftsman.  He returned to New York in 1901, and the following year he won a commission for the Bronx Borough Courthouse that his partner finagled away using Bluemner’s design. Although Bluemner sued and eventually won the lawsuit, the experience permanently turned him away from architecture.  Between 1908 and 1910, Bluemner began painting in earnest, making sketching trips throughout New Jersey and Long Island.  In 1910, the year he “kicked the building business over,” he met Alfred Stieglitz, who sparked his interest in the artistic innovations of the European and American avant-garde.  Bluemner painted his first oil in 1911.

In 1912 Bluemner sailed for Europe, where he had a one-man show of landscapes at the Gurlitt Galleries in Berlin.  After Berlin, he traveled to Paris and Italy where he saw the work of Matisse, Cézanne, and the Futurists, and created thousands of sketches inspired by the museums he visited.  Stopping over in England, Bluemner toured Roger Fry's Post-Impressionist exhibition at Grafton Galleries and became fully committed to the modernist ideology.

Upon his return to the United States, Bluemner contributed one landscape to the 1913 Armory Show and wrote an article defending modernism for Stieglitz’s progressive publication Camera Work.  The ongoing connection with Stieglitz had a significant impact on Bluemner’s career—in 1915 Stieglitz gave him a solo exhibition at his gallery, 291.  Bluemner’s paintings of this period were tightly structured compositions in the Cubist manner blazing with Fauve-inspired reds, oranges, and contrasting hues.  Bluemner exhibited in the 1916 Forum Exhibition and regularly at the Bourgeois Gallery (artist George Of introduced him to proprietor Stephan Bourgeois, who remained a lifelong friend).  He also showed at the Montross Gallery, mainly exhibiting intensely colored oils synthesizing abstract and concrete form that were based on earlier sketches of New Jersey countryscapes and factories.  Stieglitz continued to support him and gave him a solo show in 1928.  The following year Bluemner had a one-man exhibition at the Whitney Studio Galleries.

Bluemner was fascinated with the formal, emotional, and spiritual qualities of strong color.  He dubbed himself the “Vermillionaire” in reference to his reliance on bright red hues for his houses and barns.  He explored his color theories in angular, brightly colored landscapes, abstracted from nature.  As his career progressed, Bluemner found inspiration in classical music and Freudian concepts of the subconscious.  His late compositions in oil or casein, on which he often bestowed titles alluding to music, became more abstract, displaying heightened emotional content, simplified masses, and pulsating color.

After his wife’s death in 1926, Bluemner moved to South Braintree, Massachusetts, to live in virtual seclusion.  He continued to paint and exhibit until he was involved in an auto accident and told he could never paint again.  Bluemner died by his own hand on January 12, 1938.

Underappreciated and financially impoverished during his lifetime, Bluemner is today the object of renewed critical and public interest.  In 2005–06, his career was the subject of a major retrospective, “Oscar Bluemner: A Passion for Color,” organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.  Bluemner is represented in private and public institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Phillips Collection, and the Corcoran Gallery, both in Washington, D.C.; the Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, and the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Texas.

Biography from James Graham & Sons, Est. 1857:
Oscar Bluemner was born in Germany in 1867 where he was trained as an architect in Berlin.  He emigrated to the United States in 1892 and soon turned his attention to painting.  His early work consisted of poetic landscapes in watercolor, but a trip to Europe in 1912, to Berlin, Paris, Southern France, and Italy, where he was exposed to the possibilities of expressionism, led him to a very personal expressionist style using brilliant reds, blues and greens.

Like the Precisionists, his subjects were industrial buildings, mostly in New Jersey, but his treatment combined linearity and jagged forms in an explosion of color totally unique to Bluemner.

He was one of the giants of early American modernism.  In 1913, he showed five paintings at the Armory Show and, for a period of time, was one of the artists who attracted the attention of Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz gave him a one-man exhibition in 1915 and 1928.  Tragically, as was the case of so many of the early moderns, his work did not sell well.  In 1938 he committed suicide after having been sick and poverty-stricken.

Biography from Jerald Melberg Gallery:
Oscar Bluemner (1867-1938) is considered one of the most influential figures of the American modernist era.  Impressed by European contemporaries such as Cezanne and Van Gogh, Bluemner’s highly personal and boldly colored landscapes shocked the New York art scene in the early 1900s.  With his revolutionary ideas and eloquent voice, Oscar Bluemner became part of a group of artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Arthur Dove, John Marin, and Marsden Hartley, among others, who essentially brought modernist art to life in America.

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia:
Trained as an architect in his native Germany, Oscar Bluemner immigrated to America in 1892 and soon launched an architecture firm in New York.  Disillusioned with his practice by 1910, he was drawing and painting full-time and producing moody landscapes inspired by the vanguard pictures in Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery 291, especially those by Georgia O’Keeffe and Marsden Hartley.

In 1912 he traveled to Europe, where he was deeply affected by Kandinsky’s spiritually based work and the emotive color used by Van Gogh and Gauguin.  Upon returning to New York, Bluemner formulated a distinctive style comprised of architectonic forms and expressive hues. (1)

During the late 1920s Bluemner moved to South Braintree, Massachusetts, which was a time of artistic growth and great personal turmoil. (2)  Destitute, and reeling from his wife’s death the previous year, he channeled his despair into his work — many of them watercolors — featuring boldly simplified domestic structures nestled within melancholy landscape settings. (3)

According to Bluemner’s color system, which assigned physical and emotional properties to specific hues, red was of primary importance as representing “power, vitality, energy, life…passion, struggle.” (4)  He regarded color as a universal language akin to music that, properly orchestrated, stirs all regions of the psyche.


Sources include:
1. The strength of his new work earned him representation in the landmark Armory Show of 1913, and a one-person exhibition at 291 in 1915.

2. Jeffrey R. Hayes, Oscar Bluemner (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991): 122. Hayes considers the South Braintree works as “the third and final phase” of Bluemner’s career and one in which he launches into “full application of his theories that challenged both vanguard and popular standards.”

3. Ibid: 129. Around 1927, Bluemner was working to develop a more vivid and durable watercolor medium capable of serving as a “less cumbersome alternative to oils.”

4. Oscar Bluemner, My Own History, Painting Diary, April 21, 1918, Bluemner Papers, Archives of American Art (339: 552), translated by Jeffrey R. Hayes. Much of Bluemner’s color theory is shaped by that of Goethe and Chevreul. Staff, Columbus Museum

Biography from Boca Raton Museum of Art:
Oscar Florianus Bluemner (1867-1938) was born in Preuzlau, Germany where he studied to be an architect before immigrating to the United States.  Bluemner, one of the first artists to be presented by Alfred Stieglitz at his "291" gallery*, was given his first one-man show at "291" in 1915.

Oscar Bluemner played a significant role in the introduction of abstract art in this country.  Primarily interested in color, he became a precursor of the artists seriously engaged in color field research, such as Josef Albers and Burgoyne Diller. Bluemner's landscapes served as a vehicle to present the results of his color theories.

In his paintings, Bluemner incorporated aspects of both Fauvism* and Cubism*. He was influenced by the nineteenth-century color theorists Michel-Eugene Chevreul and Rood who were involved in the development of orphism.*

Five of Bluemner's paintings were included in the Armory Show* of 1913, and in the 1916 Forum Exhibition that furthered the cause of modern art in America. (The purpose of the Forum Exhibition was to redirect interest away from the European and toward the American avant-garde*.

By The Boca Raton Museum of Art
Catalina Torres (Intern)

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com Glossary http://www.askart.com/AskART/lists/Art_Definition.aspx


** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


Oscar Bluemner is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
New York Armory Show of 1913
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