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Oscar Bluemner

(1867 - 1938)

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Biography

Oscar Bluemner was born in Prenziau, Germany, in 1867, where he trained as an architect before immigrating to the United States in 1892. By 1900 he had settled in New York where his interest in Modernism soon led him to Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery. There he saw works by American artists, including Marsden Hartley, Alfred Maurer, and John Marin. In response to these artists, over the next few years Bluemner discarded the dark and tonalist palette that he had developed in Germany in favor of intense colors and simplified forms. In 1912, Bluemner visited Germany where he saw the Sonderbund Exhibition, an aspiring survey of European Modernism, which was the precursor of the 1913 Armory Show. Already convinced of the transcendental and emotive power of color, Bluemner became profoundly impressed by Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin. He also identified with the spiritual aspects of German Expressionism and, in particular, the elegant styles of Kandinsky and Klee.

Returning to New York later that year, Bluemner further simplified his style into a series of regulated shapes, uniting his dual interests in architecture and color to form a unified whole. He exhibited five pictures in the 1913 Armory Show, all landscapes that included trees and architectural elements rendered as flattened and simplified forms in high-toned, prismatic colors. The confluence of German and American modernist traditions at the heart of Bluemner’s style impressed Stieglitz, who mounted a solo exhibition of his work in late 1915 and secured his participation in the Anderson Gallery’s Forum Exhibition of American Painters in 1916.

Moving to New Jersey in 1916, Bluemner continued to exhibit in Manhattan with a series of shows at the Bourgeois Galleries held between 1917 and 1923 and at J. P. Neumann’s New Art Circle between 1924 and 1926. That year, Bluemner moved to South Braintree, Massachusetts, where he would remain for the rest of his life, although he maintained his artistic link to New York City with shows in 1928 at Stieglitz’s Intimate Gallery and at the Whitney Studio Gallery the following year. In the 1930s, Bluemner began to evolve his aesthetics to an ever more modernist interpretation of the world around him. While he painted and exhibited works documenting similar subjects to his earlier period, he did so with increased spatial ambiguity and structural abstraction.