About the Artist
Oscar Bluemner was called The Vermillionaire by other artists because of his use of brilliant reds and bold colors. Bluemner was a driving force in the creation of American Modernism.
Early Life and Education
Oscar Bluemner was born in Prenzlau, Germany in 1876, to a family of artists and artisans. In 1885, Bluemner was given a solo exhibition at the Elberfeld gymnasium, where he had taken studio and art history courses. He studied design and architecture at the Royal Academy of Design in Berlin and received the Royal Medal of Architecture Award in 1891.
In 1893, Bluemner and moved to Chicago, where he was hired as a designer and draftsman for the Chicago World’s Fair. Bluemner got an architecture license, became a U.S. Citizen and moved to New York in 1901. He found work with architect Michael Garvin, who resigned his job as Bronx’s Superintendent of Buildings to focus on designing the Bronx Borough Courthouse, a task offered to him by Borough President, Louis F. Haffen. After Garvin’s initial proposals were rejected, Garvin hired Bluemner to help with the designs. Bluemner claimed that it was his design that Garvin had submitted to the Art Commission and that Garvin had promised to share the credit, and the fee, with him. Bluemner sued Garvin, won his case, which led to an investigation of corruption of City Hall and the resignation of Haffen. Bluemner continued to work as an architect in the private sector, but the scandal fueled his desire to leave architecture focus on his painting full time.
Career and Family
Bluemner met photographer and gallery owner, Alfred Stieglitz, in 1908. Stieglitz championed many of the avant-garde artists in New York and gave Bluemner the support and impetus he needed to pursue his painting career. He traveled to Europe in 1912 and was influenced by the Cubist works he saw there.
His own style of painting combined cubism, architectural forms and bold colors. Bluemner’s work was chosen for the revolutionary Armory Show in 1913, which introduced American audiences to European and American avant-garde art.
Stieglitz gave him a solo show at his 291 Gallery in 1915, and he exhibited his work fairly regularly, but barely sold enough paintings to keep his family fed.
Bluemner married Lina Shumm in 1987, while still living in Chicago. Their son, Robert was born in Chicago and daughter, Vera, was born in New York. Although Bluemner enjoyed positive critical reviews, he was not selling enough work to feed his family, and he moved to New Jersey in 1916, looking for a cheaper place to live.
Bluemner continued to draw and paint, even when he had to find work doing home repair to try to keep the family fed.
His wife died in 1926, and he moved to Braintree, Massachusetts to live with his son. His works were exhibited and, he was invited to submit work to shows at the Whitney and other museums, but his health began to fail and a car accident forced him to stop painting.
Bluemner committed suicide in 1938.
Bluemner’s daughter, Vera Bluemner Kouba, bequeathed her collection of Oscar Bluemner’s work to Stetson University in 1997. The collection is housed in the HandArt Center in DeLand, Florida.
Bluemner’s work can be found at the Whitney, the Met, the Smithsonian and many other major venues.
His landscape Jersey Silk Mills sold for $3.7 million at Christie’s in 2014.
Oscar Bluemner Self Portrait 1933
Oscar Bluemner Evening Tones
Oscar Bluemner Venice 1912