Support the Whitney
Become a founding member today.Join now
Oscar Bluemner was born in Germany and studied architecture in Hanover and Berlin, but he turned to painting shortly after emigrating to the United States in 1892. In the early years of the twentieth century, he moved to New York and met the photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz, who introduced him to the innovations of the European and American avant-garde. By 1911, Bluemner gave up architecture to pursue painting full-time. His prismatic, boldly geometric canvases—filled with factories, barns, and winding country roads—were in step with the non-naturalistic approach to color and form practiced by American modernists. With their dynamic pictorial structure and architectonic color planes, his compositions also reflected his background and training as an architect.
Bluemner believed that color could portray abstract emotional states, much as music did. He developed a fully-realized system of color symbolism, equating color with emotional communication and mystical meaning, and concentrated on composing landscapes using planes of pure color. “Landscape painting speaks to the soul like a poem or music, more intimately than any other kind of painting,” he said. “I present a surprising vision of landscape by the daring new use of colors.” Bluemner identified red, which for him symbolized energy, power, and life, as his signature color, and boldly adopted “The Vermillionaire” as a pseudonym in 1929.
During the 1910s, Bluemner achieved his first public successes; his work was exhibited in the landmark 1913 Armory Show as well as in a solo exhibition at Stieglitz’s 291 gallery in 1915, which led to more exhibitions. Throughout his career, however, Bluemner had difficulty selling his work, and his family often lived in conditions of poverty. By the mid-1920s, he began to paint more naturalistic landscapes at his new home in Braintree, Massachusetts. After suffering a car accident that left him severely injured, Bluemner took his own life in 1938.
Oscar Bluemner: In Retrospect. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1939), n.p.
Barbara Haskell, Barbara. Oscar Bluemner, A Passion For Color. (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, distributed by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 2005), 118-9.