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Oscar Bluemner

A Situation in Yellow


Oscar Bluemner, A Situation in Yellow, 1933  67.66
Oscar Bluemner, A Situation in Yellow, 1933. Oil on canvas, 36 × 50 1/2 in. (91.4 × 128.3 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Nancy and Harry L. Koenigsberg  67.66 For Teachers

about this work

A Situation in Yellow, completed in the last decade of Oscar Bluemner’s life, depicts gaunt, dark trees and lemon-colored houses set against a sky painted in muted tones of vermillion red, the artist’s signature color. This image, inspired by a visit he made to New Jersey—where he lived from 1916 to 1926—is rendered luminescent by overlapping glazes of pure pigment, a process the artist called “tone building.” Bluemner likened the composition of a painting to musical structure and orchestration: pigment was a key on the piano; the shifts in tones were octaves and harmonies. With its bold geometries and unified rhythm, A Situation in Yellow strikes a dark, shimmering chord. Color here, as in all of Bluemner’s work, is intended to represent primary emotions and possess mystical and emotive properties. “When you FEEL colors,” he said, “you will understand the WHY of their forms.” In his system, yellow signified light and warmth, and black stood for sorrow and society; the combination, he remarked, worked to “stir up an exquisite sensation.”

Barbara Haskell. Oscar Bluemner, A Passion for Color. (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, distributed by Harry N. Abrams Inc. 2005), 146.


Audio guide stop for Oscar Bluemner, A Situation in Yellow, 1933

Look Closer

What are some words you would use to describe this image?

Where do you think this place is? What makes you think that?

What do you recognize in this painting? 

What is the environment like in this place? 

How do the colors that the artist chose affect the way you look at this place? 

Would you have chosen the same or different colors? Why?


Oscar Bluemner made paintings of landscapes with both natural features and man-made structures. He focused especially on the industrial factories that lined the rivers of New Jersey where he went to sketch. Bluemner would then rework his sketches in his studio, using color and shapes to infuse these ordinary subjects with an emotional presence.

As a class, look closely at A Situation in Yellow. What colors and shapes does Bluemner use? What kind of mood does this painting have? Why might have Bluemner titled it A Situation in Yellow?

Ask your students to think about a landscape they see on a daily basis; for example, their home, school, or favorite park. Have them re-imagine this scene using cut out or drawn geometric shapes. Go over the drawings or collages as a class. Which shapes did students use? Did they use any unusual shapes or colors? What mood or feeling does their artwork express?

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