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Oscar Bluemner

A Situation in Yellow


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.”

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

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