Oscar Florianus Bluemner, a German-born American Modernist painter, was born on June 21, 1867 in Prenzlau, Germany. Oscar Bluemner early followed in the architectural careers of his father and grandfather. During the early 1880s, Bluemner studied painting and architecture at the Royal Academy of Design in Berlin. He showed early promise as an artist, holding a one-man show of portraits in 1886 at the Berlin Latin School. In 1892 he won a medal at the Royal Academy of Design in Berlin. At the time, Oscar Bluemner was dissatisfied with the restrictive aesthetic policies of Emperor Wilhelm II’s government.
In 1893, Oscar Bluemner moved to Chicago, where he freelanced as a draftsman at the World’s Columbian Exposition. After the exposition, he attempted to find work in both Chicago and New York City, however he could not find steady employment. Bluemner relocated to New York in 1901. In 1903, he created the winning design for the Bronx Borough Courthouse in New York.
In 1908, Oscar met Alfred Stieglitz, who introduced him to the artistic innovations of the European and American avant-garde. By 1910, he decided to peruse painting full-time rather than architecture. In 1912, Bluemner sailed for Europe, where he had a one-man show of landscapes at the Gurlitt Galleries in Berlin. After, he traveled to Paris and Italy where he was inspired by the museums he visited, as well as the works of Matisse, Cézanne, and the Futurists. In England, he toured Roger Fry’s Post-Impressionist exhibition at Grafton Galleries and became fully committed to the modernist ideology.
In 1913, Oscar Bluemner exhibited at the Armory Show, and also wrote an article defending modernism for Stieglitz’s progressive publication Camera Work. In 1915, he had a solo exhibition at Stieglitz’s gallery, 291. During this period, Bluemner’s paintings were tightly structured compositions in the Cubist manner. In 1916, he exhibited at the Forum Exhibition, and regularly at the Bourgeois Gallery. He also exhibited at the Montross Gallery. Stieglitz continued to support Bluemner, giving him a solo show in 1928, and a one-man exhibition at the Whitney Studio a year later. Although Bluemner participated in several exhibitions, including solo shows, Bluemner failed to sell many paintings for the next ten years, and lived with his family in near poverty.
After his wife’s death in 1926, Bluemner moved to South Braintree, Massachusetts, to live in virtual seclusion. He continued to paint and exhibit until he was involved in an auto accident and was told he could never paint again. Oscar Bluemner committed suicide on January 12, 1938.
Stetson University holds more than 1,000 pieces of Bluemner’s work. Oscar Bluemner is represented in private and public institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Phillips Collection, and the Corcoran Gallery, both in Washington, D.C.; the Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, and the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Texas. From 2005 to 2006, his career was the subject of a major retrospective, “Oscar Bluemner: A Passion for Color,” organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.