DescriptionOSCAR BLUEMNER (American, 1867-1938)
Moonlight on a Creek, circa 1928-29
Oil on board mounted on panel
13-1/2 x 9-1/2 inches (34.3 x 24.1 cm)
Signed with monogram lower left: O. Bluemner
PROPERTY FROM THE KING COLLECTION, TEXAS
J.B. Neumann, New York;
By descent through the family of the above;
Irma Rudin, New York, circa 1980;
Richard York Gallery, New York;
Martha Parrish & James Reinish, Inc., New York;
Steven Koman, Winchester, Virginia;
Owings-Dewey Fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico;
Acquired by the present owner from the above, January 2000.
Whitney Studio Galleries, New York, "Twenty New Oil Paintings on Panels," 1929, no. 5;
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, "Oscar Bluemner: Landscapes of Sorrow and Joy," 1988, no. 89;
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, "Oscar Bluemner: A Passion for Color," October 7, 2005- February 2, 2006;
El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, Texas, "Modern American Painting 1907-1936: The Maria and Barry King Collection," September 8, 2013-January 8, 2014, no. 85.
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Oscar Bluemner: Landscapes of Sorrow and Joy, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 1988, p. 63, illustrated;
B. Haskell, Oscar Bluemner: A Passion for Color, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2005, pp. 117, 130-31, fig. no. 110, illustrated;
"Discovering American Modern 1907-1936: The King Collection," American Art Review, December 2013, pp. 80-87, 127, illustrated;
P.S. Cable, Modern American Painting 1907-1936: The Maria and Barry King Collection, exhibition catalogue, El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, Texas, 2013, pp. 206-07, no. 85, illustrated.
Painted circa 1928-29, Moonlight on a Creek is a powerful symphony of form and color, and a seminal work that was one of twenty paintings exhibited at New York's Whitney Studio Gallery (as no. 5) in 1929. The work was subsequently purchased by J.B. Neumann, a famed art critic, author, lecturer and publisher on Modernism, who also founded the New Art Circle Gallery in New York. The work remained in Neumann's private collection, and subsequently with his descendants, until circa 1980.
In 1926, Bluemner's beloved wife passed away. The artist was deeply saddened by the event, and the resulting emotional trauma ultimately drove him to leave his home in New Jersey with his daughter and resettle in South Braintree, Massachusetts, where Moonlight on a Creek was likely painted.
Bluemner often chose to take his surroundings as his subject matter, rendering them in a thoroughly modern fashion. He wrote of this predilection, "I prefer the intimate landscape of our common surroundings, where town and country mingle. For, we are in the habit to carry into them our feelings of pain and pleasure, our moods, in fact Nature with her own color combinations causes our soul to vibrate and furnishes themes." (as quoted in R.S Favis, "Painting 'the Red City': Oscar Bluemner's Jersey Silkmills" American Art, spring 2003, p. 32) Here Bluemner masterfully employs color as expression and reduces the scene to simple shapes and colors in order to capture his emotional response to the setting. He simplifies trees, buildings, and sky, rendering them with broad, emotive brushwork to create a powerful, restless and captivating composition. Bluemner's choice of mundane subject matter distinguished him from his contemporaries and displays the thoroughly individual nature of his art.
Although there is a strong focus in his art on form, color was the most important compositional element to Bluemner. He believed that color should be used as an expressive tool rather than to accurately transcribe a scene and, reminiscent of Der Blaue Reiter artist Wassily Kandinsky, he saw a connection between color and music. He wrote, "To clearly and masterfully show new original color beauty as a result of our own general ideas of color, on the things around us, is the problem of the modern colorist and it is now more nearly related to musical art, than ever before. Color now is not a phenomenon of light or atmosphere or of a societies [sic] state of mind (power, historical subjects, vanity, religion, etc.) but individual relation to modern mans [sic] culture, and aspirations, the result of all achievements of modern life, especially in science, technique, literature and...music" (as quoted in "Painting 'the Red City': Oscar Bluemner's Jersey Silkmills," p. 33). In Moonlight on a Creek, Bluemner juxtaposes primary blues, yellows, and acidic greens, each heightening the effect of the other, setting a tonal dialogue. The arching trees at center echo the undulating buildings that flank the composition, creating a rhythmic unity in the scene while flattening the pictorial space to underscore the formal qualities of the work.
In 1929 Bluemner exhibited twenty small but exquisitely rendered panels that were displayed at the Whitney Studio Gallery. These twenty panels, including Moonlight on a Creek, were executed in an experimental technique that involved cementing academy board on a panel, priming it with a smooth, hard lead white finish, and then painting the image with multiple layers of oil resin and pigment, separating each with a layer of poppy oil and finishing the surface with an amber-oil varnish. This hard varnish created a glossy surface akin to enameled lacquer. The result, as evidenced by Moonlight on a Creek, is powerful, dramatic composition that manifests Bluemner's fully developed artistic vision, one that was both thoroughly unique and decisively modern.
The study for Moonlight on a Creek (tempera on paper, 7 ½ x 5 inches) is in the collection of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, California.
Please note that the present work has been requested for the Bowdoin College Museum of Art's forthcoming exhibition Night Vision--Nocturnes in American Art, 1850-1950, scheduled for June 25 through October 11, 2015. Artists from Winslow Homer to Andrew Wyeth and from Albert Ryder to Georgia O'Keeffe were attracted to the visual effects of the night and evoked its mystery, menace, and promise in their art. Organized by Bowdoin's curator, Dr. Joachim Homann, this exhibition of American night scenes proposes their central importance in the development of modern art. A major catalogue published by DelMonico Books-Prestel will accompany the exhibition, and will include contributions from leading scholars in the field, including Avis Berman, Daniel Bosch, Linda Docherty, and Alexander Nemerov.
Estimate: $600,000 - $800,000.
Under UV exam, there does not appear to be any evidence of inpainting. No other apparent major condition issues to note. This painting is framed using Optium (museum acrylic glazing), which provides clear legibility for examination with both white light and black light. In order to maintain the integrity and airtight sealing of the housing, the painting was not viewed out of the frame for the condition report. Should you wish to have a more extensive report, we recommend firsthand inspection by a professional conservator. For assistance, please contact the department. Framed Dimensions 15.75 X 19.75 Inches
*Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.
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