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Oscar Bluemner (1867–1938)

Untitled [Red Building by Canal)

APG 20877D



Untitled (Red Building on Canal Path), 1933
Gouache on paper, 5 x 7 in.

RECORDED: Oscar Bluemner Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, “List of New Sketches and Notes for New Works, 1930–1934,” Box 2, Folder 11, Frame 2 ( 

EX COLL: private collection until the present

Bluemner painted this gouache in 1933, six years after his move to Massachusetts.  In his notebook, he records the scene as “Water Color 5 ̎ x 7 ̎”. He goes on to specifically describe and assign a number to the work. “Vermeil house . . . Ul blue sky & canal / red wall & path . . . green Trees / Record #262.” A similar gouache, #275 also executed in 1933, Psychological Concept in Paint (Factory Path by Canal), (formerly collection of Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York), is identified as Bloomfield, the New Jersey town where Bluemner lived from 1916–18. The revisiting of former thematic subjects and locales was common practice for the artist, since he was most certainly not a topographical painter, but, a creator of “psychological concept[s] in paint.” Sketched memories of the town of Bloomfield presented a set of familiar elements for Bluemner to manipulate to make the statement he sought. Through the 1920s Bluemner had evolved a complicated and nuanced set of color meanings based on Goethe’s color theory as filtered through the artist’s favored palette of deeply saturated hues. Color expressed emotion, but form also spoke of psychological forces. Bluemner worked out a vocabulary of psychosexual terms referring to form. Buildings, which embodied the man-made environment, were male and by extension, phallic, just as the artist was, in fact, a male architect. Trees had female connotations, “altera” for Bluemner, from the Latin word “alter” for other, with a Latinized female “a” ending. Vertical straight lines were male and phallic, while curvilinear lines were female. Buildings, Bluemner’s alter egos on the canvas, were characteristically a shade of vermillion red,  so distinctive an element in Bluemner’s work that he adopted the pseudonym “the vermillionaire” in 1929. It was an ironic play on his (and Goethe’s) favorite color as well as a reference to his nearly permanent state of financial desperation. 

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