Oscar Bluemner (1867-1938, German-American)

Oscar Bluemner, cats in art, cat paintingsOscar Bluemner (1867-1938, German-American) was a draftsman and painter. His life was not easy.  Artists’ lives rarely are.  But at his side through those struggles was his long-haired, orange cat named “Florianus”.

Oscar Bluemner’s paintings were hailed by the critics and admired by his peers.  He should have been successful but sold very little during his lifetime.  Was it his Prussian heritage?  He could not help the accent, but became a U.S. citizen before the turn of the twentieth century.

Following the lead of famed art promoter Alfred Stieglitz, Bluemner received openings in many of the top showcases for Modern Art in New York City, as well as Boston, Chicago and St. Louis, including the famous Armory Show of 1913 and the very first Whitney Biennial in 1932.  But after Georgia O’Keeffe purchased one of his paintings, it seems like no one else did.  So, was it bad painting or just bad luck?

Oscar Bluemner was born in Prezlau, Germany. The son of an itinerant builder, he obtained a degree in architecture before emigrating to the US, due to the repressive policies of the Kaiser.  Even then, he was receiving awards for his painting, which he found time to do on his own.

He was an architect first and should have been successful at that as well.  Soon after graduation, he designed homes and public buildings in Germany.  In New York, his designs were chosen for the new Bronx courthouse, but his boss took the credit, and Bluemner had to sue in order to get paid.  In the process, he helped take down Boss Tweed and the Tammany Hall gang.  But his career as an architect was over.

Oscar met Stieglitz in 1908, and Alfred encouraged him to paint.  He introduced him to the artistic innovations of the European and American avant-garde. Like others in Stieglitz’s circle of Modernists, such as Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, and John Marin, Oscar felt an intense relationship with everyday American scenes.  Bluemner, however, added a passionate sense of color, which he used against the architectural forms of his former career.  Stieglitz told Bluemner that “The work is virile – it’s your own – and it’s damn good.”  He gave him a show in his gallery and Oscar wrote articles for Alfred’s “Camera Work” magazine.  But his work just didn’t sell.

Oscar did not just paint a scene; he gave it an entirely new life, transforming a factory into something alive through his use of color.

He was obsessed with painting, and while he did odd jobs in an attempt to put food on the table for his wife and child, they had to move from cold-water flat to cold-water flat, to stay one step ahead of the landlord.  His wife died in 1926.  He continued painting.  What else could he do?

We do not know when the cat Florianus came to live with Oscar, but he died in 1931.  A couple of years later, Oscar took the name “Florianus” as his own middle name and thereafter, signed his paintings in this way.

Florianus, Oscar Bluemner's cat, cats and artists

 

Life never got easier for him.  After a series of accidents and illnesses, Oscar Bluemner took his own life in 1938.

The few paintings that were purchased are rarely seen and in 1997, his daughter Vera Kouba, donated more than one thousand pieces done by her father to Stetson University in Deland, Florida, where she retired.  Bluemner’s paintings can now be seen at the Hand Art Center at Stetson.

Oscar Bluemner painting

 

 

Painting by Oscar Bluemner

 

 

Snow and Glow by Oscar Bluemner, 1935

Snow and Glow, 1935
Signed with his cat’s name, Florianus

This article was contributed by Rusty Hammer, XtremeArtTourist.

 

 

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