Skip to main content

Oscar Bluemner papers, 1886-1939, 1960

Oscar Bluemner papers, 1886-1939, 1960

Bluemner, Oscar, 1867-1938


Representative image for Oscar Bluemner papers, 1886-1939, 1960

The papers of Oscar Bluemner in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2008. The papers have been scanned in their entirety and total 15,820 images.

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Collection Information

Size: 6.6 linear ft.

Summary: Correspondence, printed materials, exhibition catalogs, painting diaries, sketches, notes on painting, and photographs.

The papers of painter Oscar Bluemner date from 1886 to 1939, with one item from 1960, and measure 6.6 linear feet. The collection documents Bluemner's career through scattered biographical material and personal and professional correspondence. Almost one-half of the collection consists of Bluemner's extensive writings and notes about his artwork, painting techniques, and art theory in the form of diaries, notebooks, lists, essays, and notes - many of which are also illustrated. Also found are annotated books, exhibition catalogs, newsclippings, artwork and sketches by Bluemner, and photographs of Bluemner's artwork and of architecture. Bluemner's work in architecture is documented to a lesser degree through scattered licenses, photographs, and design drawings.

Biographical material is scattered and includes autobiographical writings, a list of published works, an essay for a Guggenheim fellowship application, certificates, legal documents, and membership records. Also of note are detailed technical diagrams of his studio easel. The small amount of correspondence in this collection is with family, friends, artists, art galleries and museums, art collectors and patons, and others. Notable correspondents include Stephan Bourgeois, Edward Bruce, Ernest Fiene, Arnold Friedman, Stefan Hirsch, Walter Hochschild, Margaret Lewisohn, Aline Liebman, George Ferdinand Of, Albert Rothbart, Alfred Stieglitz, and Ludwig Vogelstein.

Bluemner's extensive writings about his painting techniques and theories, and art history and criticism are found in painting and theory diaries, notebooks, notes, lists of artwork, essays, and writings for publication. Painting Diaries, 1911-1936, contain Bluemner's handwritten notes about newly-completed paintings and current work, amounting to a fairly complete record of work done during this period, including many sketches, color schemes, and information about his materials and techniques. The entries, although not daily, are extensive and extremely detailed. He writes of his philosophy of art, aesthetics, critics, his ideas on color and composition, influences on his thoughts, the role of the artist, the need for the artist to remain independent and uninfluenced by criticism, the work of other artists, contemporary art, exhibitions, etc. Theory Diaries contain his notes on art theory. Both sets of diaries contain many color illustrations and sketches. Also of particular interest are Bluemner's notes and homemade notebooks on techniques which he often called "Easel Notes." Also found are notes on paintings he viewed in American art collections and four volumes of notes taken during his tour of Europe in 1912. Bluemner also maintained extensive notes on Chinese and Japanese art history and styles. Additional writings include a collection of notes he compiled and organized from his other diaries, notebooks, and writings for a book on painting.

Bluemner's papers also contain books and exhibition catalogs annotated with his notes and illustrations - many of which are on the subject of Chinese and Japanese art. Art motif and travel sketches contain motifs and artwork that Bluemner developed into themes for his paintings. Most of the travel sketches are of towns in New Jersey, but also include sketches and notes on Italy, which he visited in 1912. There is also a small sketchbook and drawings of buildings Bluemner designed.

Printed material includes exhibition catalogs and announcements, some of which are annotated with prices and additional information, as well as news and magazine clippings, and prints of published writings by Bluemner. Photographs found in the collection include three photographs of buildings Bluemner designed, photographs of artwork, one print of Bluemner, and negatives.

Additional Oscar Bluemner papers were loaned by James Graham & Sons, Inc. in 1968 for microfilming. Loaned material is available on reel N737 but is not described in this finding aid.

Biographical/Historical Note

Oscar Bluemner (1867-1938) was a painter from South Braintree, Mass. and Germany. Born in Germany and trained as an architect. Became a painter and moved to the United States in 1892. Became associated with the group of advanced artists associated with Alfred Stieglitz.


Unmicrofilmed materials and materials on reels 338-344 donated 1970-1985 by John Davis Hatch, a close friend of Bluemner and an art historian. Materials on reel N737 lent by Graham Gallery, 1968.

Related Materials

Additional Oscar Bluemner materials are available at the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, and within the Vera Bluemner Kouba Collection, Stetson University, Deland, Florida.


Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Location of Originals

  • Reel N737: Originals returned to lender, Graham Gallery, New York, N.Y., after microfilming.

A Finding Aid to the Oscar Bluemner Papers,
1886-1939, 1960
, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
Oscar Bluemner (1867-1938) was born Friedrich Julius Oskar Blümner in Prussia in 1867. As a child he received some formal art training. He enrolled in the architecture department of the Konigliche Technische Hochschule (Royal Technical Academy), Berlin, and received his architecture degree in 1892. A few months later he moved to the United States and worked in Chicago as a draftsman at the World's Columbian Exposition. After the exposition, Bluemner attempted to find work in both Chicago and New York City, but could not find steady employment. In 1903 he created the winning design for the Bronx Borough Courthouse, and for the next few years had various intermittent jobs as an architect in New York. Around this time Bluemner also began writing down his thoughts on aesthetics, art history, and art theory, which he would continue to do for the rest of his life in various journals, diaries, and notebooks.
In 1908 Bluemner met Alfred Stieglitz at Stieglitz's gallery, known as "291", and by 1910 he had decided to pursue painting full-time rather than architecture. From 1911 to 1912 he worked on a set of Neo-Impressionist paintings and, using the money he won in a suit regarding the Bronx Courthouse design, he went on a seven-month trip to Europe, touring museums and galleries, and exhibiting his own work in Germany. Upon returning to the United States, Bluemner exhibited in the 1913 Armory Show, and in 1915 had a one-man show at 291. Despite participating in several exhibitions, including solo shows, for the next ten years Bluemner failed to sell many paintings and lived with his family in near-poverty. In 1916 he moved to New Jersey, living as an itinerant, until finally settling in South Braintree, Massachusetts, after his wife's death in 1926. Over the next few years, Bluemner had several prominent one-man shows at the Whitney Studio Galleries and at the Marie Harriman Gallery in New York. He was briefly employed for the Public Works of Art Project in 1934 and the Federal Art Project in 1936, but due to failing health was forced to stop painting. Oscar Bluemner committed suicide in 1938.
The collection is arranged into 9 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1886-circa 1937 (Box 1, OV 9; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1889-1936 (Box 1; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 3: Painting & Theory Diaries, 1911-1936 (Box 1-2, 7; 1.2 linear feet)
Series 4: Writings & Notes, 1891-1892, 1909-1937 (Box 2-4, 8; 2.2 linear feet)
Series 5: Annotated Books & Catalogs, 1907-1933 (Box 4-5; 1.0 linear feet)
Series 6: Art Motifs & Travel Sketches, 1902-1936 (Box 5-6, 8; 1.4 linear feet)
Series 7: Artwork, 1892-circa 1930s (Box 6; 4 folders)
Series 8: Printed Material, 1906-1939, 1960, undated (Box 6; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 9: Photographs, 1891, 1903, circa 1930s (Box 6; 5 folders)
Unmicrofilmed materials and materials on reels 338-344 donated 1970-1985 by John Davis Hatch, a close friend of Bluemner and an art historian. Materials on reel N737 lent by Graham Gallery, 1968.
Location of Originals
  • Reel N737: Originals returned to lender, Graham Gallery, New York, N.Y., after microfilming.
Processing Information
Portions of the collection received a preliminary level of processing at some point after donation. The collection was microfilmed in the order in which it was received on reels 338-344 except for the last donation which was not microfilmed. The entire collection was fully processed, arranged, and described by Erin Corley and digitized in 2008 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Additional Forms Available

The bulk of the collection was digitized in 2008 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Oscar Bluemner papers, 1886-1939, 1960. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

  • No downloads available