Skip to main content

Oscar Bluemner papers, 1886-1939

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.