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Oscar Bluemner (1867-1938)
Oscar Bluemner (1867-1938)

Sunset on the St. Lawrence

Oscar Bluemner (1867-1938)
Sunset on the St. Lawrence
signed with conjoined letters 'OBlümner' (lower left)--signed again, dated '1927' and inscribed with title (on a label affixed to the reverse)
watercolor on paper
9½ x 12¾ in. (24.1 x 32.4 cm.)
The artist.
Estate of the above.
[With]James Graham & Sons, Inc., New York.
William W. Collins.
Collection of Barbara and Sorrell Mathes, New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 2009.
The Intimate Gallery, Oscar Bluemner--New Paintings, exhibition checklist, New York, 1928, no. 16.
New York Cultural Center, Oscar Bluemner: Paintings, Drawings, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1969, n.p., no. 50.
J.R. Hayes, Oscar Bluemner: Life, Art and Theory, vol. II, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Maryland, 1982, p. 430, no. 72.
J.R. Hayes, Oscar Bluemner: Landscapes of Sorrow and Joy, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 1988, p. 57, no. 78, illustrated.
B. Haskell, Oscar Bluemner: A Passion for Color, New York, 2005, p. 107, fig. 90, illustrated.
New York, The Intimate Gallery, Oscar Bluemner--New Paintings: A Series of "Water Colors" (Synthetic Medium) and 6 Oils--Of Suns, Moons, Etc., Facts and Fancy--Strains or Moods, February 28-March 27, 1928, no. 16.
New York, New York Cultural Center, Oscar Bluemner: Paintings, Drawings, December 16, 1969-March 8, 1970, no. 50.
Washington, D.C., The Corcoran Gallery of Art, and elsewhere, Oscar Bluemner: Landscapes of Sorrow and Joy, December 10-February 29, 1989, no. 78.
New York, Barbara Mathes Gallery, Inc., Oscar Bluemner: American Modernist, April 12-June 6, 1997.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Oscar Bluemner: A Passion for Color, October 7, 2005-February 12, 2006.

Lot Essay

Sunset on the St. Lawrence Sunset belongs to a seminal series of eighteen works on paper that Oscar Bluemner produced from February to April in 1927. Collectively referred to as "Suns, Moon, Etc.-Facts and Fancy-Strains or Moods" when they were exhibited at Alfred Steiglitz's Intimate Gallery in early 1928, these powerful and symbolic works depict richly-hued celestial orbs, which Bluemner believed to be symbols of "God or the universal creative force."

The sun and moon motif is one that radiates through American Art, from George Inness' dusky works of the 1880s to Georgia O'Keeffe's seminal Evening Star watercolors of 1917, Bluemner's 1927 series, Arthur Dove's Sunset explorations a decade later and then into the Post-War period with Adolf Gottleib's explosive orbs, Kenneth Noland's concentric targets and Roy Lichtenstein's Pop sunsets.

According to Barbara Haskell and as exemplified by Sunset on the St. Lawrence, "In Bluemner's hands, the imagery became a potent signifier of the conversion of matter into spirit. Concentric bands of color, radiating from a central core onto natural and man-made forms, fused the polarities of body and soul, life and death, ecstasy and terror, male and female, yin and yang into a 'single, isolated, emotional, ecstatic moment' They were 'outward symbols of hidden ideas, forcesthe Ego and Altera [the other]the Duality in ourselves as well as in Nature,' [Bluemner] wrote." (Oscar Bluemner: A Passion for Color, New York, 2005, p. 98)

Bluemner calls upon color to shape and stimulate mood in Sunset on the St. Lawrence. In this expressive image, a dramatic red sun radiates bands of orange, purple and pale green light into the early evening sky. The work is an homage to the spiritual force of nature as well as an existential reflection on the universal dichotomies that govern life. Here Bluemner conveys in a single, powerful image a range of emotions, which he sought to formally link to specific colors. "Now, as his desire to convert emotions into physical form took on a new urgency...[Bluemner] revised a chart...that linked colors with psychological properties. He associated red with power, vitality, energy, life, passion, struggle; blue with serenity; yellow with aggression; green with repose; and violet with unrest." (Bluemner: A Passion for Color, p. 98)

In Sunset on the St. Lawrence, Bluemner presents an image which summarizes in a forceful, dramatic composition his artistic strivings of the previous decade. As with the entire series, Sunset on the St. Lawrence also conveys Bluemner's elegaic passion for color and the transformative power of art.

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