Born in Germany in 1867, Oscar Blumner trained as an architect in Berlin before emmigrating to America in 1892, where he soon turned his attention to painting. His early work consisted mostly of abstract landscapes in watercolor until a trip to Europe in 1912 exposed him to Expressionism, which led to his development of a personal style emphasizing brilliant reds, blues and greens. By 1908, Bluemner established himself as a major American Modernist when Alfred Stieglitz chose to represent him at his gallery, 291. Bluemner's New York period culminated with the inclusion of five paintings in the seminal Armory Show of 1913, followed by his first one man show at 291 in 1915. The next year he exhibited at the prestigious Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters. His work from these years assured Bluemner's standing as one of the country's leading Modernists, and his subsequent work during the twenties further developed the intensity of Bluemner's expression of emotion in his art and are considered by many to be his greatest works.
In 1924 Bluemner began a new series of watercolors. In these, "he applied the lessons he had learned from Asian and Old Master art and philosophy. Inspired by the proposition that Tao, the life spirit, penetrated all matter and that no object held more importance than any other, Bluemner infused all parts of his watercolors with 'the life-movement of the spirit.' Wedding glowing color with rhythmic, undulating forms that overlapped in a shallow proscenium space, he created a portrait of nature's interlinking energies that embodied the exultant spirituality he now wanted for his art." (B. Haskell, Oscar Bluemner: A Passion for Color, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2005 p. 85)
The following year was a turning point for Oscar Bluemner with the sudden death of his beloved wife, Lina. The artist's grief and despair had profoundly affected his approach to painting, and inspired him to begin a large group of eighteen extraordinary works known as his Sun and Moon series. Moon Radiance, an exceptional tour de force from this series, born of his personal tragedy, offers a life affirming depiction of nature and its spiritual force.
Within this series, "for subject matter, Bluemner now chose suns and moons, symbols...of 'God or the universal creative force.' His brilliant orbs of color were successors to O'Keeffe's series Evening Stars, which she had included in her 1917 show at 291, and precedents for Dove's Sunrise series from 1937. In Bluemner's hands, the imagery became a potent signifier of the conversion of matter to 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.'" (Bluemner: A Passion for Color, p. 98)
Bluemner calls upon color to shape and stimulate mood in Moon Radiance which is likewise characterized by dramatic rings and bands of color around the dominant image of a full, radiant, yellow moon. Here, Bluemner sought to convey in a single 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 Moon Radiance, Bluemner presents an image which summarizes in a powerful, dramatic composition his artistic strivings of the previous decade. As with the entire series, Moon Radiance also conveys Bluemner's elegaic passion for color and the transformative power of art.