Hackensack River
by Oscar Bluemner
19.2-Bluemner_HackensackRiver-Naples-2000.15.011
Oscar Bluemner (German-American, 1867–1938), Hackensack River, 1912. Oil, 20 × 30¼ in. (50.8 × 76.8 cm). Collection of the Naples Museum of Art, Naples, Fla. 2000.15.011. Museum purchase made possible by William J. and Suzanne von Liebig

The influence of Cézanne
Hackensack River is one of sixteen oil paintings Oscar Bluemner made between June 1911 and February 1912. These works reflect both his architectural training and his interest in Paul Cézanne, whose paintings he encountered at Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 gallery in March 1911. Bluemner considered Cézanne’s work a model of formal rigor and geometric simplicity, and determined to follow his lead in eliminating “what is not essential to the unity of the idea.” 1

To the Armory Show
Bluemner was not included in the original list of American artists invited to participate in the Armory Show. He submitted work only after the organizers’ Domestic Committee relaxed its entrance policies due to large demand from uninvited artists, and was pleased when the organizers selected five of his works—three watercolors and two oils. 2 The show marked Bluemner’s American debut as a painter, though he had exhibited his work at the Galerie Fritz Gurlitt in Berlin in May 1912. 3 The Armory Show critics mostly overlooked his contributions, although the New York Evening Mail briefly noted that his watercolors deserved “praise for solid merit.”

Reworking the canvas
There are no photographs or sketches of this canvas as it appeared in 1911, making it impossible to know the full extent of Bluemner’s repainting. However, the artist’s description of the 1911 work suggests that it was more expressively rendered: “The special task is how to represent such multitude of things as bridge-structure and town houses on hills in a unity as a pictorial effect, instead of a photographic unpictorial illustration, which would be of no interest in the picture. A multitude of shadows, lights … and of local colors … all making a unity of mass of texture, to which the sunlight, and air and the indifference of the eye and mind contribute special generality or superficiality of observation!” 4

[1] Quoted in Barbara Haskell, Oscar Bluemner: A Passion for Color, exh. cat. (New York: WhitneyMuseum of American Art, 2005), 35.

[2] The watercolors were South River (current location unknown), Canal in New Jersey (current location unknown), and Harlem River (Naples Museum of Art, Florida). The other oil was Morning on Long Island (reworked in 1917 and now called Aspiration, Winfield, private collection).

[3] Haskell, 38.

[4] Entry for painting number 13, Hackensack River in Painting and Theory Diaries: Painting Diary, June 12, 1911-January 30, 1912, Oscar Bluemner Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., available online at www.aaa.si.edu.

Oscar Bluemner (1867-1938)

Bluemner trained as an architect, but gave it up in 1911 to focus on painting. He had become interested in modern art about 1907, when he began educating himself about art practice, history, and theory. [1] Bluemner visited every noteworthy exhibition in New York and voraciously read German and American art magazines, theoretical texts, and technical treatises. In 1908 he first visited Alfred Stieglitz’s Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession at 291 Fifth Avenue, where he likely saw an exhibition of works by Henri Matisse. He began frequenting the gallery, formed a friendship with Stieglitz, and in time became as informed as anyone in Stieglitz’s circle about modern art.  In June 1912 Bluemner visited the massive Internationale Kunstausstellung des Sonderbundes Westdeutscher Kunstfreunde and Kunstler (International Art Exhibition of the Federation of West German Art-Lovers [Patrons] and Artists) in Cologne, Germany, which included nearly 700 examples of contemporary European art and served as the model for the organizers of the Armory Show. He felt that the American effort did not measure up, concluding that: “The new art movement of Europe has once more established the standard of true art. It is up to the American also to give his art the form of the living day.” [2]

[1] Barbara Haskell, Oscar Bluemner: A Passion for Color, exh. cat. (New York: WhitneyMuseum of American Art, 2005), 32-33.

[2] Ibid., 38.

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