Oscar Bluemner (1867 - 1938)
Harlem River #3, 1913
Watercolor on paper
5 x 8 inches
Inscribed in the right hand margin: Aug 24-13 / OFB (artist's device) / Harlem River / #3
O'Reilly Salander, New York, New York
Kraushaar Galleries, Inc., New York
Private Collection, Connecticut, until 2006
A serious student of color theory (as well as Oriental art and Symbolist subject matter), Bluemner showed interest in the compositional properties of Synchromism, but was particularly intrigued by Goethe's writings on the psychological effect of colors on the human consciousness. Though he acknowledged the roles of line and distinctive shapes in his work, he believed color was the single most important element in modern painting: "A 'painting' must be conceived as a specific idea of one principal color and several secondary [ones] as accompaniment. Like a melody. This is essence, form and line are only container…We react more to color than to line, such is the Zeitgeist" [as quoted in Hayes, p. 112].
Though the 1920s brought the artist a degree of critical and commercial success, he remained poverty-stricken, hiding from eviction notices, performing odd jobs to stay financially afloat, and frequently finding himself unable to afford the materials necessary to create his art. The card stock employed in the present work (evidently some sort of an invitation) attests to Bluemner's thrift in recycling materials so that he could continue to paint. As he once starkly remarked to Georgia O’Keeffe, “you never had to get old paint and grind it up to use again…you were never that poor.” [Georgia O’Keeffe to Jeffrey R. Hayes, July 3, 1980, as quoted in Hayes, p. 104]
The present work is strongly representative of Bluemner’s artistic philosophies concerning the emotive properties of color which can be clearly seen in this weighty, dark composition which utilizes somber hues indicative of the artist’s response to his surroundings.