Sunday, 5 June 2016


“The huge problem in our society is the enormous ignorance of the ideas that underlie modern art.” - Thom Mayne

Elise Blumann (16 January 1897 Parchim, Germany – 29 January 1990, Nedlands, Western Australia) was a German born artist who achieved recognition as an Australian Expressionist painter. Blumann studied at the Royal Art School in Berlin between 1917 and 1919, whilst also maintaining friendships and associations with artists at the Academy of Arts (the former Prussian Academy) - notably, Blumann recounted sitting for a portrait for artist Max Liebermann and also described his teaching methods although no verifiable evidence is available to confirm Liebermann as her tutor.

After this, Blumann taught in various schools in Germany from 1920 to 1923, when she married Arnold Blumann. She fled Nazi Germany with her husband in 1934, arriving at the port of Fremantle, Western Australia on the passenger liner Ormonde on January 4, 1938. In the decade following her arrival in Western Australia, Blumann produced a significant body of painting, taking as her subject the Western Australian landscape, her family and her new circle of friends. These works investigate the unique light and colour of the Western Australian landscape in a style informed by her knowledge of German Expressionism. Among these were “Summer Nude”, 1939, which in caused a scandal when exhibited in Western Australia in 1944 due to both its depiction of nudity and its bold, simple shapes and lines.

With the then Curator of the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Robert Campbell, she helped found the Art Group, a discussion group through which she promoted modernist ideas and attitudes in art and art education. However, in the 1950s Blumann became disillusioned with the possibilities of art in Western Australia and only painted sporadically. Her work first received national attention in the late 1970s some fifteen years before she died in 1990, aged 93. She has since been acknowledged as a significant contributor to Australian modernist painting, prefiguring the development of the similarly landscape-based modernism in Western Australia associated with painters Guy Grey-Smith and Howard Taylor.

Blumann remained faithful to the modernity of her vision in creating portraits, figurative studies and many paintings of her beloved West Australian landscape. She believed while painting in Perth that a fresh light should shine into the gloom of European-style classical landscapes and the arts and crafts movement that characterised Perth’s cultural scene at the time. Blumann’s many memorable images of her adopted landscape show no signs of homesickness, but rather hint at a great affection that grew over time. “Only slowly can one draw close to the Australian landscape,” she wrote, “at the beginning it seems not all that absolutely different but the longer one lives with it, the more one recognises how opposite everything is to Europe.”

The painting above is "Riverside Melaleuca" of 1948.

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