Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Addicted to Modernism

“The artist must be free to paint his effects.
Nature must not bind Him.”
Alfred H. Maurer

“It’s Complicated” is the relationship status the best describes that which existed between the American painter Alfred H. Maurer and his German born artist father, Louis. Whilst desirous of parental approval the son was unable to ignore the need to paint works that expressed the zeitgeist of European Modernism inspired by the Fauvists and Cubists; a tendency that grieved the older man.

The artist Jerome Myers wrote in his autobiography, Artist In Manhattan, “His father, Louis Maurer, was an old-time artist, who had worked on the Currier & Ives lithographs. When I met him at an exhibition of the Independents at the Grand Central Palace, he was a quiet-mannered man, whom I took to be about seventy-five years old. Later I learned that he was then already ninety-five ... Speaking of his son, Alfred, he evidently could not sympathize with—or, as he said, understand—the ultra-violets and ultra-blues of that phase of Alfred's work. He seemed so proud of what his son had done, but so grieved at what he was then doing.”

That the younger man took his own life weeks after the death of his father was the culmination of 17 years dependence that the eminent art critic Robert Hughes described as a banishment to a hell of oedipal conflict."

At the age of 16 Maurer left school to work in his father’s lithographic studio. As a 29 year old, Maurer escaped to Paris only to return four years later to show his skeptical parent that he could  indeed paint. In a matter of hours Maurer painted arguably his most famous work An Arrangement (see above). A significantly influenced Whistleresque genre style work in both execution and title, it was awarded the first prize in the 1901 Carnegie International Exhibition.

Seven years later, back in Paris, Maurer abandoned the acceptable painting style of the day for which he was gaining an international reputation to concentrate on works inspired by Cezanne and Matisse. A genre that was to inform Maurer’s work for the rest of his life.

The advent of the First World War impelled Maurer to return to American and there the disapproving parent provided him with a garret in his Manhattan home as a studio. Maurer was unable to return to his beloved Paris and spent the rest of his days in New York plagued by the torture of neglect.

About his work Maurer is reported in a 1983 Whitney Museum of American Art catalogue to have said "My main concern in painting is the beautiful arrangement of color values -- that is, harmonized masses of pigment, more or less pure. For this reason, it is impossible to present an exact transcription of nature....It is necessary for art to differ from nature....Perhaps art should be an intensification of nature; at least it should express an inherent feeling which cannot be obtained from nature except through a process of association.”

The Exhibition Alfred Maurer: Art on the Edge is currently on show at Arkansas’ Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art until the 4th of January next year.

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