Bernhard Gutmann: An American Impressionist by Percy NorthBernhard Gutmann: An American Impressionist by Percy North

Bernhard Gutmann: An American Impressionist

byPercy NorthIllustratorWilliam H. Gerdts

Hardcover | October 1, 1995

Pricing and Purchase Info


Earn 553 plum® points

Prices and offers may vary in store

Out of stock online

Not available in stores


Surprising and long overdue, this is the first monograph on a major American Impressionist and Post-Impressionist, one who recorded his travels, his family, and the joys of life with luscious color and exuberant sensibility.

The founder of the Silvermine Guild, a successful teacher, illustrator, and master of ceramic and graphic art, Bernhard Gutmann received serious critical acclaim during his lifetime, and his work was shown in major exhibitions and museums. But since his death in 1936 his work has gone unnoticed, largely because he did not need to sell his art. His works remained in the family rather than going to the collectors, museums, and galleries that would have introduced him to a general audience.

Born in 1869 and educated in Germany, Gutmann arrived in the United Stated at the age of 23. From modest immigrant beginnings—he moved to Virginia to work as an electrician—he rose to be the first superintendent of drawing in the Lynchburg public schools. After his marriage to Bertha Goldman, granddaughter of the founder of the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, he was free to concentrate on his art alone.

Described during his "rediscovery" in 1988 as "an American Gauguin," Gutmann had a great influence on American regional art: he organized the still functioning Lynchburg Art Club in Virginia and later assisted in the foundation of the thriving Silvermine Guild of Artists in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Percy North has been a lecturer in the Liberal Studies program at Georgetown University since 1985. She is a Professor Emerita from Montgomery College in Rockville, MD where she was the Coordinator of the Art History program for 25 years. William H. Gerdts, author of American Impressionism, Art Across America, and Impressionist New Y...
Title:Bernhard Gutmann: An American ImpressionistFormat:HardcoverDimensions:199 pages, 11.3 × 10.4 × 0.97 inPublished:October 1, 1995Publisher:Abbeville Publishing Group

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1558596119

ISBN - 13:9781558596115


Read from the Book

Excerpt from Bernhard Gutmann:Introduction: The Two Natures of Bernhard GutmannAcclaimed during his lifetime as a painter of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist landscapes, still lifes, figure paintings, and genre scenes as well as a graphic artist, an illustrator, an inspiring teacher, and a significant influence on the development of regional art centers in Virginia and Connecticut, Bernhard Gutmann (1869-1936) achieved a position of prominence that has not been unacknowledged in the annals of American art history. Gutmann was actively working and exhibiting during the first three decades of the century and showed his work in major exhibitions and in important museums. In 1938, two years after his death, a retrospective of his work was held at the Vanderbilt Art Gallery, accompanied by a catalog with a laudatory introduction written by his brother-in-law Ashton Sanborn, the secretary of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. After 1938, however, Gutmann's work went largely unnoticed because it remained in a few private collections, making it inaccessible to the public. Gutmann reputation faded until his name was unfamiliar even to most art historians. This artistic disappearing act—by a painter who created an extensive and engaging body of work—occurred not simply because Gutmann's style fell out of fashion but in part because of the artists own professional choices and personal circumstances. Torn by conflicting tendencies to express his elation and despair and by his struggle to reconcile his more conservative artistic style with the growing radicalism of early modernism, Gutmann chose a path that led to a career whose richness and importance was overshadowed after his death and is only now beginning to unfold.A German immigrant who settled in Lynchburg, Virginia, before moving to New York City in 1899, where he established a fine-art printing company with his brother Hellmuth, Gutmann largely avoided the struggle for survival in the artistic marketplace through his marriage to Bertha Goldman in 1907. Gutmann found every artists dream of a beneficent patron in his father-in-law, lawyer Julius Goldman, the son of Marcus Goldman, the founder of the investment banking firm Goldman-Sachs. Goldman provided the Gutmann family with an annual income that relieved the artist from his duties at the Gutmann and Gutmann printing company. From the time of his marriage, therefore, Gutmann was able to immerse himself in his own artwork without having to depend upon steady employment or the vagaries of the art market. Gutmann and his family were also able to travel to Europe, where the artist returned to seek inspiration.Gutmann's exhibition history presents a curious paradox. Gutmann exhibited his work at prominent galleries in New York and Paris as well as at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, but his paintings did not enter any of these permanent collections. Even today, the majority of Gutmann's work remains in a handful of private trusts and collections; only Breton Lacemakers in the Terra Museum of American Art is easily accessible to the public. Because Gutmann's paintings have been so rarely seen and studied since his death, many of them are not definitively dated, and an exact chronology of the artists work has not been made. Many of Gutmann's paintings, however, can be dated by style and locale.The works that Gutmann chose to exhibit also affected the course of his career. Although he participated in the most important and influential exhibitions of his time—including the 1913 Armory Show, the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, and the 1917 and 1918 Society of Independent Artists exhibitions in New York—Gutmann did not submit his most compelling works to these exhibitions. Instead of sending his powerful Post-Impressionist landscapes, Gutmann sent his most conservative and traditional works to those venues where his most inspired and challenging work might have been appreciated. Gutmann's earliest submissions to major exhibitions were portraits of his infant daughter and images of Breton peasants; such subjects had been explored extensively during the last three decades and critics and audiences no longer found them to be original or fresh.Gutmann's entries in the Armory Show, In the Garden (fig. 44), and the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, Nude with Parrot (fig. 57), are engaging compositions, but they are derivative of earlier Impressionist work by artists such as Claude Monet and Edouard Manet, and they lack the vitality and exuberance of his landscapes and sketches. Next to the avant-garde Cubism of Marcel Duchamp and the vibrant colorism of Henri Matisse, Gutmann's In the Garden was overlooked in critical commentaries of the Armory Show, and Nude with Parrot was overshadowed by Frederick Friesekes' Summer at the Panama-Pacific Exposition. Several perceptive critics wrote favorably about Gutmann's impressive landscapes when they were exhibited in New York, but Gutmann ignored their appraisals; he did not exhibit these works widely.Born and reared in Germany, Bernhard Gutmann seemingly had a head start as an artist over his American contemporaries because he was trained at the celebrated European art academies to which artists flocked during the nineteenth century. European study and travel had been considered prerequisites for aspiring American artists even before Gutmann attended the academies at Düsseldorf and Karlsruhe. As Impressionism became increasingly popular at the end of the nineteenth century, more and more Americans gravitated to the ateliers in Paris and made pilgrimages to the idyllic pastoral villages in France and Holland where contemporary European masters such as Paul Gauguin had found inspiration. Like many aspiring artists, Gutmann traveled to Holland in search of picturesque subjects. By the time he left Germany for the United States in 1892, Gutmann had assimilated the rigorous academic style taught in the German academies and was familiar with the plein air painting techniques of the Impressionists. He arrived in the United States during a massive wave of immigration when America was on the brink of a technological revolution, but he settled in Lynchburg, Virginia, isolated from important cultural and intellectual currents.Gutmann began his career as a successful American painter, teacher, illustrator, and graphic artist in Lynchburg. Appointed the first superintendent of drawing in the Lynchburg public schools in 1895, Gutmann shaped and inspired the cultural life of the city through both his teaching and his organization of the Lynchburg Art League, which survives as the Lynchburg Art Club. Gutmann continued to nurture the growth of regional art after he moved to Connecticut in 1913, where he was instrumental in the founding of the still-flourishing Silvermine Guild of Artists, and in the development of the guilds ceramic program.In Lynchburg, Gutmann explored artistic subjects and techniques characteristic of his traditional German academic training. His relocation to New York in 1899 opened his eyes to Impressionism, And he began to redefine his style. Although he shared the Impressionists fascination with light and color, Gutmann did not embrace the floating formlessness of their compositions, nor did he devote himself to depicting only subjects of modern life. Generally bypassing the sparkling divided hues of Impressionism, Gutmann adopted broad, high-keyed strokes of color taken directly from the tube, a technique first used by Post-Impressionist painters such as Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh during the 1880s and 1890s.The color strategies of Post-Impressionism (the term was first coined in 1910 by the English painter and critic Roger Fry to designate artistic developments extrapolated from the color theories of Impressionism) were the most experimental techniques that Gutmann essayed in his painting. Although still popular in the United States during the first decades of the century, Impressionism—and Post-Impressionism—had already been eclipsed in Europe by a number of new stylistic currents, such as Cubism and Futurism. Gutmann was exposed to these early modernist movements while living in Europe from 1907 to 1912, but he was not favorably drawn to the influence of the new avant-garde. Back in the United States, Gutmann adhered to those subjects and themes popular among the older American Impressionists such as Childe Hassam and J. Alden Weir, who were working in Connecticut where he settled on his return. Like them, Gutmann rendered the sunny aspects of life, filling his canvases with idyllic vistas of the surrounding countryside, intimate glimpses of aesthetically arranged interiors, beautiful still lifes, and staged genre scenes featuring family members.Gutmann held tenaciously to the rigorous discipline of his academic training, doing careful drawings and preparatory sketches for finished works, despite his attraction to the bolder use of line and color associated with Post-Impressionism. He always began his work with a series of pencil sketches in notebooks, then produced oil sketches, or pochades, on small wooden panels before completing finished works in oil on canvas or linen. He used only the finest materials, including linen and exquisite wooden panels bought in Paris from the firm of Lefebvre-Foinet. Gutmann's small panel paintings exhibit a greater freedom and spontaneity than many of his refined canvases, and their active surfaces and vivid tones align them with the strategies and spirit of Post-Impressionism. Gutmann, however, did not consider these lively sketches to be finished works, and he submitted his more polished, less adventurous compositions for exhibition. Acclaimed for his still lifes, he was probably more innovative and successful as a landscape artist.Bernhard Gutmann was lively, energetic, friendly, and amusing, but he could also be moody and mercurial, and his works demonstrate a deeply rooted ambiguity: they may be joyful or macabre, rural or urban, purely Impressionist or influenced by the later Post-Impressionist aesthetic, American or European in sensibility. The polarities in Gutmann's temperament reflect compelling conflicting currents in his work. The sunnier aspects of Gutmann's nature were expressed in his pastoral landscapes, domestic scenes, and bountiful still lifes, while his accompanying melancholy surfaced in darker, brooding compositions filled with themes of death and decay. These somber works became increasingly prevalent in Gutmann's later years, when the artist—and the entire country—was mired in depression.A late self-portrait, painted when he was fifty-nine, depicts the dilemmas that so profoundly affected Gutmann and serves as a metaphor for his career. Two Natures (Self-Portrait) (fig. 99) presents a smiling, cigarette-smoking Gutmann painting the finishing touches on a frowning mask of his own face. Behind the artist is a cityscape of buildings, railroad tracks, and telephone poles that disintegrates as if it is being toppled by an earthquake. Occupied by his work, the painter is oblivious to the pandemonium around him. While the figure is carefully rendered in a realist style, the background is defined by geometric Cubist planes and dynamic Futurist lines. Gutmann is clearly demonstrating that he has remained a painter of identifiable natural elements, even when surrounded by new, more abstract artistic movements—and by a turbulent, collapsing world. The conceit Gutmann has created shows a portrait of himself smiling, while the happy image of the artist is shown painting a morose, despondent likeness of himself.A compositional diagram that Gutmann made for a friend, labeled Optimist and Pessimist, explains the artists theory about depicting the polarities of human emotion, which he so powerfully illustrates in Two Natures (Self-Portrait). According to Gutmann diagrams, upward-sweeping lines signify happiness while those that curve down indicate sadness. These expressive linear patterns also animate works by Georges Seurat, with which Gutmann was probably familiar.Two Natures (Self-Portrait) reflects both the innate duality of human nature and the artists own confusion about his rapidly changing world. Being completely immersed in his art, Gutmann allowed himself the luxury of ignoring the exigencies of daily life; it became difficult for him to comprehend and assimilate the enormous social, political, and artistic upheavals taking place during the early decades of the twentieth century. Gutmann struggled to balance the old world and the new, holding fast to his belief in the primacy of art as a personal, poetic expression of nature while trying to find eternal meaning in his contemporary experience and a place in his adopted home. His legacy is a vivid and eloquent record of an artistic odyssey recorded in a remarkable body of late Impressionist and Post-Impressionist work that richly deserves reintroduction.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents for Bernhard Gutmann:

Preface by William H. Gerdts

Introduction: The Two Natures of Bernhard Gutmann

Becoming an Artist

Gutmann and Gutmann: New York and Paris

Turning Point: Silvermine

The Wander Years

The Final Journey







From Our Editors

Bernhard Gutmann (1869-1936) was a leading member of the American Impressionists, helping to establish the influential Silvermine Guild of Artists in New Canaan, Connecticut. After marrying Bertha Goldman, granddaughter of the founder of the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, he was free to devote his life to his work without pressure to become a commercial artist. His vibrant paintings portray his travels and happy family life, capturing the style for which he was lauded as "an American Gauguin."

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Bernhard Gutmann:"In this richly illustrated monograph, North, a professor of art history at Montgomery College in Maryland, presents a straightforward account of the artist's relatively uneventful life, which, except for occasional trips abroad, was spent in Lynchburg, Va., New York and Connecticut. The excitement is in the painting's luminous canvases glowing with brilliant impressionist colors applied in bold post-impressionist brush strokes or directly from the tube. Although a somber element crept into the later works, when Gutmann was deeply affected by the stock market crash of 1929, the rise of Nazism in Germany and illness in his family, most of the paintings are sunny creations that, in the impressionist tradition, have immediate appeal because of their sparkling, sensuous colors and their cheerful evocation of everyday life. This beautifully produced book with superb color reproductions should reestablish Gutmann's reputation. " — Publisher's Weekly