Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden

University of Nebraska

Lincoln, NE



Alfred H. Maurer: American Modernist

April 10 - July 1, 2001


The first American artist to incorporate European modernist ideas, Alfred Henry Maurer (1868-1932) was influential in introducing the innovations of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and other members of the avant-garde to American painters and sculptors. Through prescient acquisitions by the Nebraska Art Association from the 1950s and a generous bequest by New York gallery dealer Bertha Schaefer, the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery owns 29 Maurer paintings dating from his earliest mature work to the end of his career. A selection of approximately 20 works from this collection, representing all phases of the artist's development, is featured in Alfred H. Maurer: American Modernist, on view from 10 April through 1 July 2001 at the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery.

The son of an illustrator, Maurer was reared in an artistic environment and apprenticed to a lithographer as a youth. In 1897, he traveled to Paris, where he studied briefly, then largely trained himself by sketching in the galleries at the Louvre. Influenced by artists James Abbott McNeill Whistler and William Merritt Chase, whose paintings attracted the attention of many young Americans studying in France at the time, by the turn of the century Maurer was producing dark-toned canvases depicting female figures and Paris cafes. By 1901 he was awarded first prize in the prestigious Carnegie Museum (Pittsburgh) and during the next four years, Maurer earned additional medals and accolades in the United States and abroad. Although many of Maurer's works from this period were destroyed when he suddenly left Paris at the outbreak of World War I, several rare examples are in the Sheldon's collection. Study for Jeanne, a canvas made in preparation for a well-known larger painting, and Café Interior of 1904 provide insights into the artist's early style and his interest in scenes of daily life that had occupied artists from the 1870s.

By 1906 Maurer was adopting the vibrant colors and schematic rendering of the emerging French painters dubbed "Fauves" (or "Wild Beasts") in his canvases, including his famous Woman with Hat and Landscape with Farm (both 1907), also on view. These paintings reflect his exposure to the work of such artists as Matisse in the pivotal 1905 Salon d'Automne (or fall salon) exhibition and at the apartment of American collectors Leo and Gertrude Stein. Maurer first presented his new work in European exhibitions, but in 1909 with John Marin was the first American modernist painter to have his work exhibited at Alfred Stieglitz's avant-garde Fifth Avenue gallery, 291. Despite the severe criticism his work received in art reviews in the United States, Maurer persisted in exploring modernist principles in colorful landscapes and still lifes he painted while residing in France.

When Maurer was forced to leave Europe by the outbreak of World War I in 1914, he anticipated returning to Paris, but in fact stayed in the United States for the remainder of his life. He settled with his aging father and, although isolated from European modernist developments, continued to explore new styles. Maurer proceeded to investigate the approaches of Cézanne and cubist artists, notably in still-life paintings such as Still Life with Fruit (about 1912) and Still Life with Doily (about 1930). And, by the mid 1920s, he was creating a series of portraits that focused first on half-length figures and then on heads presented in increasingly abstract form. Examples of these resonant heads, characterized by their long necks and sensitive portrayal, include Two Women (1930) and Father and Son (about 1930).

Maurer's relationship with his aging father has been characterized as tumultuous, and was especially stressful after the elder, conservative artist was rediscovered by the popular press in the mid-1920s. Although Maurer gained New York gallery representation at about the same time, his experimental work never provided him the support he envisioned and was dismissed by his parent. Nonetheless, shortly after his father's death at the age of 100, a discouraged Maurer took his own life, ending a dynamic, if poignant, career.

Curator: Janice Driesbach, Director

Read more about the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden in Resource Library.

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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