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Alfred Maurer: The First American Modern


The dramatic development of an artist is the focal point of the new exhibition, Alfred Maurer: The First American Modern, which will be featured February 4 until April 10, 2004 at the Greenville County Museum of Art in Greenville, South Carolina.

Modernism has been defined as art that makes a self-conscious break with previous genres, and Alfred Maurer (1868­1932) fits the description precisely.  His father, Louis Maurer, was a well-known painter and lithographer, at one time employed by Currier and Ives. When Alfred was sixteen, his father pulled him out of school to work in the family lithographic firm. The young man chafed at the pressure and hated the work. After thirteen years, he bolted for Paris, where he created representational paintings that earned recognition in exhibitions throughout Europe and the Americas. (right: Alfred Maurer, Two Heads, circa 1930)

Life as an American expatriate brought Maurer in contact with the international avant-garde, and he welcomed the twentieth century by enthusiastically embracing the style of Paul Matisse, the leader of the Fauves. Derived from the French term for "Wild Beasts," Fauvism referred to paintings that employed brilliant color applied straight from the tube to create an emotional response from viewers. Maurer created landscapes and still lifes in the Fauvist style, using bold, exaggerated colors. But he didn't earn critical acclaim for his Paris work, much of which he abandoned in 1914 when he fled France to escape the winds of war.  He returned to America and moved in with his father, working in a garret there for the next seventeen years.  The exhibition offers a broad view of his production during these years: sensuous drawings and paintings of nude figures are contrasted with Cubist heads and a series of iconic, distorted female figures.  He found some acceptance during these years, but he never achieved peace with his father, who despised Maurer's modernist adventures. The elder Maurer died in 1932 at the age of 100, and Alfred took his own life just a few weeks later.

Alfred Maurer: The First American Modern is an exhibition drawn from the collection of Ione and Hudson Walker, donated to the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

It is accompanied by a full-color, illustrated catalog, which will be available for purchase in the Museum Shop.

Maurer will be the focus of a gallery talk by Curator Martha R. Severens on Sunday, February 15 at 2 p.m. On Thursday, April 1 at 6:30 p.m., Severens will host a program called "Artist and Model." It will use The First American Modern as the point of departure for a discussion with area artists on the relationships between artists and their models. Both programs are free and open to the public.


Editor's note:

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In addition to the source material provided by the Greenville County Museum of Art, AskArt.com's biography of the artist notes that:

"Before World War I, he [Maurer] was drawn to the work of Dutch painter Franz Hals and the Spanish painter Diego Velazquez and was also influenced by Americans John Singer Sargent and James Whistler. In 1901, his painting titled "An Arrangement," done in the rich, impressionist, tonal style of Whistler won first prize at the Carnegie International Exhibition..
Between 1905 and 1907, Maurer, influenced by his friendship with expatriates and avant-garde focused Gertrude and Leo Stein as well as Henri Matisse and Paul Cezanne, moved away from tonalism to Fauvism, and for this reason, some have called him the first modernist American painter.
He returned to New York City and circulated among most of the young modernist painters of the city and seemed to much influenced by the painting of Marsden Hartley and Arthur Dove. Interestingly he was not of particular interest to Alfred Stieglitz, who prided himself on sponsoring leading edge artists, but he did exhibit in Stieglitz' Photo-Secession Gallery in 1909."

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