Alfred Maurer

Linda Larson

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Alfred Maurer (1868-1932) concentrated on expressionist portraits and cubist studies of heads.  In Paris from 1897 to 1914, he witnessed the birth of the modern art movement.  Maurer had trained at the National  Academy and gone to Paris in 1897.  Seven years later, he was introduced to the salon of Gertrude and Leo Stein at 27 Rue de Fleurus, whose walls were hung with Matisses and Picassos.  The American's style was instantly transformed.  Maurer comprehended completely the art of Matisse, as his Woman with Blue Background reveals.  At this time, Maurer abandoned any obligation to realistic depiction, casting aside allegiance to an academic ideal in favor of a newfound freedom in color and design.  "His conversion was sudden; according to the sculptor Mahoni Young, from the day of his thirty-sixth birthday Maurer 'painted like a wild man.  He was never again the light-hearted, gay Alfy we had known" {Rose 45).

In 1909, Stieglitz gave Maurer, Hartley, and Marin their first one-man shows in this country.  The critics were particularly shocked by the exhibition of Alfred Maurer.  His figure paintings were characterized by elongated, large-eyed figures, often of paired heads, and his still lifes were cubist in style showing overlapping planes as in Still Life with Doily (Brown et al. 368).  Like all of the artists Stieglitz encouraged and sponsored, Maurer was desperately involved in finding his identity as a modern American artist.  Over the next ten years, he painted with great vigor in a fauvist style and was one of the modern American artists to be invited to exhibit in the Armory Show.  Unfortunately, Maurer dropped into almost total obscurity after the exhibition.

With the 1914 outbreak of war in Europe, Maurer, returned to America to move in with his aging father.  His father, Currier and Ives lithographer Louis Maurer, famed for his popular renditions of the Old West, loathed modernism.  He was old, bitter, obdurately conservative; consequently, his son endured an increasing flood of slights, abuses, and contempt.  Maurer's final humiliation as an artist would occur in 1931 when Louis Maurer held his own one-man show.  In the newspaper accounts, the younger Maurer was mentioned as "also an artist."  His father's popular success in the face of his own failure was doubly crushing.  Louis Maurer died at the age of one hundred on July 19, 1932.  The following August 4, Maurer ended his own life.  His paintings of cubist heads have often been interpreted to symbolize his antagonistic, perhaps perverse and demented relationship with his aged father.

Maurer had always planned to return to Paris.  In fact, he kept his Paris studio until 1925; unable to pay his back rent, he allowed his paintings there to be sold to cover the debt.  (Some of his work was recovered and exhibited in 1950.)  After his return from Europe, Maurer appeared to lose confidence in his own intuition.

During the 1920s, he worked with Jay Hambidge's diagrams, which offered mechanical solutions to compositional problems.  Abandoning the traditional color wheel, he divided a circle into twenty-four segments, but his preferred palette remained light oranges, yellow-reds, pale blue-greens, and violets of his Fauve works.  In the later still lifes, such as Green Striped Bowl, the broken stroke is replaced by slab-like planes applied with the palette knife.  Maurer frequently painted on masonite panels, and his later paintings were scrubbed, scraped, and repainted many times.  In Maurer's eye, a painting was finished when it had a frame.  His habit of constantly repainting the same surface led to the effacement of a series of nudes in 1927-28. (Rose 46)

One of the more tragic stories of art history, Maurer's  as an artist is said to have been typical of the nonconforming artist in America, one of "talent, even genius; success; revolt; long silence, and withdrawal into the solitude of his work" (Rose 45).

Linda Larson

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