4/5/10

FRITZ BULTMAN | THE MISSING IRASCIBLE


Collage: Fritz Bultman, Red Lap Barrier 1971 [paper & gouache] In the Irascibles photo: Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Adolph Gottlieb, Ad Reinhardt, Robert Motherwell, Clyfford Still, James C. Brooks, Hedda Sterne, Jimmy Ernst, Bradley Walker Tomlin, Richard Pousette-Dart, Barnett Newman, Theodoros Stamos, William Baziotes, Mark Rothko. Irascibles Photo, Nina Leen/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Over the years, my godfather George talked about his friends, Fritz and Jeanne Bultman. Though he had not seen Jeanne for quite some time, he stayed in touch with her until her death in 2008. Her husband, Fritz Bultman who was part of the abstract expressionist group of painters in the 1940s, had died in 1985. My godfather spent summer days with the Bultmans in Provincetownalong with Tennessee Williams, Donald Windham, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner and the Hofmanns. Born in 1919 into a prominent New Orleans family, Fritz Bultman studied abroad where he met Maria and Hans Hofmann. In 1937, after a year of study at Chicago's New Bauhaus School [a school he thought was "anti-painting"]—he left and spent four years studying under Hans Hofmann in New York and Provincetown.


Bultman collages: Explorer: Sky and Water, 1968 | Rooting, 1975 | Sky Harp, 1977
[paper, gouache, crayon]

In 1950, Bultman started showing at the Samuel Kootz Gallery—prominent dealer of abstract expressionist paintings. On May 22, 1950 the New York Times published a front-page article with the headline "18 Painters Boycott Metropolitan Museum: Charge Hostility to Advanced Art."  The article was in response to an open letter to the newspaper protesting the organizations and the juries responsible for selecting the work for the Metropolitan Museum's American Art Exhibition, to be held in December of the same year. The group of artists responsible for the letter, became known as the Irascibles. A photo of the group was published in the January 15, 1951 issue of Life magazine—containing a who's who of the abstract expressionist movement.


The Way Up and the Way Down, 1975 | November Wave, 1978 | Mardi Gras, 1978 [paper and gouache]

Fritz Bultman was not present for the Irascibles photo. He was studying sculpture at the time in Italy and missed the most important photo opportunity of his life. I asked art scholar and curator of Fritz Bultman, Collages [1997 exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia], Evan R. Firestone—if he thought Bultman's absence from the famous Irascibles photo, affected his success as an artist. "I think Fritz would have been somewhat better known in the 50s if he was in the Irascible photo, but he would not have attained the fame of most of the others in the photo. Much of Fritz's painting in the 40s was strong and tough, but not particularly ingratiating. There was a hiatus in his production in the early to mid-50s, and afterwards his work became increasingly Matissean, especially the collages—which I greatly admire—but the art world had moved on [Minimalism, Pop, Post-Minimalism, etc.]."


Other, 1981 | Daphne I, 1984 | Floating II, 1980 [paper and gouache]

Like his good friend, writer Donald Windham, Bultman never quite attained the name-recognition achieved by his contemporaries. In a letter from Butlman to Windham, Fritz writes: "I have long realized that your position, like mine, was untenable in the face of worldly acceptance and that the price of independence was obscurity. You must realize that character-wise you cannot make any other choice. Also there is no redemption thru time like in the 19th cent. It is only thru work that pleasure/reward will come to us, to make work the be all and the end all in itself."

I think the work of Fritz Bultman deserves another close look. And, once again... it's my godfather George who is leading me there.


Reap, 1981 | Interrupted, 1984 [paper and gouache]
Collage images from: Fritz Bultman Collages, 1997 exhibition catalogue, Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia

A thank you to scholar: Evan R. Firestone

Update on 4/19/13 - I have just learned that Edelman Arts has recently become the exclusive New York representation for the Bultman estate and is currently presenting a solo exhibition of his work. Visit here to learn more. 

11 comments:

  1. Extraordinary! What a lucky man George was to have known so many great artists and how lucky you were to have had him as a part of your life. Thank you for sharing another wonderful artist and fascinating story.

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  2. Thanks Viv! I thought this might interest you ; )

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  3. AnonymousJuly 16, 2010

    I stumbled upon this post as I searched to revive a memory of working with Fritz Bultman and his wife Jeanne on a stained glass project at Kalamazoo College many years ago. Thanks for the magical moment-remembering.

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  4. I am delighted that you stumbled upon my blog and this post about Fritz Bultman. I will search to see I can see stained glass, which I assume is still there? Thank you very much for leaving your note!

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  5. I just came across this post. I fell in love with Fritz Bultman's work when I saw a post card of one his paintings at a frame shop. I studied all I could find on the internet and ended up writing Jeanne a letter to tell how much I loved his work and asked if I come to P'town to meet her sometime. She called me on the phone two days later. I went to visit her, taking a huge bouquet or hydrangea as a gift, and spent the afternoon with her. She was lovely and gracious and just glowing that there was another Fritz fan. She had wonderful stories of Hofmann, Pollack, Rothko, Kline, etc., not so wonderful of Tennessee Wiliams. She gave me a tour of the house and showed me their collection of artwork. It was a day I'll never forget.

    Was your godfather an artist or writer that he was hanging out in P'town?

    Steve

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  6. Hi An Urban Cottage! What a great story and lovely that you were able to spend an afternoon with Jeanne. My godfather was a collector and that happened to be his circle of friends. I too love Bultman's work and find it quite inspiring. I'm delighted to meet you and will spend some time reading your blog. I love Cambridge + Greek Revival houses! Thank you so much for stopping in to comment about your wonderful afternoon!
    Best, Barbara

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  7. Bultman's art is so alive and cheerful. Nov. Wave is my favorite but all of his work you've shown I appreciate. The life of an artist would be so difficult when your peers achieve success in their lifetime while you do not. Shear torture I'd imagine. Such a marvelous post Barbara. I have much to learn about the art world.

    Hope you are enjoying the sun and the beach. Big hugs to you and Billy xo

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  8. Dear DT, Thanks for reading... Yes, I think perhaps he lived a difficult life. The struggle of missing the mark combined with the tension of homophobic attitudes toward his own homosexual desires. Not an easy thing. I think he found a friend who understood in Donald Windham, perhaps. I too, love these collages.

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  9. Thanks for this post. I love the collages, too!

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  10. Hi Bruce, Thank you for reading... I agree and think these collages are really so full of the push + pull that Fritz B. was dealing with in his life. Great garden photos this week and recipes, too! ; )

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  11. I can't even tell you how many times I have visited this page as a reference in doing research on Fritz Bultman in the last several weeks. This is a great post and has been very helpful! I work for the art gallery Edelman Arts, and we recently became the exclusive New York representation for the Bultman Estate. We are presenting a comprehensive solo exhibition tomorrow and I wanted to contact you to share a link to the exhibition catalogue we have published which I thought might be of interest: http://www.edelmanarts.com/artists/fritz_bultman/viewcatalog.php. I'd love to chat with you more - feel free to drop me a line at: ecayen@edelmanarts.com

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I love reading your comments. And, I thank you so much for visiting!

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