painter, was born Elise Schlie in Lubeck, Germany, on 16 January 1897. She began her artistic studies at the age of 17 with a private tutor in Lubeck. In 1917-19 she studied at the Berlin Academy of Art under the German Impressionist Max Liebermann and saw works by many of the foremost modernists, including Feininger, Klee, Kandinsky, Chagall and Schwitters, all of whom exhibited at the Sturm Gallery.

After fleeing to Eutin during the Berlin Soviet, she renewed her studies in 1920 in the newly-liberalised Berlin Academy, then taught in a private girls’ school near Kassel until 1923, when she married Dr Arnold Blumann, director of one of the biggest chemical factories in northern Europe. From 1923 to 1934 she travelled regularly throughout Europe and became familiar with many aspects of modern art. She was particularly impressed by Cézanne and Matisse. She held only one public exhibition in Germany, at Hamburg in 1924.

In 1934 the Blumann family fled Nazi Germany. After four years in Europe, they arrived at Perth in 1938. Elise began to paint almost immediately; a lengthy series of views of the Swan River from Crawley began in 1939. Among the finest of these are On the Swan Nedlands (1942?, UWA) and Melaleuca on the Swan (Storm on the Swan) (1945, AGWA). In both, Blumann fused her understanding of European modernist painting—from Cézanne to Expressionism—with direct and detailed observation of the local light and weather.

She was able to maintain a coherent original style by developing the Jugendstil decorative sensibility fashionable in her student years. This can be seen at its best in her paintings of surfers and in Charles. Morning on the Swan (1939, NGA), a painting of her eldest son in which her knowledge of Cézanne is most evident. The composition of Surfers (1940) is closely linked to the vitalistic Jugendstil interpretation of the work of Rodin offered by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke in a book she was given in 1921 and treasured all her life. Blumann’s characteristic use of separate broad brushstrokes in a limited colour key combined with tight Cézannesque drawing marks her work as one of the few examples of an original modernism applied directly to Australian themes.

In the late 1940s Blumann became an important conduit for modernist ideas and attitudes through the Perth Art Group, which she had helped found in 1942. Summer Nude (1939, AGWA), one of the works in her first exhibition at the Newspaper House galleries in 1944, stirred up a minor scandal.

Blumann was a keen advocate of contemporary methods of art education. She made two trips to the north of WA in 1946 and 1948 recording a number of aspects of Aboriginal life such as Lenora Goldmining Town (1946, p.c.), a radical image of the devastation brought about by mining. From the 1950s she became disillusioned with the possibilities for art in WA and her work was sporadic and uneven. Nonetheless, she provided a vital example for the development of art in the state until the 1980s.

Bromfield, David
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