Bauhaus on the Swan: Elise Blumann, an émigré artist in Western Australia, 1938-1948
by Sally Quin
German artist Elise Blumann (1897–1990) arrived in Western Australia in 1938, having fled Nazi Germany in 1934. With her husband and two sons she set up home on the banks of the Swan River, and began to paint. Over the next ten years she produced a series of portraits set against the river and the Indian Ocean, and pursued an analysis of plant forms – the zamia palm, xanthorrhoea, banksia and the majestic melaleuca – to brilliant effect.
In this study Sally Quin traces Blumann’s formative student years in Berlin and her first decade in Australia, where the artist reinvented her working method in response to the intense light and colour of the local landscape. The challenges presented by this new physical environment resulted in bold and evocative interpretations of the land. Blumann was a conservative modernist, but the Perth art scene was not prepared for her expressive style, and when she exhibited for the first time in 1944 her art was met with bewilderment. The book considers attitudes to modernism in Perth, and the influence on local culture of European refugees and émigrés newly arrived in the city. Working in relative isolation and with little critical support, Blumann produced a striking body of work, which prefigured a flourishing of progressive art in Perth from the late 1940s. In the first major art historical study of the painter, Quin establishes Blumann as a significant figure in the story of Australian modernism.