MFA Boston Brings Hyman Bloom's Dramatic Art Back To Life

July 12, 2019

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Abstract Expressionism was a dominating art tendency in the United States, and the movement became globally known mostly because of the works of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. However, there are several other figures who are not widely known but their practices appear to be the pioneering ones in the context of the development of this particular form of abstraction.

One of the most important artists and a predecessor to the championing Abstract Expressionists was the Latvian-born American Hyman Bloom, best known for his expressive, dim, and slightly bizarre paintings centered on the representations of death.

In order to revitalize his distinguished and often misunderstood oeuvre, the motifs, and spiritual persuasions, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston mounted a proper retrospective consisting of seventy paintings and drawings from public and private collections that Bloom made throughout his career.

Left Hyman Bloom – Female Corpse Right Hyman Bloom – The Anatomist
Left: Hyman Bloom - Female Corpse (Front View), 1945. Oil on canvas. The Jewish Museum, New York Purchase: Gift of Kurt Delbanco and Romie Shapiro, by exchange; and Kristie A. Jayne Fund, 1994‑599 © Stella Bloom Trust. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston / Right: Hyman Bloom - The Anatomist, 1953. Oil on linen. Whitney Museum of American Art © Stella Bloom Trust. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Domains of A Prolific Painter

Hyman Bloom was born in a small Latvian village in 1913, and his family emigrated to the US in 1920. From his early childhood, he showed a particular interest and quite an artistic talent, and at the age of fourteen he attended high school art classes at the MFA. Bloom studied art at the West End Settlement House and was supported by the important Boston collector, MFA benefactor and artist, Denman Waldo Ross.

However, by the 1930s, Bloom was a struggling artist and he received his first critical acclaim in 1942 when thirteen of his paintings were included in an important exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1943, his practice took an unexpected direction after a visit to the Boston morgue; the artist became fascinated with death, and this turned into a recurring theme in his oeuvre..

Therefore, the exhibition curated by Erica Hirshler, Croll Senior Curator of American Paintings will be focused on the painter’s quest to understand the shifting nature of existence of all living beings in physical and metaphysical terms. Hirshler stated:

Bloom’s work has been neglected for much too long. As we reassess the histories we tell about 20th-century American art, we need to include those bold figures who, like Bloom, remained committed to the figure and who sought to explore the complex nature of human existence, in which beauty and horror are often inextricably linked.

Hyman Bloom – The Hull
Hyman Bloom - The Hull, 1952. Oil on canvas. Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts, Gift of the William H. Lane Foundation. © Stella Bloom Trust. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Thematic Sections

The installment is divided into five sections thematizing the artistic development of Hyman Bloom. The first section is simply titled Bloom as a Draftsman and it features the artist’s early works, and especially his skillfulness best expressed through drawing.

Beneath the Surface of Things is the following section devoted Bloom’s spiritual preoccupations (Jewish scripture, Eastern Philosophies, ancient civilizations, and the occult) which have an important spot in his practice. These paintings will reflect the artist’s search for the inner meaning of things and the cyclical nature of life and death.

The third section called Life and Death, Light and Dark will reveal Bloom’s attraction to paradoxes such as the celebrations of life and raw physicality of death; the fourth section The Beauty of All Things will be entirely centered on his fascination with the cadaver reflecting the historical continuum with the artists such as Michelangelo, Caravaggio or Grünewald and the final section will demonstrate how the dead became a lasting motif in his work - Still Life will show how Bloom extended the definition of the genre by including dead people as well as animals.

Left Hyman Bloom – Chandelier Right Left Hyman Bloom – Female Corpse
Left: Hyman Bloom – Chandelier No. 2, 1945. Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of the Bloom family in memory of Joan and Barry Bloom © Stella Bloom Trust. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston / Right: Hyman Bloom - Female Corpse, Back View, 1947. Oil on canvas. Gift of William H. and Saundra B. Lane and Museum purchase. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Hyman Bloom at MFA Boston

This retrospective will definitely provide a refreshed insight into Bloom’s compelling practice and reassert the notion of art currents and dominating tendencies in the States after World War II.

The exhibition will be followed by an illustrated book, Hyman Bloom: Matters of Life and Death including essays written by the curator and Naomi Slipp, Assistant Professor of Art History at Auburn University.

Hyman Bloom: Matters of Life and Death will be on view at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston from 13 July 2019 until 23 February 2020.

Featured images: Hyman Bloom - Still Life with Squashes, 1955; : Hyman Bloom - The Bride, 1941. Oil on canvas. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Stella Bloom Trust. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston