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Elise Margot Blumann (1897–1990)

by David Bromfield

This article was published:

Elise Margot Paula Rudolphina Hulda Blumann (1897-1990), artist, was born on 16 January 1897 at Parchim, Germany, youngest of three children of Paul Schlie, cavalry officer and civil servant, and his wife Elfrida, née Kunschmidt. After attending school at Hamburg, Elise was taught painting in 1914 by Baron Leo Lütgendorff-Leinburg at Lübeck. In 1917-20 she studied in Berlin under Max Liebermann and Lovis Corinth. Liebermann was an impressionist whose large, colourful, liquid brush strokes were to influence her lyrical interpretation of the Western Australian landscape. Lovis Corinth had made impressionism into a dramatic, highly expressive art, replete with the heritage of the art nouveau (Jugendstil) movement. In local galleries she encountered a wide range of modernist art, including works by Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse and Paul Cézanne. She worked as an art teacher, and in a Hamburg gallery in 1921 exhibited her paintings for the first time.

On 23 June 1923 at Lübeck Elise married Dr Arnold Blumann, a wealthy industrial chemist; they were to have three sons. After her marriage she travelled and painted but did not exhibit. For business reasons, and because he opposed the Nazi regime, Dr Blumann moved with his family to the Netherlands in 1934, and to England two years later. They migrated to Australia, arriving at Fremantle by ship on 4 January 1938. Dr Blumann was employed in Perth by Plaimar Ltd, manufacturing chemists, and the couple built a modernistic house, with a studio, at Nedlands. In the 1940s Elise Blumann executed a series of paintings of melaleucas by the Swan River, viewed from her studio window. Her first-hand experience of modern European painting was evident; for example, in `On the Swan, Nedlands’ (1942) she combined the decorative tendencies of Jugendstil with the flat expressive forms of early modernism to produce her vision of a primeval landscape.

At the time, Blumann’s memory, artistic practice and advocacy were the only direct sources at hand for Western Australian painters who aspired to paint in the modern style. Her humanist, synthetic view of the style set the context for avant-garde patronage and taste in Western Australia. She was adamant that her work was never `expressionist’, and her treatment of the figure demonstrated that her ambition was far more lyrical: `Charles, Morning on the Swan’ (1939), for example, shows a close affinity to Cézanne, Matisse and the early Pablo Picasso. Even so, her paintings were too provocative for many people in Perth. In 1944, using the name Elise Burleigh, she held her first solo exhibition, at Newspaper House Art Gallery; it featured several nudes, including `Summer Nude’ (1939), and caused a scandal. Although avant-garde in her art, throughout her life she had no sympathy for social radicalism.

In 1945 Blumann travelled to the goldfields and to Broome, adding the outback and its inhabitants to her subjects. The art critic Charles Hamilton, in his review of her second Newspaper House exhibition (1946), noted that she had `begun to abstract from our landscape its essential meaning’: the banksia, the melaleuca, the blackboy and the zamia were `survivals from the past’; her portrayal of desert Aborigines symbolised `primitive man facing the encroaching forces of an alien civilisation’. In `Gooseberry Hill’ (1948) the modernist equation of abstraction with the primitive was to result in an eloquent, post-impressionist interpretation of the local flora.

A member of the Perth Society of Artists, Blumann lectured on Picasso and other topics, and held art classes for both adults and children for several years from 1945. In 1948 with Robert Campbell and Salec Minc, among others, she helped to found the Art Group to stimulate interest in modern art in Perth. From 1949 she visited Europe several times, and in 1950 she staged an exhibition of her work in Paris. Her career was interrupted for some years while she cared for her sick husband. After his death in 1970 she lived in Germany for five years. Back in Perth, she held exhibitions at local galleries in 1976 and 1979, and at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in 1984. Her work was included in the gallery’s exhibition, `Western Australian Art and Artists 1900-1950’ (1987). Survived by two of her sons, she died on 29 January 1990 at Nedlands and was cremated. Her work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, and the University of Western Australia and Holmes à Court collections, Perth.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Bromfield (compiler), Elise Blumann, Paintings and Drawings 1918-1984 (1984)
  • C. Polizzotto, Approaching Elise (1988)
  • West Australian, 25 July 1946, p 3, 24 Sept 1984, p 10
  • Art and Australia, Winter 1993, p 511
  • B. Blackman, interview with E. Blumann (1986, National Library of Australia).

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

David Bromfield, 'Blumann, Elise Margot (1897–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 19 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Schlie, Elise
  • Burleigh, Elise

16 January, 1897
Parchim, Germany


29 January, 1990 (aged 93)
Nedlands, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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