Gustav Klumpp


was a German-born artist who rejected traditional landscape and portrait paintings in favor of paintings that depicted, as he put it, “beautiful girls in the nude or seminude in fictitious surroundings, including some other paintings of dreamlike nature.” He had seen paintings by Grandma Moses on television and reacted to them asfollows: “They looked like very simple landscapes of what she saw in the country. For myself, I like to paint landscapes only in combination with fictions because in the past and present were painted millions and I still like imaginary landscapes.” Klumpp was delighted by his own spirited painted fantasies, and he believed that he hadaccomplished his goal as an artist, which was “to inspire other senior citizens or the younger generation.” His witty paintings are executed as rhythmically balancedcompositions, and he uses very lively color harmonies in them.Klumpp was born in Baiersbronn, in the Black Forest area of western Germany. He was the son of a photographer and general store manager. In 1932, heimmigrated to the United States; there, his uncle, who was a janitor, offered Klumpp housing in a synagogue where he worked. Klumpp himself soon foundemployment in the printing trades, working as a compositor and as a linotype operator. He retired many years later, in 1964, and thereafter he lived on his socialsecurity benefits in the Red Hook housing project in Brooklyn, New York. In 1966, with the encouragement of the personnel at the senior center in this housing project, he began to paint. Klumpp derived great satisfaction from his ability to create works of art.Over the next five-year to six-year period, he developed his own individual stylistic vocabulary—a vocabulary that is marked by compositional balance, flattened perspective, bright colors, a distinctive array of forms, and the liberties the artist took with scale. He gave his paintings such titles as
Burly, Reclining Nude, Dream of a Nudist Camp, The Art Gallery Saluting the Nude,
Virgin’s Dream of Babies
.Gustav Klumpp worked in oil and acrylic on canvas and completed about fifty paintings. Interestingly, he was reluctant to sell any of his paintings; and when he did bring himself to sell one, he would sometimes replace the sold painting with another work on the same subject.In 1970, paintings by Klumpp were shown in an exhibition called “Art of the Elders of Brooklyn” at the Community Gallery of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. HenriGhent, who was the director of this gallery, set off something of a controversy when he responded to a scathing review of Klumpp’s work in the
New York Times
. Theart critic John Canaday, who wrote the review, had actually been mildly enthusiastic about one of Klumpp’s paintings—but Ghent felt that the painting that Canadaychose to praise was in fact the weakest in the show; furthermore, Ghent maintained that in general Canaday had no understanding of work by self-taught artists. Ghent,for his own part, praised
a painting that offers an amusing look at the world of burlesque. This painting shows scantily clad bathing beauties on a stage, lined upon two sides of a tiered mid-ground form so as to create two sides of a compositional triangle. The third side of this triangle is made up of a fully clothed dancing couplein the center foreground. Curved draperies frame the top and sides of the painting, and these draperies are echoed by the rounded heads and rounded breasts of thewomen in the chorus line.Mr. and Mrs. William Leffler of New York read both John Canaday’s piece and the piece by Henri Ghent in the
New York Times,
were intrigued, and got in touchwith the artist. Their ensuing correspondence and friendship with Gustav Klumpp has since been a valuable resource for scholars.Klumpp’s paintings have been included in a large number of group exhibitions and publications. The paintings are held in the permanent collection of the AmericanFolk Art Museum in New York and the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In addition, the archives of the American Folk Art Museumcontain copies of the correspondence between Gustav Klumpp and Mr. and Mrs. William Leffler.

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