See Why Hyman Bloom, the Forgotten Modernist Who de Kooning Once Called ‘the First Abstract Expressionist,’ Is Having a Comeback

The artist was a master of macabre yet beautiful paintings of the decaying human body.

Hyman Bloom, Self-Portrait (1948). Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ©Stella Bloom Trust.
Hyman Bloom, Self-Portrait (1948). Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ©Stella Bloom Trust.

If you haven’t heard of the mid-century Modernist Hyman Bloom (1913–2009), that may be about to change. Ten years after his death, at the age of 96, Bloom is the subject of a major, critically acclaimed exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and a show at Alexandre Gallery in New York.

Willem de Kooning once said that he and Jackson Pollock both credited Bloom as “the first Abstract Expressionist.” But Bloom, living in Boston and removed from New York’s buzzing art scene, was ultimately overshadowed by those giants of the American art movement and he went on to reject Abstract Expressionism as mere “emotional catharsis, with no intellectual basis.”

The Latvian-born Jewish artist is perhaps best known for his exquisitely gruesome paintings of cadavers, as disturbing, and controversial, as they are beautiful. Bloom made his first visit to a morgue in 1942 after being called in to identify the body of a friend who had killed herself.

It would prove a career-changing experience. The artist’s paintings went on to depict expertly mottled, decomposing skin and the formerly life-giving organs beneath flayed flesh. They might at first seem morbid, but by capturing death in his bold brushstrokes, Bloom in a way celebrated life and offered an incisive rumination on the inevitability of our own mortality.

Hyman Bloom, <em>Female Corpse, Front View</em> (
1945). Photo ©the Jewish Museum, New York, gift of Kurt Delbanco and Romie Shapiro, by exchange; and Kristie A. Jayne Fund, courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ©Stella Bloom Trust.

Hyman Bloom, Female Corpse, Front View (1945). Photo ©the Jewish Museum, New York, gift of Kurt Delbanco and Romie Shapiro, by exchange; and Kristie A. Jayne Fund, courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ©Stella Bloom Trust.

Bloom had 13 paintings in the show “Americans 1942: 18 Artists from 9 States” at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1942, two of which the museum then purchased. Before the decade was out, he would show twice at the Venice Biennale, in 1948 and 1950. A traveling retrospective followed in 1954 and ’55, appearing at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, the Albright Gallery in Buffalo, the de Young Museum in San Francisco, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Although he is largely a forgotten figure today, the current exhibition of Bloom’s work makes a compelling argument for revisiting his dark yet compelling oeuvre, showcasing the artist’s skill as a draftsman, his struggles with spirituality, and his deep-seated fascination with the human body. The shows are timed to the publication of a new monograph, Modern Mystic: The Art of Hyman Bloom, from Artbook D.A.P.

See more paintings from the MFA exhibition below.

Hyman Bloom, <em>Skeleton</em> (
1936). Photo courtesy of the Lane Collection and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ©Stella Bloom Trust.

Hyman Bloom, Skeleton (1936). Photo courtesy of the Lane Collection and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ©Stella Bloom Trust.

Hyman Bloom, <em>The Bride</em> (
1941). Photo ©Museum of Modern Art, New York, courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ©Stella Bloom Trust.

Hyman Bloom, The Bride (1941). Photo ©Museum of Modern Art, New York, courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ©Stella Bloom Trust.

Hyman Bloom, <em>Chandelier No. 2</em> (
1945). Photo ©Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, gift of the Bloom family in memory of Joan and Barry Bloom.©Stella Bloom Trust

Hyman Bloom, Chandelier No. 2 (1945). Photo ©Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, gift of the Bloom family in memory of Joan and Barry Bloom. ©Stella Bloom Trust.

Hyman Bloom, <em>Still Life with Squashes </em> (1955). Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ©Stella Bloom Trust.

Hyman Bloom, Still Life with Squashes (1955). Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ©Stella Bloom Trust.

Hyman Bloom, <em>Female Corpse, Back View</em> (
1947). Photo ©Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, gift of William H. and Saundra B. Lane and Museum purchase.

Hyman Bloom, Female Corpse, Back View (1947). Photo ©Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, gift of William H. and Saundra B. Lane and museum purchase.

Hyman Bloom, <em>The Bride</em> (
1943–45). Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ©Stella Bloom Trust.

Hyman Bloom, The Bride (1943–45). Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ©Stella Bloom Trust.

Hyman Bloom, <em>The Anatomist</em> (
1953). Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ©Stella Bloom Trust.

Hyman Bloom, The Anatomist (1953). Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ©Stella Bloom Trust.

Hyman Bloom, <em>Female Leg</em> (
1951). Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ©Stella Bloom Trust.

Hyman Bloom, Female Leg (1951). Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ©Stella Bloom Trust.

Hyman Bloom, <em>Female Cadaver</em>. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ©Stella Bloom Trust.

Hyman Bloom, Female Cadaver. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ©Stella Bloom Trust.

Hyman Bloom: Matters of Life and Death” is on view at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts, July 13, 2019–February 23, 2020.

Hyman Bloom: American Master” is on view at Alexandre Gallery, 724 Fifth Avenue, 4th Floor, New York, New York, June 27–September 28, 2019.


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