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Untitled (Portrait of Marie in Sweater and Pearls)
Eugene Von Bruenchenhein (1910–1983)

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States

Date: c. 1940s–mid-1950s

Materials: Hand-tinted gelatin silver print

Dimensions: 10 × 8"

Credit: Gift of Lewis and Jean Greenblatt

Accession Number: 2000.1.17

Photo credit: Gavin Ashworth

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Description

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein worked as a florist and a baker before devoting the last forty years of his life to making art. The son of a sign painter and the stepson of a Sunday painter who believed in reincarnation, Von Bruenchenhein was exposed to creative trades and nonconformist ideas from an early age. It was a fortunate foundation for an artist who eventually found voice in a wide range of expressions: photography, painting, ceramics, sculpture, and poetry. He was idiosyncratic in his techniques, choosing to fingerpaint with oils, fire clay pieces in his kitchen oven, and construct intricate objects from leftover chicken and turkey bones. "Create and be recognized" commanded a sign the artist hung in his basement studio, and he attempted just that; his home was transformed over four decades by his unrelenting outpouring of expression.

Von Bruenchenhein's most compelling works are his photographs: self-portraits, double-exposures, and thousands of portraits of his wife, Marie. His devotion to his artmaking was superseded only by his obsession with Marie, whom he called “the queen of my existence.” Emulating mid-century pin-ups, Von Bruenchenhein captured his wife in various stages of dress and undress, adorning his subject with vampish costumes and idiosyncratic accessories against floral draped backdrops. In the photos, Marie assumes poses and expressions that  display the range of female sexuality—innocent and virginal, seductive and sexy. Sometimes, when she confronts the camera lens (and her husband), she even appears a little bit bored. It is not at all clear, in fact, if Marie is a willing or unwilling collaborator in the creation of these images.

The artist’s world was not fully understood nor appreciated until after his death, but he had not chosen to remain unknown—he had tried, unsuccessfully, to attract the attention of clients, galleries, and museums. Nonetheless, he certainly valued his artwork and held himself in high esteem: a hand-tinted photographic self-portrait bears the bold inscription "Time produced non better."

Brooke Davis Anderson. "Portrait of Marie in Sweater and Pearls," in Stacy C. Hollander, American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 392.


Untitled (Portrait of Marie in Sweater and Pearls)
Date: c. 1940s–mid-1950s
Artist:
Dimensions: 10 × 8"
Materials: Hand-tinted gelatin silver print
Credit Line: Gift of Lewis and Jean Greenblatt
Place/Region: United States, Milwaukee
Accession Number: 2000.1.17
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