Eugene Berman [1899-1972]
McNay Art Museum,
Los Angeles County Museum of Art,
Museum of Modern Art New York,
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden,
Smithsonian American Art Museum,
Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco,
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Eugene Gustavovitch Berman was born in 1899 in St. Petersburg, Russia. His father died when Berman was seven years old and his mother remarried a wealthy banker and art collector, who took on the education of both Eugene and his brother Leonid. The brothers were sent to Germany, Switzerland, and France to study art. In 1918 the Berman family fled Russia to Paris to escape the Bolshevik Revolution. Berman studied art at the Académie Ranson. His teachers included Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard, Berman's first group exhibition was a show at the Durer Gallery in Paris featuring the "Neo-Romantics". The success from this first exhibition led to his first solo show at the Galerie l'Etoile.
By 1932 Berman was in America and was offered an exhibition at the Julian Levy Gallery in New York. His scenes provided a visual commentary on the decay of the modern world, which he portrayed as being in ruins. Berman moved to the United States in 1935 and continued to exhibit in Levy's gallery. Bergman designed for Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Town and Country. He also created sets for several ballet companies and the Metropolitan Opera. His theatrical projects brought him into collaboration with Igor Stravinsky. Berman continued to design theatrical sets for The Metropolitan Opera up until the late 1950s, and for Stravinsky until 1966. Meanwhile, his paintings continued to gain sizable recognition in several group exhibitions as well as a solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago.
He settled in Hollywood, California in the early 1940s. In 1947 Berman was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for a tour of the Southwest, where he studied the desert landscapes. He found a strong correlation between the vast, often bare landscapes he had been painting from his imagination and the flat, dry lands of Arizona and New Mexico. The loneliness and isolation Berman often expressed in his works lay out before him in the arid southwest. He combined these landscape studies from his fellowship with the theatricality of Hollywood to create new commentaries on materialism, fame, and the gaps in post-war prosperity. He still maintained his signature element of Neo-Romanticism, which was a departure from many of his contemporaries who were working with abstract Cubism and Futurism. Several of the paintings that came out of his southwest trip were shown at an exhibit at the Knoedler Gallery in New York.
In 1949 Berman married film actress, Ona Munson, who played Belle Watling in Gone With the Wind.
In 1955, Ona Munson committed suicide in the couple's New York apartment. Berman left the United States to settle permanently in Rome. In 1962 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Thereafter he only returned to the United States to renew his citizenship or to design the sets for Stravinsky's chamber opera ballet, Renard. Berman spent the last few years of his life traveling through Egypt and Libya. In 1972 he passed away in Rome.