Treasures from the Vault: Edmund Brucker

Katy Thompson, Associate Director of Education

Indiana entered the Union on December 11, 1816, as the 19th state. Immigrants from Europe, predominantly Germany, began moving westward in the early 19th century, turning undeveloped frontier into the bustling towns and cities we inhabit now. Today, we remember and celebrate these early pioneers through the objects they left behind: letters, diaries, and art.

Edmund Brucker is best known as a portrait painter, one of the last of a dwindling group of Indiana artists whose artistic training prepared them for the technicality and precision necessary to accurately capture a person on canvas, who also portrayed regional scenes of the Midwest and still lifes. Born in Cleveland in 1912, Brucker studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art and graduated in 1934. An active portrait painter in Indianapolis from 1938 until his death in 1999, Brucker also taught at the John Herron Institute of Art, now part of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).

His portrait commissions were initiated by a portrait he painted of a previous Governor of Indiana (1961-1965), Matthew E. Welsh, for the 1960 cover of Indiana Business & Industry magazine. Welsh was so pleased with the sitting, and the cover was so popular, Brucker was asked to paint his official governor portrait (which Welsh was also delighted by). This led to various other portrait commissions; and, eventually, Brucker painted 500 portraits of prominent Hoosiers.

Edmund Brucker, American, 1912-1999. Matthew E. Welsh. Oil on canvas, 1964. Image courtesy of Indiana Historical Bureau, see link below.

Brucker showed regularly at the Hoosier Salon Annuals and the Indiana State Fair, winning multiple awards over his career, including the “Outstanding Work in Oil” award at the 1939 Hoosier Salon and first prize in portraiture for his 1944 portrait of a working class boy with a sled, Bag Ears, in 1944 at the Indiana State Fair art exhibition. In 1952 he had a solo exhibition at the Hoosier Salon and was a member of their group, “The Twenty”. Associated with the Cleveland School, Brucker was a Realist until he experimented with Modernism in the 1940s, a precursor to Cubism. Working predominantly in oil and watercolor, he maintained a fascination with line but fused it with compressed space and angularity as his style evolved.

The work in our permanent collection is a color still life that shows multiple onions, a lemon, an apple, and an orange spilled onto a green cloth-covered table. To the left is a brass-footed pitcher. On the far right is a jug partially covered by a red bowl turned on its side from which the fruit has seemingly tumbled out onto the cloth. In the background a white curtain is pulled across the wall, exposing just a slice of it on the far right. Completed during his turn towards Modernism, a still life is an excellent subject for experimentation in a new style or technique as it focuses on forms and objects. Here, the objects are realistically rendered, and the composition is compressed to create a claustrophobic setting. The viewer is forced into the edge of the table, and the composition is dwarfed from top to bottom by the pitcher and jug Circular lines lead our eyes from object to object as they are repeated in the fruits, bowl, jug, and pitcher; while there aren’t the sharp angles evident in other works from this period, the still life is a digression from his usual subject. Perhaps a piece he worked on with a class, or chosen explicitly as a break from his usual medium?

A still life painting featuring a table covered in a green linen with onions, a bowl, apples, and two pitchers on it. In the background, a thick, white curtain partially covers the wall.
Edmund Brucker, American, 1912-1999. Still Life with Onions. Oil on canvas, ca. 1942. Gift of the Belly N. Logan Estate, 1994.07. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

Brucker’s work can be found in the collection at Indiana University, DePauw University, Purdue University, and Dartmouth College. Over his decades-long career, Brucker won 160 awards from the Hoosier Salon. He died in Indianapolis in 1999 and is buried at Church Hill Cemetery.

  1. See cover, Indiana Business and Industry Magazine, March, 1961. The portrait was given to Governor and Mrs. Welsh by the Democratic party, and it now hangs in the Welsh home in Indianapolis. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Bureau.

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