yellow lampshade

1969 | oil on canvas | 70 x 80 inches
Elmer Bischoff 1916 – 1991 Photograph from: de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA November, 2009


Elmer Bischoff mixes warm and rich expressionistic colors with two figures to create a beautiful and modern composition inside an American domestic scene. He invites us to look out over a modern city skyline through three large panoramic windows and much more.


A man and a woman are present. The man is standing in the left foreground, diagonally away from the woman and with his back to the viewer. He stands at ease, with hands in pockets as he looks out through the main window. His legs cut off below the knees, bring him slightly into the viewer’s space creating a subtle boundary.


The woman is in the background to the right; her body faces the viewer, although her face is turned away as she looks out to the left window. Her presence and position offers balance and contrast to the man’s presence, inviting us to come in a bit closer and view more. At her right and just below a horizon line of the main window is a cabinet with a lit table lamp and yellow lampshade. Her hand rests on the cabinet as the glow from the lamp illuminates and contrasts her against the darker background window plane. This effect enhances her with more warmth and invitation.


At the center foreground, to the right of the man, Bischoff placed a large, comfortable looking armchair facing away from the viewer. It too, like the man sinks down off the canvas, into the viewer’s space to make even more of a boundary, and narrows the path into the painting, and the window. Slightly turned to the left, the chair’s position points the viewer a direct line of sight between the man and the woman, past the yellow lampshade, out the window, onto the avenues, along the tall buildings and finally reaching for the far horizon.


The window on the left comes in from off the canvas, creating depth and reaches out to meet the main window, as the window on the right cuts off the canvas, almost parallel to the left, ad infitum. Curtains are drawn back on the right window, behind the man and highlighted with bright yellows catching some of the light from the yellow lampshade. They appear to be tied, but also in motion. More curtains painted in greens, behind the woman and in the right window, appear drawn, but seem to fly out the windows creating light and airy motion with even more expansiveness.


Bischoff mixes strong oranges, rosy pinks and yellows, with busy brushstrokes, vividly lighting up the interior, and surrounding the man. Absorbing the warmth, he also radiates the glowing essence back out into the apartment reflecting on woman’s face and arms. As contrast, Bischoff uses light blue for the woman’s dress, (lighter blue because of the lamp light) corresponding to the view out the window and sky. Dusk sets into the city as the sun dips below the high horizon turning the tall buildings deeper blue, bringing in night and feminine essences through her.


Melancholy and verve, tension and ease, staying in and going out, masculine and feminine; contractions galore are achieved by Bischoff’s obvious palette choices of primarily blues and oranges as complementary colors, but subtle use of small dabs of red painted behind the man’s back to the green curtains behind the woman add to the complications as well.


Bischoff resurrects figures, the human element; back from abstract American art of the 1940’s-1950’s (1) but they are not the same. They are modern, and surrounded by cosmopolitan brilliance, yet they are seemingly again, all alone and isolated as shown in the woman’s blank face.


The yellow lampshade, the brightest object and guiding beacon at the center of the composition is where everything meets. Its presence could suggest to the viewer to relax and stay for the evening, or a cautionary tale of America in 1969 as the sun sets in the west, on the precipice of post-modernism, and an uncertain future. It invokes an empathetic response, and seems to ask; “will there be more?”


(1) WEBSITE: Elmer Bischoff