Theme/Style Modernism, Precisionism, landscapes, portraits, cityscapes
Artistic Focus Often associated with art’s “new spirit of classicism,” Edward Bruce’s works were known for a clarity, simplicity, and seriousness that critics related to Oriental art, Cubism, and the Italian primitives. Businessman, collector, painter, and an important figure in the New Deal art programs under Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bruce left his mark not just on the art scene in California, but on the country as a whole.
• Born in Dover Plains, New York in 1879, Edward “Ned” Bruce began painting landscapes
at age 14 but at first did not pursue an art career, instead earning a law degree from
Columbia in 1904. He practiced law in New York and the Philippines, worked in foreign
trade in the Far East, and was president of the Pacific Development Corporation.
• During this time Bruce continued painting, and also collecting Chinese art, and at the age
of 43 he gave up his business career and turned his full attention to painting, pursuing art
study in Italy under Maurice Stern.
• By 1923 Bruce was exhibiting, and his Precisionist painting of skyscrapers was included
in New York’s Salons of America.
• Returning to the U.S. in 1929, Bruce and his wife settled in California, where they resided
in Carmel, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara. His landscapes, heavily influenced by the
Chinese works in his collection, were featured in a number of solo shows with excellent
reviews in Paris, New York, and San Francisco.
• Bruce was active in California at a time critical to the development of the California
School, and Millard Sheets in particular commented that Bruce was influential on his
work. Bruce exhibited with Sheets and Charles Reiffel at the Dalzell Hatfield Galleries in
Los Angeles in 1931, and in 1932 he won the Mrs. Walter Harrison Fisher Prize at the
city’s Ebell Salon annual exhibition.
• Bruce’s solo shows at New York’s Milch Galleries in 1932 and 1934 were very well-
received, and his work was compared to that of Georgia O’Keeffe.
• In spite of his critical success, like many artists during the Depression Bruce struggled to
make ends meet, and in 1932 he returned to business, working as a lobbyist in
Washington D.C. The connections he made proved fortuitous when only a year later
Bruce was asked to help organize and head the New Deal’s Public Works of Art Project
(PWAP) in 1933, and the Section of Painting and Sculpture in 1934.
• A wealthy man from his years in business, it was said that Bruce never accepted any
remuneration for his work for the government, and actually spent much of his own money
on furthering the New Deal programs he was involved in. Extremely effective and well-
liked in Washington, “Ned” Bruce continued working until a series of strokes forced him
• Bruce passed away in Hollywood, Florida in 1943. His collection of Chinese paintings
was donated to Harvard University’s Fogg Museum.
Additional biographical material and full bibliographic
references are available upon request.
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