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 Robert Frederick Blum  (1857 - 1903)

About: Robert Frederick Blum


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Lived/Active: New York/Ohio      Known for: figure, genre and mural painting, illustration, lithography

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BIOGRAPHY for Robert Blum
1857 (Cincinnati, Ohio)
1903 (New York City)

New York/Ohio

Self portrait - Self-portrait

Often Known For
figure, genre and mural painting, illustration, lithography

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San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
Paris Pre 1900
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, Robert Frederick Blum was the son of German-American parents.  He had much in common with several other leading artists associated with American Impressionism, all of whom were from that city: John Twachtman,  Ralph E. DeCamp, and Edward Potthast were all born in the 1850s, and each was a first-generation American whose parents had emigrated from Germany to Cincinnati.  Their childhood experiences would have been similar, as they grew up in close proximity to one another in the city's boisterous German neighborhood.  Twachtman and Blum knew each other as boys and shared an early enthusiasm for art.

A painter and illustrator, Blum likely developed an interest in magazine illustration while an apprentice at Gibson & Co., lithographers in Cincinnati, during 1873 and 1874.  He began drawing lessons at the McMicken School of Design (now the Art Academy of Cincinnati) c. 1873, transferring to the Ohio Mechanic's Institute in 1874, where he had the opportunity to study under Frank Duveneck, along with his friends Twachtman, and DeCamp.  While McMicken students were laboring over drawings from the antique, Duveneck's proteges were out on the streets looking at unvarnished reality with fresh eyes.

Blum went on to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  There he was exposed to modern art at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876.  He was fascinated by the brilliant colors and brushwork of the Spanish painter Mariano Fortuny, the tonal styles of James McNeill Whistler, and by Japanese arts and crafts.

He returned to Cincinnati in 1877, set up a studio and exhibited at Closson's gallery.  By the 1880s, however, New York offered the greatest opportunities in America for patronage.  It was an irresistible lure for artists from smaller cities all across the country.  In 1900 the Cincinnati Enquirer noted that DeCamp, Blum, and Twachtman, and Potthast were all instructors at New York's Art Students League, where years earlier Frank Duveneck had also taught.  These artists subsequently became identified with the places where they painted many of their finest mature works: Blum with Italy and Japan, Twachtman with Connecticut, DeCamp with Boston, and Potthast with the beaches of the Northeast.

Blum traveled to Europe, meeting with Whistler and Duveneck in Venice.  His vibrant and atmospheric canvases did much to promote the cause of American Impressionism.  He also worked in etching, pastels and watercolor, and founded the Society of Painters in Pastel.  He lived in Venice from June 1885 to November 1886.  What is considered his most important painting, the Venetian Lace Makers, was started there, and later it won him the 1889 Bronze Medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris.

In the late nineteenth century, Europeans and Americans had developed a fascination with Japanese art and civilization, as Japan had then recently been opened to Westerners.  Many were unfamiliar with Japan's culture.  In 1890, Blum became one of the first American artists to visit the country.  Accepting a commission from Scribner's Magazine, he created illustrations for a series of articles on Japanese life, and was immediately struck by the newness of his experience.

He devoted his last years primarily to teaching at the Art Students League in New York, where he died in 1903.  Blum is buried in Cincinnati.

Credit for the above information is given to the Cincinnati Enquirer's Cincinnati Wing; the Cincinnati Art Museum; and to Julie Aronson's article for Antiques and Fine Art: 'American Impressionism and the Queen City'.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Cincinnati, Robert Blum became an artist whose reputation was for multi-media work that included pastel, watercolor, pen and ink, etching, and oil.  He created illustrations, murals, figure, and genre paintings.  He was one of the first artists in Ohio to become known for watercolor painting and was a product of the intense mid 19th century art activity in Cincinnati.

He dropped out of high school to work in a lithography plant, the Old Mechanics Institute, where evening classes were taught by painter Frank Duveneck.  In 1876, he entered the McMicken School of Design of Cincinnati, and then the Pennsylvania Academy in 1876.  A visit to the Japanese Pavilion at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 stirred an early interest in Japanese art, and he later became one of the earliest American artists to travel to Japan.  Also at that exhibition, he was much inspired by work of the painters Mariano Fortuny and Giovanni Boldini.

Blum went to New York and found a patron for his drawings in A.W. Drake, art editor of Scribner's Monthly and St. Nicholas Magazine.  He and Drake went to Europe in 1879, and he first visited Venice in 1880 and was taken into the circle of American artists by Duveneck who was living there.  The group became known as Duveneck's Boys.

Through Duveneck, Blum also met James McNeill Whistler, who introduced him to the pastel medium, and together in the 1880s, they became associated with the Society of Painters of Pastel, for which Blum served as President and which was an organization that helped promote the acceptance of Impressionism in America. Blum and Whistler became some of the most highly regarded pastelists of that period.  He was also exposed to the work of John Singer Sargent.

Captivated by Venice, Blum did etching and pastel scenes of the landscape and the people, and returned several times in the next decade, later doing oil paintings there.

In New York in the 1890s, Blum established his studio and associated with William Merritt Chase and John Twachtmann, although after 1893, he lived in relative seclusion.  He also did his largest paintings, which were murals for the Mendelssohn Glee Club, now in the Brooklyn Museum, and murals for the New Amsterdam Theatre, which were later destroyed.

Sources include:
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

These Notes from AskART represent the beginning of a possible future biography for this artist. Please click here if you wish to help in its development:
Robert Frederick Blum was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on July 9, 1857, Blum was active in San Francisco in 1890 while en route to Japan and again on his return.  He died in New York City on June 8, 1903.

Exhibited: San Francisco Art Association, 1895 (Japanese scenes).

Works Held: MM; Bancroft Library (UC Berkeley).
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
American Art Annual 1898; Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers (Fielding, Mantle).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Heritage Auctions:
A native of Cincinnati, Robert Frederick Blum was an active and successful artist, versatile in a number of media and highly regarded as a pastelist. His vibrant and atmospheric work, which incorporated Impressionist techniques, reflected the influence of James McNeill Whistler and William Merritt Chase and helped pave the way in America for the acceptance of Impressionism.

Although Blum studied at the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, he was practically self-taught, showing original talent not merely as a painter but also as an illustrator and muralist. One of Blum's most important works was a large double frieze -- Moods to Music and The Vintage Festival -- in the Mendelssohn Music Hall, built in New York City in the early 1890s.

The winner of gold medals at the 1889 Paris Exposition and the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, Blum was a member of the National Academy of Design, Society of American Artists, American Watercolor Society, National Society of Mural Painters, and Society of Painters in Pastel. In addition to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, his paintings can be viewed at the Cincinnati Art Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Biography from Spanierman Gallery (retired):
Robert Blum was one of the most prominent artists of his day. Active in progressive artistic circles and frequently traveling and working abroad, he came into contact with a great number of the modern stylistic directions of the late nineteenth century.  His work shows the influence of French Impressionism as well as the tonal styles of James McNeill Whistler and the Spanish painter, Mariano Fortuny.

Blum's vibrant and atmospheric canvases provided the groundwork for the full acceptance of Impressionism in America.   Blum was talented in a number of different media, and his pastels and etchings in particular helped to make his reputation, and are extremely well regarded today.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, where he spent his youth, Blum was exposed to the artistic resources of the city.   He studied at the McMicken School of Design and at the Ohio Mechanics Institute, where in the fall of 1874, he attended a special night class taught by Frank Duveneck.  However, it was during a visit to the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 that Blum received his first exposure to modern art.  He was drawn to the work of the Spanish-Romano School, especially that of Fortuny and of the fashionable Italian portraitist, Giovanni Boldini.

After studying for nine months at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Blum returned to Cincinnati where he worked as an illustrator and experimented with watercolor.  In Venice in 1880, he again encountered Duveneck and the circle of Americans that surrounded him.   He also came into contact with Whistler whose work exerted a strong influence on him, especially on his etchings and pastels.

Returning to New York City in the 1880s, Blum became president of the Society of Painters in Pastel, and along with his colleague in the organization, William Merritt Chase, he helped to increase the public awareness of the pastel medium.

Receiving an assignment from Scribner's Magazine in 1890, Blum traveled to Japan, a country which had held his fascination for some time.  Blum spent two years in Japan, working in a variety of media and creating a group of evocative portraits of women in pastel.   He also kept a diary and wrote a three-part magazine article about the experience.

From 1893 to 1903, Blum's career reached its pinnacle.   He continued to paint subjects from his travels in Europe and Japan, received important commissions to create murals for the old Mendelssohn Glee Club Hall and the New Amsterdam Theater, and painted the view from the window of his Grove Street apartment in New York.

The majority of the works in Blum's estate were given to the Cincinnati Art Museum.

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