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 Peter Blume  (1906 - 1992)

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Lived/Active: Connecticut      Known for: surreal landscape-genre and figure painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Peter Blume
1906 (Smorgon, Russia)
1992 (New Milford, Connecticut)


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surreal landscape-genre and figure painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Noted for his surrealist- tinged figuration called ‘magic realism’, Peter Blume remained outside any clearly defined current of American art, and throughout his sixty year career rarely veered from the quirky narrative style he developed in his twenties.  Born in Smorgon, Russia, Peter Blume’s parents emigrated to the United States in 1911, and settled in Brooklyn, New York, around 1912.  Blume's father worked in the clothing trade as a ‘marker’, laying out patterns on fabric.

Blume studied art from the age of 13 at evening classes, then at the Educational Alliance in the lower East Side of New York, where he learned about modern art and also met numerous artists. He then went on to study at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design, and the Art Students League.

By age nineteen his work was being shown by Charles Daniel, one of the few art dealers handling modern art at that time.  By the time he was twenty, in 1926, he had a studio in New York. During the 1930s and 1940s the popularity of Blume's dreamlike paintings, filled with obsessive detail, made him one of America's best-known artists.

In his work, Vegetable Dinner, completed when he was only twenty-one, it is clear that Blume was already familiar with past artistic traditions, including the Egyptian habit of showing heads in strict profile and torsos in frontal view.  The lower East Side of New York, where Blume studied art, was full of vegetarian restaurants; many immigrant radicals felt that a strict avoidance of meat went well with political commitment. When Blume learned that a lot of people he admired had been vegetarians, including George Bernard Shaw, Leo Tolstoy, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, he adopted the regimen for a time also.

His painting, "South of Scranton", exemplifies how he gathered inspiration for his paintings from many sources.  During an extended car trip in spring 1930, Peter Blume drove through the coal fields of Scranton, Pennsylvania, in his Model T Ford, and then headed south toward the steel mills of Bethlehem, and on to Charleston, South Carolina.  Along the way, he noted industrial machinery, coal piles, deep quarries, a smoking locomotive, and even men in gym shorts performing acrobatic feats aboard the deck of a ship.  (The acrobatic men were real sailors in the navy on the German cruiser "Emden" that had pulled into Charleston harbor during Blume's visit.)  About the work, the artist stated: "As I tried to weld my impressions into the picture, they lost all their logical connections. I moved Scranton into Charleston, and Bethlehem into Scranton, as people do in a dream. The German sailors appeared to lose the purpose of exercising and became, in a sense, like birds soaring through space."

Blume’s admiration for Renaissance technique largely inspired his working method.  He would make drawings and compositional cartoons, and then painstakingly transfer the images to canvas, a meticulous approach that resulted in a surprisingly small body of work.  Blume was involved with a style called Purism, which emphasized contours and simplified shapes. Purism deletes all the messy and confusing aspects of life, leaving a clarified modern classicism. Although he was individualistic, his work has also been linked to Precisionist art, such as that of Sheeler and Demuth.

In his early work, such as The Parade (1930), held by the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, he sought to depict through symbolism the smooth, hard contours of the industrial world. His paintings, which gained recognition in the 1930s, are precise and fantastic treatments of modern social themes, painted in microscopic detail.  Two of his major works are the powerful antifascist Eternal City (1934–37) held by the Museum of Modern Art, and The Rock (1945–48), at the Art Institute, Chicago.  

websites:;; the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art;
Elizabeth Broun’s writings on the website of the Smithsonian Institute;
David Ebony writing in Art in America.  

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

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