Robert Frederick Blum

Artist Biography

An American impressionist that emerged as a direct result of artistic developments occurring in Cincinnati during the mid-nineteenth century.

By Chelsea DeLay

Robert F. Blum earned a reputation as a talented artist of many mediums, and is primarily remembered for his immense skills as an illustrator and a colorist. While traveling abroad during the 1880s, his vibrant and atmospheric works earned critical acclaim and were hailed as masterpieces of American Impressionism.

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Suggested Resources
VII. Notes

I. Biography

Born on July 9, 1857, Robert Blum was a first generation American born to German immigrants. He grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was introduced to the world of American Impressionism while apprenticing at Gibson & Co. Lithographers. His brief time there piqued his interest in drawing, and he subsequently began his studies at the McMicken School of Design before transferring to the Old Mechanics Institute.[1] In 1874, Blum, along with fellow Cincinnati-born artists John Twachtman and Ralph DeCamp, enrolled in Frank Duveneck’s nightly drawing classes.

Blum was a registered student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1876; that same year, he attended the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, where he was exposed to the works of Mariano Fortuny as well as Japanese art.[2] In Blum’s early works, the influence of Fortuny is apparent in his use of brilliant colors and visible brushwork. In 1879, Blum relocated to New York City where his draftsmanship skills led to a position as an illustrator for the popular Scribner’s magazine.[3]

Blum traveled to Venice, Italy with Scribner’s art editor Alexander Drake in 1879, where they encountered James Abbott McNeill Whistler. While they worked together, Whistler introduced Blum to Japanese principles of design and persuaded him to try using pastels in his works.[4] Venetian Lace Masters (1886), one of Blum’s most important pieces, was painted while he lived in Venice from June 1885 through November 1886, and the work went on to win a bronze medal at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle.[5]

The most important stylistic development of Blum’s artistic career can be credited to his 1890 excursion to Japan. Under assignment to complete supplemental illustrations for a piece in Scribner’s magazine, Blum was able to produce many paintings of Japanese subjects in both oil and pastel.[6] Heralded by critics as some of his most skilled works, these pieces were considered to demonstrate a “ravishing precision, delicacy of fibre, and above all, vivid color.”[7]

Upon his return to New York City in 1892, Blum completed a series of murals for the Mendelssohn Glee Club entitled Moods of Music, which are currently located at the Brooklyn Museum.[8] Blum went on to live a relatively reclusive lifestyle in New York City, until his death in 1903.

II. Chronology

1857 Born July 9, in Cincinnati, Ohio
1873–74 Apprenticed at Gibson & Co. Lithographers
1873 Enrolled in drawing classes at McMicken School of Design
1874 Transferred to Ohio Mechanics Institute, enrolled in nightly drawing classes taught by Frank Duveneck
1876 Enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
1879 Relocated to New York City; Hired as illustrator for Scribner’s
1880 Traveled to Venice, Italy with Frank Duveneck
1889 Participated in Landmark exhibition at Paris Exposition, received medal for Lace Makers
1890–92 Traveled to Japan to prepare illustrations for a Scribner’s assignment
1892 Completed a series of murals entitled Moods of Music for the Mendelssohn Glee Club in New York City
1893 Began to withdraw from society, lived in relative seclusion
1903 Passed away in New York City

III. Collections

Brooklyn Museum, NY
City Art Museum of St. Louis, MO
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

IV. Exhibition History

1878, 1880–81, 1889, 1893–94, 1905 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
1881–82, 1885 Brooklyn Arts Association
1881–1893 National Academy of Design
1882, 1885-86, 1889 Boston Art Club
1883–84 Metropolitan Museum of Art
1887 American Art Gallery
1888 Royal Academy Exhibition
1889, 1900 Paris Exposition, (medals both years)
1890 Chicago Interstate Exhibition
1896, 1923 Carnegie Institute (1923 was a solo exhibition)
1901 Pan-American Exposition (received gold medal)
1904 M. Knoedler Gallery
1904 Universal Exposition
1905, 1966 Cincinnati Art Museum
1913 Berlin Photographic Co. (memorial exhibition)
1918 The Art Institute of Chicago
1974 Eastern Kentucky University

V. Memberships

1879 Society of Painters of Pastel, President
1892 Associate Member, National Academy of Design
1893 Academician, National Academy of Design
American Water Color Society
Society of American Artists
Society of Mural Painters

VI. Suggested Resources

Peter H. Falk, Who Was Who in American Art (Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1999): 354.
William H. Gerdts, American Artists in Japan (Hollis Taggart Galleries, 1996): 7–8.
Bruce Weber, Robert Freidrick Blum (1857-1903) and His Mileu (Ph.D. diss., City University of New York, 1985).

VII. Notes

1. Peter H. Falk, Who Was Who in American Art (Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1999), 354.
2. “Robert Blum: The Serious Value of Vivacity in Art Venice and Japan In Pictures” in The New York Tribune (30 June 1895): 23.
3. Falk, 354.
4. Kirsten M. Jensen, The American Salon: The Art Gallery at the Chicago Interstate Industrial Exposition, 1873-1890 (New York: City University of New York, 2007), 201.
5. Eugenia Eckford, “Itinerant Candy Vender–Robert F. Blum” in The Instructor (January 1932): 14.
6. Falk, 354.
7. “The Home Forum: Art of Robert Blum” in The Christian Science Monitor (21 April 1931), n.p.
8. Eckford, 14.

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