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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Peter Blume

House at Fallingwater, 1937, Peter Blume
Few, if any, artists living and working today can claim not to have been influenced by one or more other artists. Even a so-called "self-taught" artist, presumably having no instructor from which to have derived influence, is unlikely to have learned his or her art in a vacuum. Artists are attracted to art, which means they are unavoidably attracted to other artists. And if not consciously, then at least subconsciously, they are influenced by them. These influences most often manifest themselves in a young artist's early works after which time, as the artist matures, they very often become heavily "coated" in their own developing style to the point that the influence of others if quite difficult to discern. But now always. Take the work of the Russian-born American artist, Peter Blume for example.
Home for Christmas, Peter Blume
In surveying Blume's work we can easily see influences such as Thomas Hart Benton, Giorgio de Chirico, Salvador Dali, Frank Lloyd Wright, and even Grandma Moses. Naturally not all these influences were absorbed at the same time, and some were stronger than others. Given the fact Blume is considered a Surrealist, the influences of Dali and de Chirico are not unexpected. But for a painter to be influenced by a leading architect of his time such as Wright, as seen in his House at Fallingwater (top) is quite rare and surprising. Although Blume was not self-taught in the mold of Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses, he often displayed a rare combination of Folk Art imbued with Surrealism. Blume's Home for Christmas (above), is pure folk art while his The Parade (below) demonstrates this synthesis.
The Parade, 1930, Peter Blume. Notice the Cubist influence.

Peter Blume was born into a Jewish family in 1906. In 1912, his family emigrated from Smarhon, Russia (present-day northeastern Belarus), to New York City where they settled in Brooklyn. Blume studied art at the Educational Alliance, the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design, and the Art Students League of New York. He established his own studio by 1926 as he came to enjoy the patronage of the Rockefeller family. Blume married in 1931, but had no children. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1932, which allowed him to spend a year in Italy. There he became an admirer of Renaissance technique, picking up the habit of and making cartoons (full-size drawings) before putting his work on canvas.
Photos taken over the course of Blume's sixty-six year career.
Blume's big break as an artist came In 1934 when his South of Scranton (below) was included in the Thirty-second Carnegie International exhibition in Pittsburgh. The twenty-seven-year-old artist was thrust into national attention when the painting was awarded first prize by a distinguished panel of judges including Elizabeth Luther Cary of the New York Times, the American artist Gifford Beal, and Alfred H. Barr, Jr., director of the Museum of Modern Art. Public outcry at the Surrealist nature of the painting prevented the Carnegie Institute from purchasing it for their collection. However, in 1942 it was acquired by The Metropolitan Museum of Art after winning a prize in the major exhibition "Artists for Victory."

South of Scranton, 1934, Peter Blume
The influence of the famous Missouri painter, Thomas Hart Benton can be seen to some degree in several of Blume's works, but most noticeably in his The Steamer (below) from 1929, well before Blume became famous. Besides the elements of folk art, and Surrealism, at various periods in his career Blume also displayed influences as diverse as Precisionism, Parisian Purism, and (most surprisingly) Cubism. The work of Peter Blume is sometimes listed as "magic realism", a variation of the American style of the era, which offers images of everyday life, combined in a cartoonish manner that gives the viewer a sense of wonder and imagination.
The Steamer, 1920, Peter Blume
While in Rome Blume had the adventure of seeing the celebrations for the tenth anniversary of the Fascist March on Rome. He expressed his Fascism with the grotesque Eternal city (below), from 1934-37. It became an instant source of controversy. The politically charged work portrayed Benito Mussolini as a jack-in-the-box emerging from the Coliseum. Many consider it his most important painting.
The Eternal City, 1934-37, Peter Bloom
Blume's works often portrayed destruction and restoration simultaneously as seen in the artist's Recollection after the Flood (below) from 1969, which depicts the victims of the 1966 Flood of the River Arno in Florence along with art restorers at work. It offers a rare opportunity to study the similarities and the differences between Blume's full-size, preliminary cartoon and the final painting. Peter Blume was elected into the National Academy of Design in 1948 as an Associate member, becoming a full member in 1956. He died in New Milford, Connecticut, in November of 1992. Today his works can be found in major museums around the world.
Peter Blume's 1969 tribute to the victims and restoration workers following the catastrophic flooding of Florence by the Arno River in 1966.

Although landscape painters have often been known to paint
a series of works depicting the same scene during the four
seasons, Blume may well be the only Surrealist artist to do so.
Usually such works are created within months of one another.
Blume's series, however, spans more than fifty years.


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