Sampans at Sea
pastel on brown paper
9.5 x 13.9 inches
signed with artist’s stamp lower right
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.