Peter Blume


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Painter. His tightly detailed representational works vary from straightforward description to nightmarish fantasies. Influenced by cubism, his early work was related to precisionism, but in some later paintings imagination overpowered cool analysis of form. In his best-known works, dating to the 1930s and 1940s, strange and irrational events reflect familiarity with European surrealism. However, Blume usually contrived his imagery rationally, rather than retrieving it from the unconscious mind. His meticulous realism was associated with magic realism, although it generally offered a grimmer and more pessimistic vision than was common among this group. Blume was born in Smorgon, Russia (now Belarus), moved with his family to Brooklyn in 1911, was naturalized as an American citizen in 1921, and studied at the Art Students League and elsewhere. Reflecting interest in rural New England, where he lived for part of each year at the time, Winter, New Hampshire (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1927) exemplifies Blume's exactingly realistic technique, his precisionist ties, and his penchant for rearranging and condensing architectural and landscape elements into poetic images. By 1930 Blume's crisp, geometric forms had become elements in unsettling dramas. Inspired by two lengthy Italian sojourns during the 1930s, his best-known painting, Eternal City (Museum of Modern Art, 1934–37) created a political and aesthetic uproar when first exhibited. In this elaborately staged and vicious satire on Italian fascism, a sickly green Mussolini rises from a jack-in-the-box placed in a setting inspired by the history-drenched decrepitude of Rome. Throughout the painting's deep space, varied figures enact misfortunes or delusions. During the Depression, Blume was employed by federal art projects. After about 1950 he worked in a more directly realistic manner but continued often to acknowledge the bizarre. A resident for several decades of Sherman, Connecticut, he died after an extended period of ill health in a nursing home in nearby New Milford.

Subjects: Art.

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