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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Works, Letters & Photographs from Peter Blume Collection Arrive at MIR

“In my work there’s always a kind of destruction plus thrust,
something dynamic.”

—Peter Blume
(Chicago Tribune 1976)

The work of Peter Blume is striking. His work startles the eye with its merger of great spans of color and minute detail. The viewer is instantly drawn to bold, seamless shapes rendered with vibrant precision. With this nearly menacing, technical precision, he builds the stuff of allegory, considering grandly themes of decay and renewal in “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” as Marianne Moore put it.

One sees the work and questions arise such as “Who is this man? Where did he learn his craft?” Blume’s foremost building materials include motifs of stones and girders; the human animal, with her curiosity about the artist and his thematic obsessions, longs to stand among these mysterious stones and scrutinize his scenes from every angle.

The Rock

Born in Smorgon in Russia in 1906, Blume immigrated with his family to New York in 1912; at fifteen, he began schooling at the Educational Alliance, later studying at the Art Students League ( Writer Malcolm Cowley, Blume’s friend and, later in life, his next-door-neighbor, recalls meeting Blume in 1928 in New York. Blume lived on 75 dollars per month—the allowance given to him by Charles Daniel’s gallery (one of the first galleries to showcase modern art)—and he roomed in and out of friends’ studios. Cowley gave him a lead on Addie Turner’s four room unheated house in the country, where he would live for nearly a year; the poet Hart Crane lived at times across the hall from Blume, where he was composing his epic poem The Bridge (Trapp 8).

The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1932, Blume traveled to Italy and found inspiration for his masterwork Eternal City, which showcases the bloated head of Mussolini in a fantastical landscape.

Eternal City

Julien Levy featured the painting in a one-man, one-work show.

Blume’s work was also included in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1943 exhibition “American Realists and Magic Realists”; in the exhibition catalogue, Lincoln Kirstein characterizes the works as owning “crisp hard edges, tightly indicated forms, and the counterfeiting of material surfaces” (

Unearthing the life and works of an artist, and understanding personal history and artistic concerns within a cultural context-- these activities frame some of our principle aims at MIR Appraisal Services. In our work as art appraisers, the analysis of an artist’s oeuvre in terms of personal biography can add support to the authenticity and value of the art in question; physical evidence, such as photographs and letters, can add to the value of the work. Recently we were given the privilege of examining some of Mr. Blume’s original work as well as artifacts from his personal life, brought into us by the great-nieces of his wife, Grace Douglas (Ebie) Blume. What an honor to hold in our hands family letters and photographs, as well as more personal, less well-known works of the artist—to examine the roots of family history and the roots of the artist’s work.

Figures, from left to right: Ebie, Marshall, Peter and Ann;
Ann's garden in Alexandria, VA
[See Blume's artistic rendering of the garden in Housewarming, an image that follows shortly]

Letter from Ebie Blume to her great-niece, in which she discusses the writer James Thurber, her friend and neighbor

Roberta Smith of the New York Times notes that Blume’s work “combined such disparate influences as folk art and Precisionism with aspects of Parisian Purism and Cubism and later Surrealism” ( Even keeping this stylistic range in mind, it is surprising and charming to witness quiet domestic scenes from the family’s collection:

Housewarming, marked on the verso “View from Ann’s window”

To comprehend the ways in which personal history and artistic vision interpenetrate, consider his pivotal work South of Scranton, now in the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art-- a painting inspired by the sight of German sailors exercising on their vessel “Emden” in the Charleston harbor.

South of Scranton

In Blume’s translation, the navy sailors became, in his words, “birds soaring through space” (

In a 1976 interview in the Chicago Tribune, Blume expressed interest in seeing, in general, “the range of experience in art expanded; a Caravaggian quality of light reintegrated; illusion of space, texture and reality, restored. All of which points to a fresh interest in human concerns” (Chicago Tribune 1976). In terms of his own work, he listed his lofty aims with humility: “As an affirmation of the virtues and qualities of life, I would like to tie all these things together in my work before I die. Not as the last word, but just to absolve myself of any negation. Not only on the part of so-called philosophical expression, but also on the purely technical side. There are so many things that we have forgotten. And maybe I’ve neglected them, too” (Chicago Tribune 1976).

* * *

Researched and written by Anja Keppeler and Jessica Savitz

MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.
Principal Appraiser: Farhad Radfar, ISA AM
307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 814-8510

MIR Appraisal Services is located just steps from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Cultural Center; please do give us a ring to set up an appointment for a verbal evaluation of your most prized works of art.

Works Cited
Chicago Tribune. 18 Jan. 1976.
Trapp, Frank Anderson. Peter Blume. New York: Rizzoli, 1987.

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    Welcome to our blog site! MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. is a fine art and personal property appraisal company dedicated to serving clients throughout the United States and abroad since our incorporation in Chicago in 1994. We specialize in the multi-faceted field of appraising fine art, jewelry, antiques, and decorative items. We also provide professional fine art restoration and conservation treatment for various media, including but not limited to, artworks on canvas, board, masonite, and paper. We offer professional and precise appraisal services carried out by our team of accredited appraisers for the purposes of insurance coverage and claims, charitable donations, estate planning and probate, equitable distribution and fair-market value. We started our art commentary blog site as a venue for colleagues and fellow art enthusiasts to share their experiences within the art community.