The Eternal City (1934 – 37) was inspired by a trip Peter Blume took to Rome in 1932 — ten years after the fascist takeover of Italy. The dictator Benito Mussolini, depicted here as a deranged Jack-in-the-box with a green head, bulging eyes and pouting red lips, dominates the composition.
He lords over a woman begging for money amid marble ruins and an incongruous shrine of a bejeweled Christ. In the distance, people wind through labyrinthine catacombs toward the Roman Forum, where they are greeted by threatening officers. A searing indictment of fascism, the painting presents a nightmarish vision of a once glorious city being steered toward ruin.
Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
South of Scranton (1931) gathers various scenes that artist Peter Blume (1906 – 1992) encountered during an extended road trip in the spring of 1930. Setting out from his residence in Pawling, New York, Blume drove through the coalfields of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and then headed south toward the steel mills of Bethlehem. Blume then traveled further south to Charleston, South Carolina, where he witnessed several sailors performing acrobatic exercises aboard the deck of a German cruiser ship in the harbor. In an account of the painting’s origins, the artist stated, “As I tried to weld my impressions into the picture, they lost all their logical connections. I moved Scranton into Charleston, and Bethlehem into Scranton, as people do in a dream.” Blume’s crisp technique heightens the painting’s surreal appearance.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
Peter Blume’s Light of the World (1932) delivers an allegorical critique of modernity and the unquestioning embrace of progress. The four figures are transfixed by the bright light of a fantastical lamp whose brilliance contrasts with the darkening sky overtaking a cathedral based on Notre Dame in Paris – a juxtaposition implying that the faith once reflected in Gothic architecture’s soaring spires had been transferred to modern technologies. Blume identified the mustachioed figure as a ventriloquist’s dummy – his personal symbol for the voiceless and impotent American worker – another hint of the societal pressures that keep us in thrall to technological progress, often against our best interests.
Photographed in the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC.
You might have noticed that posts on the blog were a little on the thin side last week, because I was away vacationing with my sister in the lovely American city of Chicago. No one will argue that Chicago is a pretty happening place for a vacation, especially if you like to visit amazing sites, eat delicious food and suffer wildly unpredictable weather. In fact, due to last weeks’ extremely shitty inclement weather in “The Windy City,” we ended up doing a lot of “indoor activities” – including one afternoon spent wandering around aimlessly inside the massive Art Institute, Chicago, which is just insane. If you’ve been to NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the two are very similar: huge and full of art. Of all the many paintings and other arty stuff that we saw, my favorite is this painting by Peter Blume (1906 – 1992) called The Rock. It has a little bit of an interesting back story: The Rock was originally commissioned in 1939 by the Edgar Kaufmann family for their Frank Lloyd Wright–designed home, Falling Water, located in Bear Run, Pennsylvania. The construction of Falling Water can be seen on the left side of the composition. The painting has all kinds of crazy surreal details and it’s just super awesome. I wish I could afford to have this painting hanging on the walls of the Chickpad. If you ever find yourself in the Art Institute of Chicago, make sure you find this painting and spend some time looking at it. Then go down to the basement where they have this mind-blowing collection of period room miniatures that is just the shit. More fun posts about my rad trip to Chicago will show up on The Gig over the next week or so.