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Biographical Note | A Finding Aid to the Jerome Blum papers, 1915-circa 1969, bulk, 1919-1935 | Digitized Collection

Jerome Blum papers, 1915-circa 1969, bulk, 1919-1935

Biographical Note

Jerome Blum (1884-1956) was a world traveler who found artistic inspiration while living in France and traveling to the American west, Hawaii, Japan, China, Cuba, and the South Seas (including a 10 month stay in Tahiti). Blum painted landscapes and seascapes of Southern France, and the many places he visited, as well as still lifes of exotic plants and fruits. He was living in Paris at the height of the Fauve movement and incorporated some of its ideas into his work, first inserting bold colors into his fairly conservative Post-Impressionist style. Later, he used significantly more saturated color, intense light, and bold forms.
Blum studied at the Francis J. Smith Art Academy in his native Chicago, and the Art Institute of Chicago. He went to Paris in 1906 with Lucile Swan, a sculptor and fellow student who eventually became his wife. There, he enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts for a brief period, studying with Luc Olivier Merson. Blum remained in Paris until 1910, participated in the 1909 and 1910 Salons d'Automne and received exhibition offers from Galerie Sagot, Paris, and Anderson Galleries, New York. While in France, Blum knew expatriates Jo Davidson, Arthur Dove, Samuel Halpert, Alfred Maurer, and John Marin. Halpert became a mentor of sorts, instructing him in painting Post-Impressionist landscapes, to which Blum soon added Fauvist color.
Once back in Chicago, Blum developed close friendships with writers Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, and Ben Hecht that lasted for decades. His one-man show at Thurber's Art Gallery in 1911 received very mixed reviews--most likely it was the first time the Fauve palette was seen by Chicagoans, and most thought it too radical. When the mayor purchased a Blum painting from a 1912 Art Institute of Chicago group exhibition, the proceeds enabled Blum to visit the American west. Later that year, Blum and Lucile Swan traveled in Europe. They were married in Paris and took an extended honeymoon, continuing to travel in France until the fall of the following year.
For a period of approximately 20 years, he exhibited extensively and enjoyed critical acclaim. During his many years of foreign residence, Blum returned to the United States periodically for exhibitions and family visits. He participated in a large number of solo exhibitions and group shows in the United States and France, including: Art Institute of Chicago, Arts Club of Chicago, O'Brien Galleries, and Albert Roullier Art Galleries in Chicago; Ainslie Galleries, Brooklyn Museum, Delphic Studios, Katz Gallery, M. Knoedler and Co., Whitney Museum of American Art, and Whitney Studio Club in New York; Worcester Art Museum and Boston Art Club in Massachusetts; Montlcair Art Museum in New Jersey; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia; and Galerie de la Renaissance in Paris. Blum is represented in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Blum returned to New York in 1924 and Lucile filed for divorce. An auction of his work was held at the Anderson Galleries that year; Augustus John, George Biddle, Chester Dale, M. Knoedler, Kraushaar Galleries, and Jo Davidson were among the successful bidders.
In 1925, he married Frances Baum, a psychiatric social worker. They settled in Dampierre, France for eight years, and during this period traveled extensively throughout the country. Always an unconventional and fiercely independent person, Blum's mental health was fragile and deteriorated markedly in the early 1930s, during which time his painting output decreased dramatically. The Blums spent part of 1934 at the MacDowell Colony in Petersborough, New Hampshire. Once his fellowship was over, they moved to Key West, Florida, where Blum became increasingly disturbed.
Blum was admitted to the Bloomingdale Hospital, a private psychiatric institution in White Plains, New York, in 1935. But after being diagnosed a "hopeless case," he was transferred to a state hospital. While hospitalized, Blum continued writing copious notes and made many appeals for release. He died at the Hudson River State Hospital, Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1956.