Written by FDAC Board Member Sharifa T. Lookman ’17
This summer I have had the opportunity to research and live on campus. In addition to realizing Connecticut’s extreme humidity (who knew this was the same state that snows us in all winter!), I am enjoying the east coast’s international collections and thriving art culture. Most recently, I visited the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and enjoyed a special traveling exhibition Peter Blume: Nature and Metamorphosis, on view in Hartford through September 20.
Peter Blume (1906-1992) was a Russian born artist who emigrated as a child to New York City, where he later studied art as a young adult. His studies took him to Italy for year, but he returned to the city and established himself as a practicing artist.
Having just spent four months abroad in Florence myself, I was intrigued by Blume’s time in Italy. Upon looking at his works it became clear to me that a lot of his influence came from the Italian Renaissance, particularly in his piece Recollection of the Flood. True to Renaissance tradition, Blume created multiple iterations of the work in the form of cartoons and studies. His understanding of composition and human form evolves throughout his studies, and his figures exhibit Giotto and Michelangelo-esque understandings of the human figure by showcasing bulky forms and almost over exaggerated anatomical mass. In Study for Recollection of the Flood Blume situates his figures in space, blocking them in using light and dark tones. The artist depicted working on a fresco in the background mimics Blume’s own artistic process as he sketches his composition into the wall fresco. It is supposed that the studio in the painting is actually based off of Blume’s own workspace, further identifying the artists with Blume himself. This process of painting depicted also references the Renaissance fresco painting technique, in which the artist would sketch in their composition and cartoon in a red pigment called sinopia, which would become the under painting.
Blume further imbued his painting with an Italian influence in the content itself. In 1966 the Arno River in Florence flooded, damaging much of the city’s architecture, archives, and art. In the following decade efforts were made by conservators to restore the damaged artwork and frescos. Blume depicts the aftermath of this event in Recollection of the Flood. In the foreground Blume portrays survivors of the flood in a state of homelessness and despair, while in the background he illustrates artists perhaps repairing damage to an existing fresco or creating a new one, emphasizing hope and revival.
More involved analyses of these pieces have been done that push past just the flood itself. Here I have isolated the notion of the flood to emphasize the work’s Italian and Renaissance sensibilities, in both content and technique. I posit that Blume’s Recollection of the Flood and its studies are not just imitations of the Italian Renaissance, but rather can be interpreted as contemporary portrayals of Italy’s people and values. By capturing the art and techniques of Italian Renaissance as well as the attitude of contemporary Florence, the works reminded me more of my time spent in Italy than I believe even a Michelangelo would. It was unexpected, however, to be so vividly reminded of this time while perusing an American Modernism exhibition! I found this these works of Blume’s to be an unexpected and yet honest taste of Italy and its history in our very own humble Connecticut.