attributed to J. I. Block


The Ameya, after Robert Frederick Blum

oil on canvas, signed at lower left, J.I. Block (or H. Block), with possible date, 1911 (or just '19'), ca. early 20th century

painting 16 by 13 1/2 in., 40.6 by 34.3 cm
frame 20 7/8 by 18 1/4 in, 53 by 46.5 cm

This painting is a study of the left half of the famous Japonisme oil on canvas, The Ameya (the candy blower) painted by Robert Frederick Blum (1857-1903), with a focus on the primary subject, the street vendor engaged in the act of amezaiku. Blum painted his masterpiece in circa 1892 towards the end of a two-year residency in Japan. He was in Japan on commission to illustrate a series of articles for Scribner's Magazine. Between 1890 and 1891, Blum's illustrations accompanied four articles written by Sir Edwin Arnold, and a fifth article by John Henry Wigmore was published in July 1891. After completing his initial commission for the magazine by March of that year, he turned his attention subjects that were of interest to him, resulting in a three-part article by Blum titled 'An Artist's Letters from Japan' that Scribner's published in the April, May and June 1893 issues. His painting, The Ameya, was reproduced for the final installment of the series. Upon his return to New York, the painting was acquired by his patron, Alfred Corning Clark (1844-1896), who loaned it to the March 1893 annual exhibition of the National Academy of Design (3 months before Scribner's published it) where it was reviewed by The New York Times and was believed to have prompted the artist's subsequent election as a member of the Academy. The Ameya was exhibited in Europe in 1899-1900 at the Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1899-1900 and published in the accompanying catalogue. The New York Times mentioned the painting again in the artist's obituary in June of 1903, as "His most ambitious canvas." The following year it was the first image illustrated in an exhibition catalogue of the late artist's work on view at M. Knoedler & Co. in New York, after which the Clark estate donated the painting to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Widely regarded as Blum's most accomplished work and a compositional tour de force, the painting continued to be published, including, but not limited to an illustration in Century Magazine in September of 1911 (the possible year date on this canvas); an illustration in a 1913 exhibition catalogue for the Berlin Photographic Company New York; and an illustration in the prominent International Studio Magazine 82 in November 1925. Attention waned during the inter-war and immediate post-war period before interest in Japonimse sparked anew in the latter half of the 20th century and the Blum's painting was yet again exhibited and published (too frequently to itemize here).

All of which is to say, the artist who produced this study may have been working from published reproduction of the painting or had the opportunity to view and copy it in person while it was publicly exhibited in New York or Paris. The signature appears to read H. Block or, more likely, J.I. Block, suggesting a plausible attribution to the academic painter Josef Israel Block (German, 1863-1943). Block was an early member of the Berlin and Munich Secession movements (and a colleague of the Austrian artist and Japanophile Emil Orlik, 1870-1932). He traveled to the United States in 1893 in order to attend the Chicago World's Fair where he won a medal for his painting of two figures in an interior setting, Dämmerung ('Twilight'). Block's oeuvre is comprised primarily of portraits, genre scenes, and biblical subjects. An oil on canvas titled Grablegung ('Entombment,' current whereabouts unknown) seen in the background of a photo of the artist at work in his studio is tantalizingly evocative of a similar subject by Blum, Study for Christ After Ribera, 1882, in the collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum (accession no. 1905.144). A monograph on Block published in 2010 lists 146 recorded works by the artist, and illustrates several paintings, few with visible signatures that bear a resemblance to the signature on this study. Additional research is needed to confirm this attribution and explore further connections between the life and work of Block and Blum.

References (on Blum):
The New York Times, March 24, 1893
R. Blum, Scribner's Magazine 13, An Artist's Letters from Japan, June 1893 (The Ameya- a Curious Crowd)
The New York Times, June 9, 1903 (Blum's obituary)
M. Knoedler & Co., New York, Exhibition of Paintings and Studies by the Late Robert Frederick Blum, 1904, no. 1
Cincinnati Art Museum, Exhibition of Paintings and Studies by the Late Robert Frederick Blum, 1905
Century Magazine, 60, September 1911, collor Illus. opp. p. 635 M. Birnhaum, Robert Frederick Blum, Berlin Photographic Company, New York, 1913
J. W. Harrington, International Studio 82, November 1925, ill. p. 92
John Caldwell, et. al, American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1980, pp. 301-304, illus. p. 303
Julia Meech-Pekarik, Early Collectors of Japanese Prints and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum Journal 17, 1984, pp. 103-104, illus. no. 16
Christine Shimizu, Le Japon du XIX Siecle, 1990, illus. p. 182 and cover
Lionel Lambourne, Japonisme: Cultural Crossings between Japan and the West, 2005, pp. 135-137, no. 159, and illus. title page
Gabriel P. Weisberg, The Orient Expressed: Japanese Influence on Western Art, 1854-1918, 2011, p. 66, no. 91
Behind the Scenes in Conservation: Quarantined in Traction!, Cincinnati Art Museum Blog, 5/21/2020 (Blum, 'Study for Christ After Ribera')

References (on Josef Block):
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Research in the Kunstbibliothek. The Painter Josef Block, 15.12.17 to 28.01.2018 (photo of the artist in his studio)
Klaus-Dieter Spangenberg, Josef Block: Maler der Berliner und Munchner Secession, 2010, p. 79, no. 36, image of Grablegung ('Entombment'); p. 154 (re: visiting Chicago)
(inv. no. 10-4957)

price: $1,800

attributed to J. I.  Block

as framed


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