Robert Frederick Blum

(1857-1903)

Robert Frederick Blum was granted his long desired wish to visit Japan in 1890. Scribner's Magazine assigned him to illustrate a series of articles by Sir Edwin Arnold on the life and customs of the country, later issued as the book Japonica. During his stay of slightly more than two years, Blum worked in a variety of media, creating several of his most ambitious and exotic oil paintings and a small group of sensual and evocative portraits of women in pastel. In his Japanese pictures, Blum sought to express the customs, fashions and architecture of the Japanese, glorifying native workers and the beauty of native women. During the course of 1890, he devoted himself completely to his illustration assignment for Scribner's Magazine and only in 1891 did he begin to create pictures completely for his own pleasure.

BlumÂ’'s pastel portraits of young Japanese women are the culmination of his idealization of native feminine beauty. He created intimate characterizations, expressing his regard for their gentility, sensuality and exotic physical appearance. Blum remarked in his diary: "I can't keep my eyes off [Japanese women]. They are so dainty -- modest - womanly" (Blum diary entry of June 8, 1890). His pastel portraits fall into two categories; single women in sparse interior environments, and comparatively formal portraits of single women, devoid of a setting. In most of his works in the medium, Blum chose to utilize the support as a warm foundation color, incorporating the brown paper into the overall tonal scheme.