Robert Frederick Blum, the son of German-American parents, was a painter and illustrator.
As a young man Blum was apprenticed to Gibson & Co., lithographers in Cincinnati. He received his art education at the McMicken School of Design, the Ohio Mechanics Institute and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In New York from 1878 he contributed illustrations to magazines such as St Nicholas and Scribner's Magazine.
In 1880 he made his first trip to Europe and in Venice joined a colony of American painters established by Frank Duveneck, a group which also included John White Alexander, Otto Henry Bacher, Charles Abel Corwin, George Edward Hopkins, Harper Pennington, Julius Rolshoven and Theodore M. Wendel. Under Duveneck's influence and that of JW (whom he also met in Venice), he took up etching.
The young 'Duveneck boys' were in awe of JW's experience and reputation. JW, who enjoyed their admiration, happily discussed his work and gave advice to the students. He moved in with the group at the Casa Jankowitz on the Riva San Biagio in Castello, and would frequently sketch from its windows. Blum's etchings with their use of expressive broken line and tonal printing, were highly influenced by those of JW.
Blum went on to travel frequently with William Merritt Chase, another artist influenced by JW, with whom Blum founded the Society of Painters in Pastel, New York. The Society held four exhibitions, the first in 1884. Oscar Wilde wrote of Blum's pastels that they 'give me the feeling of eating yellow satin'.
Like JW, Blum held an interest in the art of Japan and in May 1890 he travelled to Japan on behalf of Scribner's Magazine to make illustrations for articles by Sir Edwin Arnold. He remained there for about two years, where he made a number of small sketches and paintings from Japanese life, e.g. The Ameya (1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).
Blum, Robert Frederick, 'Technical Methods of American Artists, vi: Pen and Ink Drawing', The Studio, vol. 3 (3 May 1884), pp. 173-5; R. F. Blum, 'An Artist in Japan', Scribner's Magazine, vol. 13 (April-June 1893), pp. 399-414, 624-36, 729-49.
Boyle, R. J. (ed.), Robert F. Blum, 1857-1903: A Retrospective Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, Art Museum, Cincinnati, 1966; Weber, B., Robert Frederick Blum (1857-1903) and his Milieu, dissertation, City University, New York, 1985; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995; MacDonald, Margaret F., Palaces in the Night: Whistler in Venice, London, 2001; Carr, Carolyn Kinder, 'Robert Frederick Blum', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, accessed 17 May 2002, http://www.groveart.com.