In 1906, Peter Blume and his family emigrated from Russia to New York City. As a teenager he studied art at the Educational Alliance and at the Art Students League in New York. By age nineteen his work was being shown by Charles Daniel, one of the few art dealers handling modern art at that time. During the 1930s and 1940s the popularity of Blume's dreamlike paintings, filled with obsessive detail, made him one of America's best-known artists.
"South of Scranton" gathers scenes that the artist encountered during an extended car trip in spring 1930. Beginning in March, Blume drove through the coal fields of Scranton, Pennsylvania, in his Model T Ford, then headed south toward the steel mills of Bethlehem. The industrial machinery, coal piles, deep quarries, and smoking locomotive at the left side of the painting represent these locales. Blume then traveled to Charleston, South Carolina, where he remained for several weeks. The unexpected sight of three men in gym shorts performing acrobatic feats aboard the deck of a ship was also based on an actual incident. The men were sailors in the navy on the German cruiser "Emden" that had pulled into Charleston harbor during Blume's visit.
By the time Blume started home to Connecticut in June, he had made five preparatory drawings for this large painting which was completed in October 1931. The artist stated: "As I tried to weld my impressions into the picture, they lost all their logical connections. I moved Scranton into Charleston, and Bethlehem into Scranton, as people do in a dream. The German sailors appeared to lose the purpose of exercising and became, in a sense, like birds soaring through space."
In 1934 "South of Scranton" was included in the Thirty-second Carnegie International exhibition in Pittsburgh. The twenty-seven-year-old artist was thrust into national attention when the painting was awarded first prize by a distinguished panel of judges: Elizabeth Luther Cary of the "New York Times," the American artist Gifford Beal, and Alfred H. Barr, Jr., director of the Museum of Modern Art. Public outcry at the Surrealist nature of the painting, however, prevented the Carnegie Institute from purchasing it for their collection. In 1942 it was acquired by The Metropolitan Museum of Art after it won a prize in the major exhibition "Artists for Victory."
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): Peter Blume 1931
the artist, Gaylordsville, Conn. (1931–42; sold to MMA)
Pittsburgh. Carnegie Institute. "32nd International Exhibition of Paintings," 1934, no. 54 (awarded First Prize).
New York. Downtown Gallery. "What Is Wrong With This Picture?," May 6–30, 1941, unnum. brochure.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Artists for Victory: An Exhibition of Contemporary American Art," December 7, 1942–February 22, 1943, unnumbered cat. (p. 2; awarded a Second Prize).
Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. "Milestones of American Painting in Our Century," opened on January 1, 1949 and travelled to Montreal, Colorado Springs, San Francisco, and Cleveland through December 31, 1949, no. 33.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "20th Century Painters: A Special Exhibition of Oils, Water Colors and Drawings Selected from the Collections of American Art in the Metropolitan Museum," June 16–October 29, 1950, unnum. brochure (p. 3).
Los Angeles. Pan Pacific Auditorium. "National Construction Industries Home Show Exposition," June 14–24, 1951, no catalogue.
Seattle Art Museum. "Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture," February 4–April 5, 1953, unnum. brochure.
Washington, D.C. St. Albans School. May 20–June 3, 1959, no catalogue.
Washington, D. C. Corcoran Gallery of Art. "The New Tradition: Modern Americans Before 1940," April 27–June 2, 1963, no. 8.
Manchester, N.H. The Currier Gallery of Art. "Peter Blume in Retrospect 1925 to 1964: Paintings & Drawings," April 18–May 31, 1964, no. 11.
Hartford. Wadsworth Atheneum. "Peter Blume in Retrospect 1925 to 1964: Paintings & Drawings," July 9–August 16, 1964, no. 11.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Three Centuries of American Painting," April 9–October 17, 1965, unnum. checklist.
Staten Island Museum. "20th Century American Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," April 9–28, 1978, brochure no. 3.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "American Landscape Painting," April–August 13, 1989, no catalogue.
New York. National Academy of Design. "Surrealism USA," February 17–May 8, 2005, unnumbered cat. (pl. 11).
Philadelphia. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. "Peter Blume: Nature and Metamorphosis," November 14, 2014–April 5, 2015, no. 23 (as 1930–31).
Hartford, Conn. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. "Peter Blume: Nature and Metamorphosis," July 3–September 20, 2015, no. 23.
"Artists for Victory Score Victory in Metropolitan Exhibition." Art Digest 17 (December 15, 1942), p. 6.
Alfred M. Frankfurter. "The Artists for Victory Exhibition: The Paintings." Art News 41 (January 1–14, 1943), p. 11, ill. p. 8.
James Thrall Soby inNew Art in America: Fifty Painters of the 20th Century. Ed. John I. H. Baur. Greenwich, Conn., 1957, pp. 203, 207, ill.
A. L. Chanin. Art Guide/ New York. New York, 1965, pp. 101–2, no. 154.
Malcolm Cowley in Frank Anderson Trapp. Peter Blume. New York, 1987, pp. 8–9.
Frank Anderson Trapp. Peter Blume. New York, 1987, pp. 29, 36, 38, 40, 49–53, 56, 67, 69–70, 136, ill. p. 44 (color).
Marshall N. Price in Isabelle Dervaux. Surrealism USA. Exh. cat., National Academy Museum. New York, 2004, p. 174, colorpl. 11.
Robert Cowley inPeter Blume: Nature and Metamorphosis. Ed. Robert Cozzolino. Exh. cat., Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Philadelphia, 2014, pp. 14, 343, colorpl. 23.
Robert Cozzolino inPeter Blume: Nature and Metamorphosis. Ed. Robert Cozzolino. Exh. cat., Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Philadelphia, 2014, pp. 21–25, 27, 30, 35, 37, 38 n. 8, p. 86, ill. p. 23 (installation photo, Exh. Pittsburgh 1934)
Sarah Vure inPeter Blume: Nature and Metamorphosis. Ed. Robert Cozzolino. Exh. cat., Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Philadelphia, 2014, pp. 41, 52–54, ill. p. 40 (color detail).