Painter Albert Bloch, of Czechoslovakian and German-Jewish ancestry, was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1882. He studied at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts and from 1905 to 1908 worked as a caricaturist and illustrator for editor William Marion Reedy's literary and political weekly The Mirror. It was Reedy who encouraged Bloch to study in Europe and offered him the financial support to do so. In 1909 Bloch settled in Munich, a city so steeped in art it provided an atmosphere ripe for students and artists to gather, theorize, and exhibit their work.
Two years later Bloch met Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc who invited him to participate that December in the first Der Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider Group) exhibition at the Thannhauser Gallery. Bloch was the only American artist to exhibit in the group’s initial venture. He presented six works including The Three Pierrots No. 2 (1911) and Procession of the Cross (1911). Kandinsky and Marc organized the exhibition as an alternative to Munich’s New Artists’ Association, which rejected one of Kandinsky’s paintings for being too abstract. Their response was to create a forum open to artists of different nationalities and for the exhibition of new art.
Kandinsky found Bloch’s work from Munich during the period between 1909 and 1921 to exude an attractive spiritual and primitive quality. Bloch favored abstraction, but resisted an abstraction that completely divorced itself from nature; his paintings always retain some sense of a representational form. His personal pursuit of an art that could reject materiality and celebrate the poetry of mood resonated with the objectives of Der Blaue Reiter.
Bloch established a successful career in Germany and continued to exhibit his work there through World War I. In 1912 he participated in the second Der Blaue Reiter exhibition, and had one painting, The Duel (1912), included in the Sonderbund Exhibition in Cologne – the most famous exhibition of Modernism in Europe at that time. The Duel recalls Edvard Munch's haunting and mysterious figurative works. That same year Bloch also exhibited works at Herwarth Walden's Der Sturm Gallery in Berlin, participating in a
small exhibition that featured paintings rejected from the Sonderbund exhibit. Walden was one of the foremost proponents of Modernism in Europe, and fashioned the exhibition as a protest against the Sonderbund show, which he believed had not adequately represented members of Der Blaue Reiter.
One year later in 1913 Bloch participated in the First German Autumn Salon at Der Sturm Gallery – the most important international Modern art exhibition to be held at a private German gallery. In the spring of that year Bloch had his first one-man exhibition at Max Dietzel's Munich Gallery. Arthur Jerome Eddy, the Chicago collector and tireless promoter of Modernism, began buying paintings from Bloch at Kandinsky's recommendation, eventually adding more than twenty-five of them to his collection. In 1915 Bloch was given a one-man show at the Art Institute of Chicago that subsequently traveled to the St. Louis Art Museum.
By 1921 Bloch had returned to the United States, disheartened at what Germany had become after the war. Finding himself in financial straits, he accepted a teaching position in 1922 at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, a position he vacated one year later for a post as Professor and Head of the Department of Drawing and Painting at the University of Kansas.
Later in life he was reticent about discussing his affiliation with Der Blaue Reiter and the work he produced in Munich – work that would likely have brought him attention and acclaim. He was content with the seclusion required for a full life of painting, writing, and teaching, though it obscured his early contributions to an important passage in the history of art. Throughout his career Bloch destroyed any of his paintings that he regarded as unsuccessful. Regrettably, many additional early works in German collections were destroyed in the bombings of World War II, while others were banished to Switzerland by the Nazis as degenerate art. The extant examples of his work from this early period are rare and valuable historical documents.
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