Date:23. October 1932 – 6. November 1932
Place: Brno, Morava Palace
The 1932 Brno exhibition placed the Czech-German Jewish painter Ludwig Blum (1891–1974) among the most prominent Orientalist painters in Czechoslovakia. Compared to his previous Czech and Moravian exhibitions, he significantly expanded his repertoire of subjects; he found new sources of inspiration during his travels to Mandatory Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Persia and Iraq. During these trips, he made quick sketches, which he later developed into a series of paintings that were in keeping with the then common Orientalist view of the Eastern landscape, its monuments and its “exotic” inhabitants.
The direct imprint of the Orient appears on the exhibition poster, which is the only surviving poster from Blum's Czech shows. The poster was designed by the painter himself, evidence of the care Blum took in every detail of his sales exhibitions. Although bilingual Czech-German information about the exhibition takes up most of the poster's surface, a part of a camel caravan is shown on the right. The same motif, a camel driver at the front and a Bedouin riding a camel behind him, is featured on the other side of the poster. Blum certainly did not choose this typically orientalist scene at random; he probably felt that the motif perfectly summed up his art and at the same time would attract visitors to the exhibition. And indeed, a positive review reports that a large audience came to see the show on the first day [anonymous author 1932a]. The opening, if we can call it that, took place somewhat uncharacteristically on Saturday, October 23 at 10:30 a.m. in the Morava department store with Blum in attendance. It is clear that Ludwig Blum was a secular Jew who did not mind opening his exhibition on not only the Shabbat, but during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Blum's clientele came mostly from the mainstream society, and the date of the "opening" was therefore chosen primarily with his buyers in mind, in addition to practical reasons such as renting the space.
Information about the show mostly comes from newspaper announcements and reviews. In the title of his article for the local German daily Tagesbot, Viktor Oppenheimer, the most important art critic in interwar Brno, introduced Blum unambiguously as “the painter of the Orient” [Oppenheimer 1932]. In addition to paintings depicting the landscape of the East, Oppenheimer highlights the portrait of a Yemeni elder, describing him as “the defender of the oriental soul”, as well as the image of “a young Bedouin woman with an irrepressibly fierce expression”. According to Oppenheimer, all the subjects are obvious personifications of the Orient, which he perceives in the same romantic way as the painter himself. The same exoticizing tendency is evident in the reviews and reports on Blum's exhibition held at the Teplice Museum in January 1928.
The anonymous critic in Jüdische Volksstimme also mentions landscape motifs but, unlike Oppenheimer, he praises them without mentioning the Oriental subject. His list of Blum’s works includes the Sea of Galilee, the Gulf of Haifa and overall views of Jerusalem. In terms of technique, this reviewer particularly admires the colour effects and the way Blum works with light and air mass. The critic styles himself as a spokesman for the “Zionists of Galut”, the Zionists of the Jewish exile, who not only admire the beautiful execution in the paintings, but observe with satisfaction how Mandatory Palestine is developing [anonymous author 1932a]. The eyes of the depicted characters, says the anonymous reviewer, reflect “the Jewish fate: melancholy, resignation, but also pride and determination”. Here, the writer clearly leaves the realm of objective description and leans towards an emotional evaluation of the works, betraying the elements of Jewish Romanticism. Although the article is titled Jewish Art, the author offers no definition or analysis of Jewishness in art, leaving the readers uncertain about what he meant by the term. By the beginning of the 1930s, art critics in the Czech milieu used the concept in several different ways.
Unlike German speaking reviewers, Czech journalists did not pay much attention to Blum's exhibition. The painter came from a Jewish German-Czech background, so it is natural that the show was more interesting for German and Jewish newspapers published in Brno, where the painter had his contacts. Moreover, Blum’s show took place at the same time as a large exhibition of Czech modernist painters Emil Filla and Antonín Procházka at the Brno House of Arts, on which the media focused their main attention. Yet, there were a few Czech newspaper reports, one of which commented that the exhibition “explores oriental themes, rendered in a stylistically conservative and generic manner of Viennese-Munich variety” [anonymous author 1932b], a rather accurate observation perfectly capturing Blum’s style at the time. Another Czech critic offered a more detailed evaluation of Blum’s style: “In portraits and figural subjects, the painter sticks to an illusive academic presentation, whereas his landscapes suggest a more impressionist-inspired vision of the subject” [anonymous author 1932c].
Although we cannot identify the individual canvases presented at the exhibition, the newspaper reviews offer information on motifs and themes with which Blum was working. Blum's paintings with the same subjects from the same or a later period have been preserved in various art collections around the world, so we can get a fairly detailed idea of what the works exhibited in his autumn show in Brno would have looked like. Throughout his long life, the artist did not change his painting style significantly, following the conservative rules of academic realism, while also offering occasional touches of impressionism. Blum’s works showcased at the 1932 Brno exhibition were very likely identical with those that have been preserved to this day. Blum was financially dependent on his exhibitions in Europe, and it is therefore not surprising that he exhibited a similar set of paintings during his next Brno exhibition in October 1933.
anonymous author 1932a: anonymous author, Jüdische Kunst, Jüdische Volksstimme XXXII, 1932 (5693), 28. 10 (28 Tishri), no. 40, p. 7
Oppenheimer 1932: V[iktor] Opp[enheimer], Ausstellung des Orientmalers Ludwig Blum, Tagesbote LXXXII, 1932, 30. 10, no. 504, p. 9
anonymous author 1932b: anonymous author, Výstava obrazů akad. malíře L. Bluma, Lidové noviny XL, 1932, 4. 11., no. 556, morning edition, no. 9
anonymous author 1932c: anonymous author, Výstava L. Bluma, Národní listy LXXII, 1932, 9. 11., no. 310, p. 3
Anna Habánová (ed.), Mladí lvi v kleci. Umělecké skupiny německy hovořících výtvarníků z Čech, Moravy a Slezska v meziválečném období, Řevnice – Liberec 2013, p. 194
Eva Janáčová, Ludvík Blum – Malíř panoramatických pohledů na Jeruzalém, in: Židé a Morava. Kniha statí ze stejnojmenné konference konané v Muzeu Kroměřížska dne 14. 11. 2012, XIX, Kroměříž 2013, p. 196
Dalia Manor, The Real and the Ideal. The Painting of Ludwig Blum, Bejt ha-Tfucot, Tel Aviv 2009, p. 24
anonymous author, Jüdische Kunst, Jüdische Volksstimme XXXII, 1932 (5693), 28. 10 (28 Tishri), no. 40, p. 7
V. Opp., Ausstellung des Orientmalers Ludwig Blum, Tagesbote LXXXII, 1932, 30. 10., no. 504, p. 9pdf