Cincinnati-born Robert Frederick Blum (1857-1903) is perhaps best known for his paintings of Venice and Japan, but in his day he was also renowned as a muralist.
His most ambitious mural undertaking was the decoration of the Mendelssohn Music Hall, home of the Mendelssohn Glee Club, which was once located at 113-119 West 40th Street in New York.
The first was called “Moods of Music,” started in 1893, and followed soon after by “Feast of Bacchus,” from 1895. The Bacchus subject is shown in two repros above: Note Blum in the top black and white image, photographed working on the mural at center.
Each frieze was 50 feet long and 12 feet high. The twin panels flanked the proscenium arch of the concert hall.
Blum executed the murals on canvas in a studio that was too small to unroll the composition to its full extent. He opened it one third at a time, but wasn’t able to see it all together until it was installed.
He developed the composition for “Feast of Bacchus” over a period of three months by sculpting groups of small figures in clay and setting them on a ledge, rearranging them as a tableau until he was satisfied with the relationships of the figures. According to an observer at the time, by using this method, “he could study each figure in the round instead of in the flat, could block out the perspective, could tell which knot of figures to make prominent and which subordinate, and, in brief, handle a plastic theme in a plastic manner.”
After sculpting the maquettes, he sketched the design in color, posed models for each of the figures, and made individual studies of the costumes and decorative details.
Within four years of its completion, the Mendelssohn Glee Club fell into financial difficulty. The founders lost control and the building was sold in 1911. The new owners hoped to convert it to a movie theater, but the enterprise failed and it was torn down in 1912 to make room for a modern building.
Since the murals were painted on canvas and attached with paste, it was possible to successfully remove them before the building was torn down. The canvases went to the Brooklyn Museum, which displayed them in 1965. They’re preserved in the BMA collection, but not currently on view.
Blum also painted murals for the New Amsterdam Theater, which were later destroyed.
Sources: “The Making of a Mural Decoration: Mr. Robert Blum’s Paintings for the Mendelssohn Glee Club,” by Royal Cortissoz, The Century Magazine, November 1899, Pages 58-63
Wikipedia on Blum
History of the Hall
History of the Glee Club
Brooklyn Museum Website: “Feast of Bacchus” (mistitled “Vintage Festival” in the BMA collection)
Robert Blum by Martin Birnbaum (Free Google book)