The unveiling of Peter Blume’s The Eternal City in 1937 at Julien Levy’s Gallery in New York ignited a debate polarized between supporters of the antifascist engagement of intellectuals and detractors of the picture on aesthetic grounds. The debate revamped in 1939, when the jury for the 16th Biennial at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., rejected the picture officially on the basis of aesthetic criteria, but probably for political opportunity. The refusal provoked a storm of polemics, articles in the cultural pages of newspapers, and a compensatory one-picture Salon du refusé. Months later, the painting was also rejected for an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. Even though a handful of Blume’s peers considered it a remarkable work, Blume had to wait until the end of 1942 to see his work consecrated, when it was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The essay examines both the reception of The Eternal City within the frame of the heated political climate of the late 1930s and the formalist concerns about the effectiveness of its style. Blume did not provide an easy formula for his exegetes; instead, he offered a multilayered political statement crafted in a painterly tour de force that eschewed expectations. In fact, aside from the title’s ostensible allusion to Rome and fascist Italy and the painting’s commentary on the Mussolinian dictatorship, on a deeper level The Eternal City may be a warning against fascism as a global threat with American ramifications. Moreover, the question of whether a highly finished representational mode (even one as antirealist as Blume’s) was appropriate for the embedded political critique, sheds light on larger modernist debates and assumptions about style. In sum, the reception of the picture reflects a morphing canon, one determined by both the fluid aesthetics and domestic political scene of the period and by changing foreign relations with Italy. From 1937 to 1942, the appraisal of the painting mirrored the shift away from isolationism in the United States as well as the general shift in public opinion about the dangers of foreign fascism to the American way of life.

Battling over The Eternal City

CORTESINI, SERGIO
2014

Abstract

The unveiling of Peter Blume’s The Eternal City in 1937 at Julien Levy’s Gallery in New York ignited a debate polarized between supporters of the antifascist engagement of intellectuals and detractors of the picture on aesthetic grounds. The debate revamped in 1939, when the jury for the 16th Biennial at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., rejected the picture officially on the basis of aesthetic criteria, but probably for political opportunity. The refusal provoked a storm of polemics, articles in the cultural pages of newspapers, and a compensatory one-picture Salon du refusé. Months later, the painting was also rejected for an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. Even though a handful of Blume’s peers considered it a remarkable work, Blume had to wait until the end of 1942 to see his work consecrated, when it was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The essay examines both the reception of The Eternal City within the frame of the heated political climate of the late 1930s and the formalist concerns about the effectiveness of its style. Blume did not provide an easy formula for his exegetes; instead, he offered a multilayered political statement crafted in a painterly tour de force that eschewed expectations. In fact, aside from the title’s ostensible allusion to Rome and fascist Italy and the painting’s commentary on the Mussolinian dictatorship, on a deeper level The Eternal City may be a warning against fascism as a global threat with American ramifications. Moreover, the question of whether a highly finished representational mode (even one as antirealist as Blume’s) was appropriate for the embedded political critique, sheds light on larger modernist debates and assumptions about style. In sum, the reception of the picture reflects a morphing canon, one determined by both the fluid aesthetics and domestic political scene of the period and by changing foreign relations with Italy. From 1937 to 1942, the appraisal of the painting mirrored the shift away from isolationism in the United States as well as the general shift in public opinion about the dangers of foreign fascism to the American way of life.
Cortesini, Sergio
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11568/520890
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