Bloch was born in St. Louis in the early 1880s. By 1906, while working as an illustrator for the weekly Mirror, he married and had his first child. Inspired by his young employee's obvious talents, his editor William Marion Reedy sent Bloch and his family to Europe to continue his artistic training. After a sojourn in France they settled in Munich. As Frank Baron illuminates, Germany in the nineteen-teens was seething with artistic energy: “When Bloch arrived in Germany, profound changes were taking place in art, literature, music, and the nascent film industry. It was a shift from the outside material world to the inner, spiritualized world. The precise rendering of the real world of naturalism was no longer the goal. Colors and shapes were the artistic tools to access the nonmaterial psychological reality. It made sense for Kandinsky and Marc to seek alliances among all disciplines, a goal they articulated in the Blue Rider Almanac…. It was a time of innovation. In Prague, Franz Kafka made his breakthrough into a surrealistic style with Das Urteil [The Judgement]. In the realm of cinema, Der Student von Prag [The Student of Prague], the first German feature film, explored the human psyche in a new dimension. Kandinsky collaborated with Arnold Schönberg, who was creating radically new music. Marcel Duchamp, appeared in Munich, where he developed his revolutionary conceptual art…. The Schwabing art district, where Bloch resided, presented the opportunity to observe and meet those who contributed to innovations in art and literature. In the Café Stefanie…he was in touch not only with artists but also with writers actively participating in the experiments of that time” (F. Baron & J. Blumb, op. cit., pp. 9-10).
Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc met Albert Bloch in the fall of 1911, visiting his studio and subsequently recommending his works' inclusion in an upcoming exhibition of works from the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (NKVM), in which Kandinsky and Marc were both participating members. NKVM's harsh rejection of this idea led to a rupture of the group and to the emergence of Der Blaue Reiter whose first exhibition was held that same year and included six paintings by Bloch.
Bloch's training as an illustrator allowed him to capture the essence of human expression while playing with increasing abstraction in setting, coloration and line. Helena Pereña elucidates the development in Bloch's style during these crucial Blaue Reiter years, writing "Bloch clearly partially absorbed [Franz] Marc's art by way of Heinrich Campendonk who also had a certain student-like relationship with Marc. The rhythmic composition and the overlapping, dazzling angular areas in Marc's late pictures can be easily recognized in some of Bloch's works.... Seen as a whole, Bloch's compositions underwent a significant change as a result of his contacts withe the Blue Rider artists that manifested itself in the arrangement of the background to form a closer connection with the figures. The intellectual content of art also played a major role for Bloch although.... He was much more concerned with illustrating intense feelings and emotions through rhythm and movement" (The Blue Rider. Watercolors, Drawings and Prints from the Lenbachhaus Munich, A Dance in Colour (exhibition catalogue), Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich & Albertina, Vienna, 2010-11, p. 21).
The sense of penetrating emotion in the figures of Duell is set against a semi-abstracted landscape in non-naturalistic forms and color tones, a nod to his Der Blaue Reiter colleagues as well as other highly influential artists on the various German Expressionists including van Gogh and Edvard Munch, whose particular focus on the human condition is visible in the figure at front center. Duell remained in Bloch's collection until his death in 1961.
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