Old Tokyo Comes to Life in Colorful Paintings by Robert Frederick Blum

Robert Frederick Blum 1

The Ameya (飴屋) (1893) became Robert Frederick Blum most acclaimed painting and helped him secure membership to the National Academy of Design in NYC.

In 1876 the Cincinnati-born painter Robert Frederick Blum visited the Centennial Exposition, the first official World’s Fair. Although only a mere 20 years since the arrival of Commodore Perry, Japan staged an impressive booth. It left a strong impression on Blum, as well as a writer for the Atlantic Monthly. Impressed by Japan’s elegance and it’s contrast to the excesses of other nations, the reporter wrote: “The Japanese collection is the first stage for those who are moved chiefly by the love of beauty or novelty in their sight-seeing. The gorgeousness of their specimens is equaled only by their exquisite delicacy…After the Japan collection, everything looks in a measure commonplace, almost vulgar.”

14 years later in 1890, Blum seized his opportunity and took up an invitation to attend Japan’s 3rd National Industrial Exhibition in Ueno Park, Tokyo. He spent 3 years there, meticulously documenting Japan in vivid oil paintings that provide an intimate, animated look into a time we know mainly through limited black and white photos.

The_Ameya_by_Robert_Frederick_Blum (detail)

The Ameya (detail) | click to enlarge


Robert Frederick Blum 2

“The Flower Market in Tokyo (Tokyo no Hana Ichiba)”

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Left: “Meguro Fudo Temple” | Right: “Orange Kimono (Orange-iro no Kimono)”

Robert Frederick Blum 3

“The Silk Merchant (Kinu Shonin)”

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Left: “Japanese Samurai (Nihon no Samurai)” | Right: “Japanese Woman (Nihon no Josei)”

Robert Frederick Blum 8

“The Picture Book”

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“The Geisha”

source: DDN Japan


  1. These are incredible! I’ve never heard of Blum before, but his style is so rich and vibrant. A real step up from the usual grainy old photos, though they have their own charm as well.

  2. Absolutely lovely artwork. I felt as though I was in the picture.

  3. I’m from Cincinnati and I’ve never heard of him. Thanks for sharing his work. I’ll definitely have to find a full size reprint of the first work. By the way, you have it dated as “1983.” It’s supposed to be “1893.”

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