A prominent and diversely talented artist, Robert Frederick Blum would be greatly influenced by his friendship with Whistler and his admiration for Spanish painter, Mario Fortuny.
A student of the McMicken School of Design and the Ohio Mechanics Institute, Blum would not realize his artistic goals until visiting the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. Here he first saw portraits by the Spanish-Romano artists, as well as making a visit to the Japanese Pavilion which would provoke a life long interest in the art of that country.
He briefly attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and then worked in Cincinnati as an illustrator. He traveled to Venice to continue his formal training and met Whistler, whose friendship inspired his deeper interest in pastel paintings.
He returned the United States during the 1880s, exhibiting and winning medals in Europe and the United States. In 1884 he co-founded the Society of Painters in Pastel with his close friend William Merritt Chase, and continued to exhibit widely in pastel and watercolor.
In 1890 he was offered the chance to travel to Japan and contribute his works and writing to Scribner's Magazine. He stayed there for the next two years, creating many female portraits set in distinctive settings. He wrote a long, three part article about his time there.
He returned to the United States in 1893 where he opened a studio and created paintings of his many travels through Europe and Japan, and also did a great deal of mural work in New York City. He continued to exhibit frequently, winning a gold medal from the World's Columbian Exposition in 1892 and at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901.
He left most of his estate to the Cincinnati Art Museum, but many of his works are in major museums around the United States.