David Cateforis has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
Dating from 1912, Ohne Titel (Höllenszene) was created at the height of Bloch’s involvement with the revolutionary group of avant-garde artists known as Der Blaue Reiter, led by Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Bloch had worked for several years as a graphic artist for local newspapers in America before moving to Europe to further his artistic education. It was here that Bloch came across a publication from the second exhibition of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (NKVM) and found in its black-and-white reproductions an experimental artistic vision closely aligned with his own. Shortly afterwards, he invited Kandinsky to visit his studio, and became absorbed into the circle of artists that revolved around the NKVM. Unbeknownst to Bloch, at this time Kandinsky and Marc were beginning to grow restless within the organization, and in December 1911, the pair dramatically resigned from the group and forged ahead with organizing a separate exhibition, designed to showcase the work of a number of like-minded artists working across Europe. Bloch was among the first artists personally invited by Kandinsky to join their endeavor and was represented by six paintings at the inaugural exhibition of the Der Blaue Reiter—more than any other participant, except for Gabriele Münter.
With its angular, fragmented forms, overlapping planes and rich, expressive colors, Ohne Titel (Höllenszene) powerfully illustrates the growing influence of Marc and Kandinsky on Bloch’s painting during this crucial period. However, while Bloch was intrigued by Kandinsky’s pursuit of what he described as an "inner necessity" and Marc’s use of color and form, he refused to abandon the human figure entirely in his painting, seeing in their movements and gestures a dramatic and universal form of expression. In the present work, Bloch places characters from the commedia dell’arte alongside a number of strange, elongated humanoid figures in a tumultuous, almost apocalyptic, landscape. Collapsing the space between the figures and their surroundings, he allows the sinuous lines of their bodies to blend and merge with the boldly faceted background, creating a dynamic, tension-filled composition in which the human body becomes a conduit for the expression of pure emotion, their gestures and forms imbuing the scene with a heady sense of tragedy, angst and passion.