Albert Bloch has earned a prominent place in the history of American art of the twentieth century as the only American invited by Wassily Kandinsky to join the celebrated Blaue Reiter group in Munich. His work was represented by six canvasses at the historic inaugural exhibition at Galerie Thannhauser in 1911, the only artist to be represented in such volume (for another work in this sale exhibited at this show, please see lot 65). Bloch remained in Munich between 1908 and 1919, and during this time was deeply involved in the avant garde of his time. He exhibited at subsequent Blaue Reiter shows, as well as at Herwath Walden's Galerie Der Sturm and at the Berlin and Munich Secessions.
Bloch returned to the United States with his family in mid-1919, and lived in St. Louis for a year. In August 1920 Bloch sailed back to Europe alone, to settle his affairs and to see some acquaintances. By early March, Bloch was in Vienna, where he and his close friend Emmy Klinker (1891-1969) would attend readings by Karl Kraus, the Viennese satirist, critic and poet, who published Die Fackel. Bloch was a great admirer of Kraus, and his name features prominently in Souvenir: on the fence along the lower edge of the painting, a red poster with white lettering advertises DREI VORLESUNGEN KARL KRAUS (Three readings by Karl Kraus). Other signs advertise Bruckner's great Mass in F-Major, symphonies by Schubert and Bruckner, and the Vienna Folk Opera's production of Die Meistersinger von Nrnberg by Wagner. It is probable that both Bloch and Klinker attended all these performances during their stay in Vienna. The inscriptions PETER and EK on the fence suggests that the signs on the fence relate to their shared time together in Vienna, as "Peter" was Klinker's nickname for Bloch and "EK" stands for Emmy Klinker.
As David Cateforis, the assistant professor of Art History at the University of Kansas and a Bloch scholar, stated: "While the signs on the fence conjure up specific memories of Bloch's enjoyment of the cultural life of Vienna, the caricatured figures in the street are more generally characteristic of his urban genre scenes of the late 1910s and early 1920s. The picture clearly means to represent a contrast between the rich and the poor and to draw critical attention to economic disparities and injustices. The prominent figure of the blind beggar, a recurrent motif in Bloch's paintings and drawings of the European years, here presents a pitiful counterpoint to the fashionably-dressed coachman who offers rides to the well-to-do."
Souvenir is one of Bloch's last paintings painted in Europe, and as such stands as one of his undoubted masterpieces. Not only emotionally, but also stylistically it can be seen as the summation of his experiences with the European avant garde, incorporating elements from Neue Sachlichkeit as well as Marc Chagall's magic realism.