place of birth: United States of America , Brooklyn
place of death: United States of America , South Dennis
ANA 1882; NA 1888; PNA 1920-1926
Blashfield's exposure to the classic in art began during childhood when he copied John Flaxman's engraved illustrations of Homer's epic poems. His mother, Eliza Dodd Blashfield, had been trained as a portrait painter and she encouraged her son's artistic studies. Blashfield's father, however, wanted him to become an engineer. After attending Boston Latin School (where he met his lifelong friend, painter Frederic Crowninshield), Blashfield traveled to Hanover, Germany, in 1863 to study engineering. The death three months later of his companion and godfather, Edwin Howland, prompted his return to the United States where he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, for two years. Intent on pursuing an artistic career, Blashfield followed his technical training with three months of study with Thomas Johnson, a pupil of William Morris Hunt. After several of his drawings came to the attention of Jean-L‚on G‚r"me and were favorably received, the young artist left for Paris in 1867. He was denied entrance to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, so he took a place in the studio of L‚on Bonnat where he remained, with one extended interruption, until 1880. Although associated with Bonnat, Blashfield also received criticism from G‚r"me and the sculptor Henri Chapu. In addition, he met and felt the influence of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Thanks to inherited wealth, Blashfield lived well in Paris and usually summered in the French countryside. In 1870, he visited Belgium and spent eight months in Florence before returning to New York, where for the next three years he painted mainly costume pictures of fashionable ladies. During this period, he exhibited at only one Academy annual, in 1872. Although Blashfield later became very active in Academy affairs, he was never a regular contributor to its exhibitions; in 1886 he was temporarily dropped from the list of Associates for failing to exhibit. Back in Paris in 1874, Blashfield reentered Bonnat's studio, and became friendly with American artists Elihu Vedder, H. Siddons Mowbray, and Frederick A. Bridgman. In 1876, he met writer Evangeline Wilbour who in 1881 became his wife and provided him with a substantial income. That year, he ended his studies abroad and returned to New York where he and his bride took a studio in the Sherwood Building, which remained the couple's residence until 1898. Blashfield continued painting fanciful genre pictures and also did illustrations for St. Nicholas magazine. Soon, he was collaborating with his wife on illustrated articles for Century Magazine and Scribner's Magazine. The Blashfields went abroad in 1887, spending time at the artist colony of Broadway, in England, where they saw Francis Millet, Edwin A. Abbey, and John S. Sargent. After traveling through Europe, they went to sail on the Nile aboard the boat of Mrs. Blashfield's father, Egyptologist Charles Wilbour. The turning point of Blashfield's career came in 1893 when Millet asked him to paint a mural, The Art of Metalworking, for one of the domes of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago. Thereafter, he all but gave up easel painting and became the principal exponent of the mural movement in the United States. In 1896 he painted the collar of the dome of the Library of Congress. Large commissions which followed included murals in churches, court houses, private residences, and several state capital buildings. In addition to his work as an artist, Blashfield wrote and lectured extensively. He and his wife published a travel guide, Italian Cities, 1900, and an annotated edition of selected Vasari Lives,1905 (with A.A. Hopkins). His Mural Painting in America appeared in 1913. During his later career, Blashfield was greatly involved with numerous artistic organizations. He was president of the Society of American Artists in 1895-96, and frequently served on its board thereafter. In 1914 he was elected president of both the National Society of Mural Painters, and the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Having served on the Academy Council 1892 to 1895, 1909 to 1911, and 1913 to 1916, he became the Academy's president in 1920, a post to which he was reelected annually through 1925. From 1924 to 1929, he lectured on composition in the Academy schools for the season of 1900-01, and from 1924 into 1930, and he is known to have invited Academy students to his Carnegie Hall studio for lecture-demonstrations. Blashfield received the Carnegie Prize in the Academy's Winter Exhibition of 1911. In 1934 the Academy conferred upon him its President's Medal for distinguished service to the fine arts, previously given to only two men, Elihu Root in 1929, and in 1932 to William Goodrich Morse in honor of his father, Samuel F. B. Morse. Although considered a staunch academic conservative, Blashfield could occasionally show a degree of tolerance, as in 1907 when he advocated more liberal election procedures for the National Academy (Blashfield to Frederick Dielman, April 12, 1907). He had little sympathy, however, for the new murals of the Depression era's federal arts projects; in 1933, he publically upheld the dismissal of Diego Rivera for his "anti-government" mural in Rockefeller Center.
Unframed: 30 1/8 × 22 in. Framed: 39 9/16 × 31 3/4 × 3 3/4 in.
Oil on canvas
National Academy Museum, New York
On December 3, 1888, the Council accepted the example of his work Blashfield had submitted to confirm his election as an Academician "subject to his right of replacing it with a more important one." Almost a year later, he exercised that right, making the "Saint Michael," his diploma contribution. Leonard Amico places "Saint Michael" with Blashfield's Bonnat-inspired paintings, calling it "among the finest and at the same time the most restrained of these works."
Unframed: 48 × 96 in. Framed: 53 5/8 × 101 3/4 × 2 1/8 in., 100lb.
Oil on canvas
National Academy Museum, New York, Gift of Mrs. Edwin H. Blashfield, 1937
The Academy's large painting is the final study for one of the lunettes Blashfield installed in the Senate Chamber of the Minnesota Capitol. Blashfield worked closely with the architect, Cass Gilbert, in order that the rich colors of "Minnesota, Granary of the World" would harmonize with the varied hues of granite and marble used in the building. This allegory shows Blashfield's typical blend of symbolic figures and depictions of the "real" people of a given town, state, or enterprise. The commissioners desired that the mural represent Minnesota's development from a frontier state to a commercial power rivaling the East.