Friday, February 18, 2011
I must confess that I know almost nothing about this artist. He was a native of New York trained under the Leon Bonnat in Paris, and was a prolific painter of public murals in courthouses (a number of them in New Jersey) and state capitols throughout the USA. He seems to have collaborated frequently with better known members of the American Renaissance movement like Kenyon Cox, Cass Gilbert, and Daniel Chester French. He seems to be largely forgotten. His work may be having something of a comeback as so many public buildings from his era are being restored. As the accumulated grime and neglect come off his paintings, people can see again how striking and how beautifully colored they are.
from a series of paintings of attributes of Justice in the Essex County Courthouse in Newark, NJ.
another one of the recently restored Essex County Courthouse murals.
Knowledge, from the Essex County Courthouse, fully restored.
A detail of Knowledge from before the restoration. Under the damage is some beautiful work.
Blashfield's paintings in the dome of the Library of Congress in Washington. In the lantern in the center is an allegorical figure who is supposed to stand for "Human Understanding." On the ring below are what the late 19th century regarded as the foundational cultures of American civilization, personified by winged spirits with cultural attributes.
A detail of Blashfield's allegory in the dome of the Library of Congress. Each foundational culture is also identified with a particular art or science in which it supposedly excelled. Those are named in the pale blue scrolls near the outer rim. The sense of color unity, the light over-all blue and gold tonality of these pictures is really beautiful, and now fully apparent after a recent cleaning.
Blashfield designed the mosaics in St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington. Poor old St. Matthews! the forgotten Catholic monument in DC. Blashfield's mosaics here are (in my opinion) light years superior, and a lot less scary, than the mosaics in the much more famous National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Evangeline Wilbour Blashfield, the artist's wife, in an easel painting from 1889, the only one of these paintings for which I could find a date.
Blashfield painted classical allegory at the very moment when such allegory was about to perish, perhaps forever. The American Renaissance, of which Blashfield was a part, was a last gasp of public classicism before events in history would sweep the very idea of public classicism away. For decades, their buildings, sculptures, and paintings were left neglected, considered outmoded and discredited by modern criticism. A lot of what those artists made was destroyed.
And now on the far side of 20th century modernism, these things speak to us again, engaging our sense of imaginative participation in a way that 20th century modern art and design never cared about doing. Blashfield was in no way a great artist, but he did not deserve the obscurity into which he has fallen.
Posted by Counterlight at Friday, February 18, 2011