Edwin Howland Blashfield


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Painter and illustrator. Probably the most sought-after muralist of his day, he was a major contributor to the American Renaissance. In numerous decorations for public buildings and private residences, he employed an idealizing classicism to produce effects of dignity and timelessness. Although allegorically conceived, his themes often incorporated American subjects. In his best-known work, the Evolution of Civilization (1895–96) in the reading room dome of Washington, D.C.'s Library of Congress, symbolic figures represent the progress of humankind from Egypt to America, suggesting a triumphalism that augments the splendor of the building's architecture. Born in Brooklyn, Blashfield was educated at the Boston Latin School and the Boston (now Massachusetts) Institute of Technology, where he pursued an interest in architecture and engineering. With encouragement from an early mentor, William Morris Hunt, he departed in 1867 for Paris to study art. There he worked with Léon Bonnat until 1870. Following travel through Europe and eight months in Florence, he settled in New York the following year and took up the career of an easel painter and illustrator. In 1874 he returned to Paris for another six years and subsequently traveled to Europe on a number of occasions. He had painted few murals when he was awarded an important commission for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In demand for large-scale projects by the late 1890s, he embellished state capitols, courthouses, churches, and other public venues throughout the East and Midwest. He also designed mosaics and stained glass windows, while continuing as well to produce illustrations for books and magazines. Some of these accompanied his own texts, often written in collaboration with his wife, Evangeline Wilbour Blashfield. Together, they published Italian Cities (1902) and, with the assistance of Albert A. Hopkins, in 1896 issued a four-volume set devoted to seventy annotated biographies from Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists. In 1913 Blashfield published Mural Painting in America, a longtime standard reference on the subject. Although much honored in his later years, he outlived widespread enthusiasm for his high-minded, celebratory, and frequently patriotic traditionalism. In 1933 he retired to Cape Cod, where he had previously summered. He died at his home in South Dennis. His brother, Albert Dodd Blashfield (1860–1920) who often signed his work “Blash,” worked primarily as a popular illustrator and cartoonist.

Subjects: Art.

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