Blondell Malone Papers, 1800-1956

(Biographical Sketch)

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Dates: Papers, 1800-1956 (bulk, 1898-1951)
Extent: ca. 10 linear ft.
Location: PU-4


Dates: Papers, 1800-1956 (bulk, 1898-1951)
Extent: ca. 10 linear ft.
Location: PU-4
Biographical Sketch

Blondelle Malone (1877-1951) fancied herself the “garden artist of America,” a mantle bestowed upon her by a New York critic and friend in the 1920s. Blondelle spent the first half of her life living an idealized artist's life. Financially supported by her parents, she traveled around Europe painting the gardens of dignitaries, royalty, and wealthy aristocrats. She lived in finely appointed apartments in Paris, London, and Dublin, yet considered herself a misunderstood artist - probably because she was never able to sell many of her paintings. While she may not have achieved the fame she hoped for, Blondelle did lead a rather privileged life - especially for an unmarried woman of the early twentieth century. She traveled relatively freely all over the world. In her formative years, she often had chaperones; in her later years, she traveled with companions, but she also rented property and lived alone in California, Paris, London, and Washington, D.C. She met and socialized with some of the pre-eminent artists of her day. Her letters, journals, articles, and artwork tell the fascinating story of an only child and artist who lived a charmed and privileged life.

Blondelle Octavia Edwards Malone was born on November 16, 1877, in Bostwick, Georgia, to Miles Alexander and Sarah Glenn (Jones) Malone. The family lived briefly in Augusta, Georgia, but soon moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where Blondelle grew up. Miles, a distributor of pianos throughout the Southeast and owner of Malone's Music House in Columbia, was sufficiently well off that he was able to provide his daughter with the support to lead an independent and free-spirited life as an artist. At age fifteen, Blondelle entered Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, as a special student. For the next four years, she studied French, music, and art. At Converse, she made the decision to focus on pursuing a career as an artist after completing her education. With the support and financial backing of her parents, Blondelle moved to New York in 1897 to study at the New York School of Applied Design for Women. The school proved to be too confining for Blondelle, and she soon transferred to the New York School of Art where she fell under the tutelage of American artists John H. Twachtman, William Merritt Chase, and Robert Blum.

Returning to Columbia in July 1898, Blondelle set up a studio in her family home at 1517 Gervais Street, but within a year she grew restless. Once again, she convinced her parents to let her return to New York to further her studies. This time, Blondelle studied under Twachtman at the Art Students' League. The next summer she spent time in an artists' colony run by Twachtman at Cos Cob, Connecticut. She became a friend to the artist and his wife. Her first artistic success came around the same time with the acceptance of eight book cover designs for exhibition by the Architectural League in New York. In 1900 Charles Scribners' Sons Publishers purchased two of her designs.

Blondelle believed that Columbia was too limiting a place for her; the following summer of 1901, she left for the West Coast. She traveled throughout California for a year before she announced to her parents that she intended to study and paint abroad. In 1903 Blondelle left for Japan in the company of the Rothrocks - Mrs. Rothrock, a fellow aspiring artist and her husband, a federal judge. She stayed in Japan for around a year and then persuaded her parents that her return trip should take her through Europe. Blondelle arrived in Venice in May 1904. She began to meet other artists including Walter Sickert and Henry Simpson, two English painters who became lifelong friends and correspondents. Blondelle delayed her return to the United States indefinitely - much to her parents' dismay.

In Europe between 1904 and 1915 (she returned home only once during these years), Blondelle lived a life of great freedom. She spent her time painting gardens in France, England, Italy, Holland, and Ireland. She led the life of a socialite. She met and was entertained not only by key figures in the art world, but also ingratiated herself with dignitaries, royalty, and aristocrats. In her first year in Europe, she visited Claude Monet and received his critique of her work and later returned to paint in his garden. At various times she stayed with Madame Camille Pissarro (the widow of her idol, Camille Jacob Pissarro) and Geraldine Millet (the daughter-in-law of Jean-Francois Millet). She was a frequent guest and correspondent of Jacques Blanche, the French portraitist. She called on the sculptor Auguste Rodin more than once.

In 1905, Blondelle moved to Paris and joined the Society of Independent Artists where she exhibited eight paintings and reported one sale during that year. At the same time, her parents sent her work to exhibitions in the United States. During that year the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts also accepted her work. After travel throughout Holland and England, Blondelle returned to the United States on Christmas Day in 1905. Trying to settle back into life in Columbia, she painted in her studio at Gervais Street and traveled to Charleston where she painted the flower gardens of Magnolia on the Ashley River, the sandy dunes of Sullivan's Island, and various gardens around the city.

The following year, Blondelle returned to Europe. Traveling briefly throughout Italy and Germany, she again chose France to remain in for a longer period of time -- this time at Eragny, where she lived with the widow of Pissarro. Winter saw her in Paris where she made the acquaintance of Rodin and exhibited “The Garden of Camille Pissarro” at the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts. A gallery on the Rue De Faubourg St. Honoré also accepted some of her works. In 1911 she exhibited at the Salon d'Automne and in 1913 at the Société Nationale once again. That same year she had a one-person exhibition at the Lyceum Club in Paris. It was around this time that she fully developed her specialty of garden paintings, and traveled from one acquaintance to another to record their gardens. This specialty took her to England where she painted various society gardens and was invited to join the New English Art Club and to show at the Autumn Salon and the Lyceum Club. In 1912 she traveled throughout Italy painting gardens and eventually returned to Paris where she exhibited with the Societe Internationale d'Aqaurellistes and the American Art Students Club. She also spent that Christmas in Barbizon with the son and daughter-in-law of Jean François Millet.

William Nash commissioned Blondelle to paint several works of art in Ireland. She traveled there in 1914 and 1915 and, for a time, lost touch with her family. Her parents received no word from her; therefore, Mr. Malone contacted various government officials before he finally located her. Blondelle returned to the United States in December 1915 when she learned of her mother's death. She spent a relatively short and unhappy stay in Columbia. She purchased a house and studio in Aiken, but felt too limited even there. In 1920 she moved to New York where she rented a studio at Carnegie Hall and held exhibitions of her work at the Women's University Club, the Misses Hill Studio, the Babcock Gallery and at galleries in Utica, Elmira and Binghamton.

In the United States, over the course of her life, Blondelle's work was shown at the Pennsylvania Academy; at the Babcock and The Misses Hill Galleries in New York City; in galleries in Elmira, Utica, and Binghamton, New York; in Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia; in Denver, Colorado; in San Francisco, California; and in Columbia, South Carolina. Her pictures ranged in subject matter from flowers in her parents' garden to roses at Bagatelle in Paris, and the gardens of historic estates in England and Ireland. She was clearly influenced by the Impressionists - both American and European.

Blondelle's father died in 1930 as the result of injuries he sustained when an automobile hit him. Soon after her father's death, Blondelle purchased property in Alexandria, Virginia, and became involved in historic preservation activities. She restored the home of Dr. James Craik, the surgeon general of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and the physician to George Washington. She also purchased a second home in the same neighborhood; after she restored it, she maintained it as her studio for several years. In addition to her interests in historic preservation, Blondelle continued to paint for several more years. While living in the Washington, D.C., area she became enamored with the flowering cherry trees and many of her later pieces reflect this. Unfortunately, the impact of an automobile accident and old age curtailed Blondelle's artistic career in the 1940s.

In the last few years of her life, Blondelle's health declined to the point where she could no longer look after herself. Initially she moved into a hotel in Alexandria but eventually she needed more care so she returned to Columbia. Blondelle died on June 25th in a Columbia nursing home. In the months before her death, though, she agreed to donate her papers to the Caroliniana Library and her remaining artwork to the Columbia Museum of Art. Ironically, her legacy remains in the very place she always tried so desperately to leave.

 

 

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