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From the Collections:
"Paint as I see, not as others paint":
the Life and Career of
by Meg Moughan
The artist Blondelle Octavia Edwards Malone was born on November 16, 1877, in Bostwick, Georgia, the only child of Miles and Sarah Malone. The family soon moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where Blondelle spent her childhood.
In content and design, this undated image depicting a wreath of violets shows Malone's mastery of the whip-lash curves and naturalistic forms so fashionable at the turn of the century.
In 1892, at the age of fifteen, Blondelle left Columbia, to return only for short visits with her parents. She wanted to be an artist and did not think she could realize her dream if she remained in South Carolina: it was important that she travel the world and paint all she saw. She spent much of her life living a romanticized artist's existence. Financially supported
Blondell Malone became known as "the garden painter of America." Malone enjoyed an exciting life of privilege and freedom unusual for an unmarried woman from Columbia, S.C. of the early 20th century.
by her parents, she traveled around Europe painting the gardens of dignitaries and wealthy aristocrats. She lived in finely appointed apartments in Paris, London, and Dublin, yet considered herself a misunderstood artist - probably because she was not able to sell many of her paintings. While she may not have achieved the fame she hoped for, Blondelle did lead a privileged life - especially for an unmarried woman of the early twentieth century.
Malone, ca. 1892, at age 15 when she entered Converse College. Had Blondelle written her autobiography, she probably would have said life began for her at age fifteen when she left home. She entered Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where, for the next four years, she studied French, music and art. She loved being away from home and enthusiastically embraced the life of a college student. Her letters home spoke of the fun she had with her classmates, the pranks she participated in, and the many male admirers who courted her. Her letters also spoke of her emerging interest in art over all other courses.
In 1897 Blondelle moved to New York, where she studied at the New York School of Art under the tutelage of American artists John H. Twachtman, William Merritt Chase, and Robert Blum. Her life in New York was one of luxury and privilege. She spent her days attending art classes and sketching with friends. She attended dinner parties in Manhattan and traveled to Boston and Philadelphia.
Malone painting at
Cos Cob, Conn.
Malone worked at this artists' colony in Connecticut in the company such American artists as John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902), her former professor at the New York
School of Art.
At the end of a year, Blondelle's parents asked her to come home. Although Blondelle demurred to her parents' wishes, she would not remain long in South Carolina. Blondelle set up a studio in her family home; she intended to prove to her parents that she was serious about her art. Within a year
"Title in gold / Author" [design for bookcover]
Charles Scribners' Sons Publishers purchased two of Malone's designs for bookcovers soon after her 1900 exhibition by the Architectural League in New York.
she grew restless and convinced her parents to let her return to New York to further her studies. This time, a more earnest Blondelle studied under Twachtman. Her first artistic success came in 1900 with the acceptance of eight book cover designs for exhibition by the Architectural League in New York. Soon after the exhibition, Charles Scribners' Sons Publishers purchased two of her designs - an encouraging first step for the aspiring artist.
Blondelle's success did not stop the Malones from asking their daughter to return to Columbia again. No sooner had she returned than Blondelle began to plot her departure. She heard of a local church group embarking on trip to California and begged for her parents' permission.
In 1901 Blondelle left on what her parents believed was a short tour.
Malone at the easel in her parent's garden in Columbia, c. 1902.
Within a few months, Blondelle managed to extricate herself from the church group and went on her way painting throughout the state under the care of several laissez-faire chaperones.
See finding aid to Blondell Malone papers, 1800-1956 (bulk, 1898-1951)
At this point, she began to ignore her parents' pleas for her return. She emphatically stated that she would be miserable if forced to return home. She traveled throughout California for a year before she announced to her parents that she intended to study and paint abroad. Blondelle would hear of nothing but a positive response from her parents; she promised to return to Columbia if they granted her this one opportunity to see the world. She soon left for Japan and Europe.
Malone painted and traveled in Japan for nearly a year, recording such images as this view of Mt. Fuji.
Blondelle painted and traveled in Japan for nearly a year and then persuaded her parents that her return trip should take her through Europe. Blondelle arrived in Venice in May 1904; she spent the next few months painting throughout Italy. Blondelle delayed her return to the United States indefinitely, much to her parents' dismay. It was in Europe that she experienced the most exciting years of her life.
An audience with Claude Monet
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 not only key figures in the art world, but also ingratiated herself with dignitaries, royalty, and aristocrats. One of the high points of her tour through Europe was a visit with Claude Monet in December of 1904:
This is the shortest day in the year and it has been one of the best in my life. . . . Yesterday I received a note from Monsieur Monet, the painter I care for most of all living, saying that if I came to him and brought my work today or tomorrow he would be at home. I went today. . . . I had three little things in my hand which he looked at and said were not bad. . . . He told me to keep on and paint as I see and not as others paint, not to be influenced. . . . He was so kind and simple that I was not at all afraid. (Paris, December 1904)
Between 1908 and 1911 Blondelle grew as an artist. She became a much more dedicated painter. Her efforts paid off as she met several influential artists who admired her work and enabled her to begin showing her paintings more regularly. In 1911 she exhibited at the Salon d'Automne and in 1913 at the Société Nationale. That same year she had a one-person exhibition at the Lyceum Club in Paris. While she painted prolifically and received a measure of encouraging critical review, she did not sell her art. Her highly impressionistic works (clearly in the style of her idol, Monet) did not find mass popularity.
Between 1904 and 1915, Malone painted in the gardens of France, England, Italy, Holland, and Ireland, meeting artists, dignitaries, royalty, and aristocrats.
In December 1915, Blondelle received a telegram from her father that she could not ignore: her mother had died and she must return to live in Columbia. Her father refused to allow her to go back to Europe; Blondelle was devastated. She and her father grew estranged. The fact that she refused to even consider living in Columbia only exasperated the tension. In 1916 Blondelle purchased a house and studio in Aiken, but soon felt restless and artistically uninspired. In 1920 she moved to New York. She did not return to Europe, but kept in touch with all of her old friends in Italy, France, and England.
Malone's papers include accounts of her meetings with Claude Monet and Auguste Rodin, the holidays she spent with the widow of Camille Pissarro, and the advice she received from Mary Cassatt.
After her father's sudden death in 1930, Blondelle purchased property in Alexandria, Virginia, and became involved in historic preservation activities. 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 reflected in her later works. 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 dramatically; she returned to Columbia despite the fact that she had no family or friends living in the area. Blondelle died on June 25th in a Columbia nursing home. In the months before her death, 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.
Undated view of
ships in harbor.
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