Mary Blood Mellen (1819-1886)

Mary Blood Mellen (1819-1886)

Mary Blood was likely born in Vermont, the third child and only daughter of Reuben and Sally Blood, and was raised in Sterling, Massachusetts. She married the Reverend Charles W. Mellen in 1840 and eventually the couple moved Foxborough, Massachusetts, where he served as minister of the Universalist Church. During their twenty-six year marriage, the Mellens resided in upstate New York, as well as Dorchester and Taunton, Massachusetts, and while the exact year the Mellens first visited Gloucester is unknown, scholars have suggested that Mary Mellen could have begun working with Fitz Henry Lane by the late 1840s. Certainly they must have established their teacher-student relationship by 1855, when Mellen’s brother-in-law, the Reverend William R. G. Mellen, was asked to lead Gloucester’s Universalist Church, and in 1859 it is known that Lane visited the Mellen family homestead in Sterling.

Contact Vose about this artist
Read more about this artist...

Mary Mellen had first developed an interest in art while attending boarding school where she worked with watercolors, and once introduced to Lane she began her apprenticeship in earnest. Under his tutelage, she produced copies of Lane’s paintings and soon mastered the subtle effects of light and detailed draftsmanship. While many of Mellen’s and Lane’s paintings seem nearly identical, subtle differences in their treatments can be discerned when viewing the compositions side-by-side. Whereas Lane is more precise in his delineation of forms, Mellen’s subjects tend to have softer edges, such as the treatment of her rocks, and her palette included warmer pinks and yellows in her rendering of luminosity. But viewers and even the master himself may have been stymied, according to the following as yet unsubstantiated account: “Her copy of Lane’s “On the Lee Shore” has elicited the warm encomiums of the press. One editor remarked, “An old sea-dog, in looking at it yesterday, exclaimed, ‘Them anchors yer only hope!’” and added, “Mrs. Mellen is so faithful in the copies of her master, that even an expert might take them for originals. Indeed, an anecdote is related of her, which will exemplify her power in this direction. She had just completed a copy of one of Mr. Lane’s pictures when he called at her residence to see it. The copy and the original were brought down from the studio together, and the master, much to the amusement of those present, was unable to tell which was his own, and which was the pupil’s.” [1]

Following Lane’s passing in August of 1865, Mellen continued to work in her mentor’s style before adopting a more painterly technique toward the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Today examples of her work can be found at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Maine and at the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, which counts amongst its holdings a rare collaborative effort between the two artists titled Coast of Maine.

References: Michael Moses, “Mary Blood Mellen and Fitz Hugh Lane,” Antiques (November 1991): 825-837.; John Wilmerding, Fitz Henry Lane (Gloucester, MA: Cape Ann Museum, 2005); Wilmerding, John, Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen: Old Mysteries and New Discoveries (New York: Spanierman Gallery, 2007).

[1] Fred W. Tibbetts, “Authors and Artists of Cape Ann,” miscellaneous clippings file. Cape Ann Museum; quoted in Wilmerding, John, Fitz Henry Lane (Gloucester, MA: Cape Ann Museum, 2005), p. 77.

Request this artist