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Fitz Henry Lane and Mary Blood Mellen
Mary Blood Mellen (1819-1886) was Lane’s student, close female friend, and sometime collaborator. Although there are passing references to other students, she is the one most widely known to date. In his will, she is mentioned three times, second only to Joseph L. Stevens, Jr. (who was mentioned four times). (1) Though her own history may be even more clouded than Lane’s, research on her family and her relationship to Lane is slowly bringing it to light.
Mary Taylor Blood was born on May 13, 1819, to Reuben Blood, Jr. and Sally Taylor Blood, likely in Vermont (making her fifteen years younger than Lane). As a child, she attended Miss Thayer’s school, where she learned to paint with watercolors. (2) Following this, she attended the Quaker’s Fryville Seminary in Bolton, Massachusetts, where she honed her skill as an artist, building on her early aptitude for sketching and other art forms. (3)
In April of 1840, Mary Taylor Blood and the Universalist Reverend Charles W. Mellen registered their intention to marry in Royalston, Massachusetts. Her husband’s brother, William Roland Grenville Mellon, was also a minister, and in 1845, he was invited to pastor the Second Society of Universalists in Cambridge. This was during Lane’s Boston period, and for this reason some scholars say it is "not outside the bounds of possibility" that Fitz Henry Lane and Mary Blood Mellen met at this time. However, it is unlikely that they would have worked together steadily until the mid-1850s. (4) As a burgeoning artist, Mary Mellen may already have been aware of Lane’s “artistic orbit,” but her familial access to the Boston area would have certainly at least enabled the possibility. (5)
There is no evidence that Mary Mellen ever lived in Gloucester, but her brother-in-law W. R. G. Mellen was invited to pastor Gloucester’s First Universalist Church on Middle Street in 1855. In May of that year, he and his family moved into a house on Spring Street that overlooked Duncan’s Point and Lane’s house. (6) At some time during her brother-in-law’s tenure in the town, it is presumed that Mellen came frequently to see her family and to study with Lane. (7) Indeed, their relationship became so strong that they traveled together in August of 1859 to visit the Blood family residence in Sterling, Massachusetts, where they both created paintings of the Blood homestead.
As part of Mellen's apprenticeship, she began to copy Lane’s works. Her stylistic faithfulness increased such that, at a later time, even “Lane himself appeared uncertain as to which was his when both were shown side by side.” (8) To further confuse matters for scholars, it appears as though Mellen had a hand in completing parts of several Lane paintings, or may have even sketched certain landscape views that would have been difficult for Lane to access, given his lameness. John Wilmerding discerns Mellen's hand in portions of Moonlight, Owl's Head, Northeast View;; and Brace's Rock, Brace's Cove. (9) Such collaboratative efforts are documented on at least one painting; they both signed the small tondo (Renaissance term for a circular work of art), , on the verso side of the canvas.
Following Lane's death in 1865 and Charles Mellen's death in 1866, Mary Mellen moved to Connecticut to live with her widowed sister-in-law, Sophronia Haskell; she listed her occupation as "artist" in the 1870 census. (10) In her later years, her style would loosen, seemingly melding Lane's crisp luminism with softer brushwork and a more vivid color palette. Mary Mellen would live and work as an artist until 1886, when she died at the age of sixty-seven in Sterling, Massachusetts. Several newspapers noted her passing, with obituaries commending her as "a woman of great acquirements and an artist of prominence. Her specialty was marine work and her pictures were very popular." (11)
In recent years, scholarship has begun to recognize Mary Blood Mellen as one of the most accomplished artists to work on Cape Ann in the years immediately preceding the Civil War. The Cape Ann Museum's 2007 exhibition—curated by John Wilmerding, Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen: Old Mysteries and New Discoveries—brought renewed attention to Mellen and to her relationship to Lane. In conjunction with the exhibition, the museum assembled a group of leading experts in a scholars' gathering to discuss and to delve into unresolved issues in the scholarship of these two artists. Wilmerding and other scholars explored the relationship between Lane and Mellen, examining issues of attribution, collaboration, process, and the conservation of their respective works.
–Compiled by Meredith Massar Munson
For more information on the relationship between Lane and Mellen, see these articles:
John Wilmerding, Karen Quinn, Marcia Steele, et.al. Report on scholars' gathering in association with the exhibition Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen: Old Mysteries and New Discoveries. New York: Terra Foundaation for American Art, November 15, 2007. Organized by the Cape Ann Museum and Spanierman Gallery.
- Sarah Dunlap and Stephanie Buck, Fitz Henry Lane: Family and Friends (Gloucester, MA: Church & Mason Publishing; in association with the Cape Ann Historical Museum, 2007). For information on other students see footnote p. 82, and p.117; Lane's will, p.87.
- Ibid., 88.
- Frederic Alan Sharf, "Fitz Hugh Lane Re-Considered," Essex Institute Historical Collections (January 1960), 82, and John Wilmerding, Fitz Henry Lane and Mary Blood Mellen: Old Mysteries and New Discoveries (New York: Spanierman Gallery, 2007), 40.
- Dunlap and Buck, 91-93.
- Wilmerding, 40.
- Dunlap and Buck, 94.
- Wilmerding, 40.
- Ibid., 42.
- Dunlap and Buck, 96.
- Ibid., 99.