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Guide to the Papers of Edwin Howland Blashfield
1870-1956 (bulk 1889-1936)
  MS 61

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Processed by Gregory Tavormina

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on April 23, 2013
Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

Title: Edwin Howland Blashfield Papers
Dates: 1870-1956 (bulk 1889-1936)
Abstract: The Edwin Howland Blashfield Papers describe the artistic career of New Yorker Edwin Howland Blashfield. They consist of correspondence, drawings, writings, and ephemera.
Quantity: 4.0 Linear feet (7 boxes, 5 bound volumes)
Location note: Manuscript cage
Call Phrase: MS 61

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Biographical Note

Edwin Howland Blashfield (1848-1936) was an American artist, art historian, travel writer, and leading authority in the academic art community. A strong advocate for public art, Blashfield achieved international success during his lifetime for his decorative mural paintings located in buildings across the country.

Born in New York City to William H. Blashfield and Eliza Dodd, Blashfield initially studied engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1867, he traveled to Paris where he studied art under Leon Bonnat. He spent the next thirteen years abroad, participating in salon exhibitions from 1874 to 1879, 1881, 1891, and 1892.

Blashfield returned to New York in 1881, where he continued to paint. A couple of his notable genre paintings were "The Christmas Bells," residing at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and "Angel with the Flaming Sword," located at the Church of the Ascension on 5th Avenue. During the 1890s, Blashfield began his prolific career in mural painting. One of his first paintings was a dome in the Manufacturer's and Liberal Arts building at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Blashfield was commissioned to paint the interiors of a number of state capitols, including Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. He also painted the great central dome of the Library of Congress, "Music and the Dance" in the old Waldorf-Astoria, and the personal residences of W.K. Vanderbilt and G. W. C. Drexel.

In addition to being an accomplished artist, Blashfield also wrote extensively about his travels to Europe and the Middle East. He also penned a few books on art, including Italian Cities and  Mural Painting in America. During World War One, Blashfield supported the war effort by painting patriotic murals for the government. He also participated in foreign relations, such as by meeting with foreign dignitaries.

Blashfield was very active within the art community throughout his life. He served as President of the National Academy of Design, the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1915-16), and the Society of American Artists (1895-6). He was also a member of the Society of Mural Painters, the Architectual League, the Federation of Fine Arts of New York, and the National Commission of Fine Arts. He was well-acquainted with his contemporaries, including such artists as Cass Gilbert, Daniel Chester French, John LaFarge, Gari Melchers, John Singer Sargent, and Maxfield Parrish.

Blashfield married Evangeline Wilbour in 1881. She died in 1918 and Blashfield remarried Grace Hall in 1928. Edwin Howland Blashfield died at his summer home at Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 1936.

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Scope and Content Note

Edwin Howland Blashfield accumulated his personal papers over a period of more than 60 years. They range from correspondence and travel writings to essays on art and sketches. As a whole, they tell the story of a turn of the century New York muralist and his artistic motivations.

One strength of the papers is the series entitled Writings on Art. In these notes and essays, Blashfield discusses his personal thoughts on art in general. He also writes about the life and works of Italian Renaissance painters. By elaborating on where he thought art was going, and on what he found appealing and distasteful in others' art, Blashfield provides insight into his motivations as an artist.

Notable items include his correspondence and sketches. The correspondence is a large and important part of the collection, consisting of over 400 letters from prominent artists and patrons such as Cass Gilbert and state officials. Their contents often discuss paintings by Blashfield, or his input on the work of his peers. Sometimes they are letters expressing gratitude for a meeting or a copy of a newspaper article. The WWI correspondence includes letters written by the War Commissions of Allied Powers and branches of the U.S. Armed Services who were recipients of Blashfield's work. In addition to correspondence, there are 9 small sketches on scrap paper. Depicting people and architecture, Blashfield drew some of them during his travels to Europe. There are few visual materials within the collection. However, they do provide a taste of the academic art style he championed.

The collection is physically divided between manuscripts and bound volumes. The boxes can be located with the call phrase Blashfield Papers, the volumes with the call phrase BV Blashfield.


The records are organized into series:

  1. Series I. Correspondence, 1870-1956
  2. Series II. Writings, [1870-1936], undated
  3. Series III. Art Organizations,[1889-1956]
  4. Series IV. Clippings and Memorabilia, [1917-1956], undated
  5. Series V. Visual Materials, [1890-1923]
  6. Series VI. Library Items, [1929], undated
  7. Series VII. Legal, 1899-1926

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Bacon, Henry, --1839-1912
  • Blashfield, Evangeline Wilbour, --d. 1918
  • Brownell, Will
  • Butler, Nicholas Murray, --1862-1947
  • Dewing, Thomas Wilmer, --1851-1938
  • French, Daniel Chester, --1850-1931
  • Gallatin, A. E. --(Albert Eugene), --1881-1952
  • Gibson, Charles Dana, --1867-1944
  • Gilbert, Cass, --1859-1934
  • Hastings, Thomas, --1860-1929
  • Howells, William Dean, --1837-1920
  • Huntington, Archer M. --(Archer Milton), --1870-1955
  • La Farge, John, --1835-1910
  • Lamb, Charles Rollinson, --1860-1942
  • Low, Seth, --1850-1916
  • Manship, Paul, --1885-1966
  • Matthews, Brander, --1852-1929
  • McKim, Charles Follen, --1847-1909
  • Parrish, Maxfield, --1870-1966
  • Sargent, John Singer, --1856-1925
  • Stokes, Frank Wilbert, --1858-1955
  • Swartwout, Egerton, --1870-1943
  • Tiffany, Louis Comfort, --1848-1933
  • Wharton, Edith, --1862-1937

Document Type

  • Biographies
  • Diaries
  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Personal correspondence
  • Sketches
  • Travel sketches

Subject Organizations

  • American Academy of Arts and Letters
  • Municipal Art Society of New York
  • National Academy of Design (U.S.)
  • National Institute of Arts and Letters (U.S.)
  • Society of American Artists

Subject Topics

  • Artists' preparatory studies
  • Mural painting and decoration, American
  • Public art
  • Travelers' writings, European
  • World War, 1914-1918
  • World's Columbian Exposition --(1893 : --Chicago, Ill.)

Subject Places

  • Egypt -- Description and travel
  • England -- Description and travel
  • France -- Description and travel
  • Germany -- Description and travel
  • Greece -- Description and travel
  • Holland -- Description and travel
  • Italy -- Description and travel
  • Switzerland -- Description and travel

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Administrative Information


Donation, 1956.

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to twenty exposures of stable, unbound material per day. (Researchers may not accrue unused copy amounts from previous days.)

Use Restrictions

Permission to quote from this collection in a publication must be requested and granted in writing. Send permission requests, citing the name of the collection from which you wish to quote, to

Manuscripts Curator
The New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as Edwin Howland Blashfield Papers, The New-York Historical Society.

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Container List

Series I. Correspondence, 1870-1956

Scope and Contents note

This series contains extensive correspondence from artists, writers, architects, businessmen, state officials, friends, admirers, and intellectuals. The content ranges from formal letters regarding Blashfield's commissions to personal letters offering congratulations or inquiries into visits or plans for the future. Blashfield corresponded with prominent people such as Cass Gilbert, Maxfield Parrish, and Edith Wharton. The bound volume of WWI correspondence outlines his activities assisting with public and foreign relations. He often met with foreign dignitaries or was commissioned to paint murals to garner support for the war.

An index to the correspondents for the letters in boxes 1-3 is available at the Manuscript Reference desk.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : Correspondence, A-E
1885-1936, undated
Box: 2 Folder : Correspondence, F-M
1878-1956, undated
Box: 3 Folder : Correspondence, N-Z, Misc.
1886-1939, undated
Volume: 1 Folder : WWI Correspondence

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Series II: Writings, [1870-1936], undated

Scope and Contents note

The series is divided into four subseries: Writings on Art, Travel Writings, Speeches, and Miscellaneous Writings. The subseries Writings on Art includes essays and notes on the nature of art and the lives and works of Renaissance artists. Blashfield's travel writings consist of essays and diary entries written during his travels to Europe and Egypt. The subseries Speeches includes drafts of addresses to be given at art benefits and societies concerning the direction of art in America or the nature of art. Miscellaneous writings include poetry, a biography for Blashfield and his wife, and scattered typed draft sheets that would comprise his book on mural painting.

Subseries 1: Writings on Art, undated

Scope and Contents note

The subseries covers Blashfield's thoughts on artistic technique and aesthetics. He comments on the emergence of modern art, government support for the arts during the Great Depression, the status of trends in the art world, his contemporaries' art, and the value of mural work. The series also includes writings on the historical evolution of art and detailed descriptions of Renaissance paintings. Blashfield also composed lengthy essays about the Renaissance masters. They describe the artists' paintings, explain their contributions to art, and provide analyses of their methods.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 4 Folder : 1 Thoughts on Art
Box: 4 Folder : 2 Essay fragments
Box: 4 Folder : 3 Thoughts on Italian Renaissance Art
Box: 4 Folder : 4 Essays on Titian
Box: 4 Folder : 5 Essays on Tintoretto
Box: 4 Folder : 6 Essays on Tiepolo
Box: 4 Folder : 7 Essays on Albrecht Durer
Box: 4 Folder : 8 Essays on Giorgione
Box: 4 Folder : 9 Essay on Paolo Veronese
Box: 4 Folder : 10 Essay on Carpaccio
Box: 4 Folder : 11 Essays on Giovanni Battista Cima
Box: 4 Folder : 12 Essay on Giovanni Bellini

Subseries 2: Travel Writings, [1870-1931], undated

Scope and Contents note

Blashfield resided abroad for a good deal of his lifetime, and many of his writing concerning his travels to Europe and Egypt can be found in this subseries. Aside from the usual travel narratives, Blashfield discusses the art he came across.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 5 Folder : 1 Letters from travels to American cities
Box: 5 Folder : 2 Reflections on visit to Paris
Box: 5 Folder : 3 Reflections of 1870 trip to Paris
Box: 5 Folder : 4 Essay on travels through France, Germany Belgium, and Italy
Box: 5 Folder : 5 Letters about travels to Italy
Box: 5 Folder : 6 Essays on Verona
Box: 5 Folder : 7 Travels through Venice and Austria
Box: 5 Folder : 8 Writings on travel to Austria and Germany
Box: 5 Folder : 9 Writings on travels to Egypt
Box: 5 Folder : 10 Notes and letters from travels to Egypt
Box: 5 Folder : 11 Letters written from Egypt and Greece
Box: 5 Folder : 12 Letters from Greece
Box: 5 Folder : 13 Travels to Britain
Box: 5 Folder : 14 Memoirs of early trips to Europe
Volume: 2 Folder : France 1870, Europe 1886-1907
1870, 1886-1907
Volume: 3 Folder : Italy, France art notes
Volume: 4 Folder : (Europe, Egypt)
Volume: 5 Folder : Europe

Subseries 3: Speeches, [1921-1936], undated

Scope and Contents note

This subseries contains speeches and lectures written by Blashfield on the subject of art. He would often address his colleagues regarding issues facing their professional art associations. He also lectured. There is also a speech written by R. U. Johnson about "preserving the English Language in its beauty and purity."

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 6 Folder : 1 Speeches and lectures
Box: 6 Folder : 2 "The Academy and the Language" Speech by R. U. Johnson

Subseries 4: Miscellaneous Writings, undated

Scope and Contents note

This subseries contains draft bits on Blashfield's book on mural painting, a typewritten biography on Blashfield, a long biography about Blashfield's first wife, including drafts and revisions, and some poetry written, copied, or translated by Blashfield.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 6 Folder : 3 Scattered typed sheets of Blashfield's book Mural Painting in America
Box: 6 Folder : 4 Biography of Blashfield
Box: 6 Folder : 5 Biography of Evangeline Wilbour Blashfield
Box: 6 Folder : 6 Poetry

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Series III. Clippings and Memorabilia, [1889-1956]

Scope and Contents note

This series contains the ephemera that Blashfield kept. The newspaper clippings often highlight a certain Blashfield exhibition or an article on art. The series also contains invitations and programs to exhibitions, art benefits, government celebrations, and functions of the academies. Certificates of membership to the American Civic Association and the Citizens Guild of Washington's Boyhood Home are also included. There are also receipts for art materials and insuring his paintings.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 6 Folder : 7 Newspaper clippings
Box: 6 Folder : 8 Event programs and invitations
Box: 6 Folder : 9 Certificates
Box: 6 Folder : 10 Receipts

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Series IV. Art Organizations, [1917-1956], undated

Scope and Contents note

Blashfield was an active member and frequently president of many professional art associations. This series includes documents regarding Blashfield's input on a debate amongst the National Academy of Design to build an art center in a park. The American Academy of Arts and Letters folder includes a notice of Mrs. Blashfield's donation to the academy in order to preserve the English language. There is also a letter sent from the Municipal Art Society twenty years after Blashfield's death to a curator, enclosed with the latest copy of that institution's brochure. The last folder contains blank forms form non-art organizations.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 6 Folder : 11 The National Academy of Design
Box: 6 Folder : 12 American Academy of Arts and Letters
Box: 6 Folder : 13 The Municipal Art Society of New York
Box: 6 Folder : 14 Papers from other organizations

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Series V. Visual Materials, [1890-1923], undated

Scope and Contents note

This series consists of rough sketches presumably created by Blashfield and photographs of people other than Blashfield.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 7 Folder : 1 Drawings
Box: 7 Folder : 2 Photographs

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Series VI. Library Items, [1929], undated

Scope and Contents note

The series contains a handwritten catalog system for Blashfield's personal library. There are also catalog cards of some of his works, which note the date created and their location.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 7 Folder : 3 Catalog cards of Blashfield paintings and their location
Box: 7 Folder : 4 Catalog of Blashfield's library

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Series VII. Legal, 1899-1926

Scope and Contents note

This series contains agreements to paint murals and acknowledgements that Blashfield registered some of his paintings with the Library of Congress.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 7 Folder : 5 Contracts for artwork
Box: 7 Folder : 6 Library of Congress Register of Copyrights

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