Mary Blood Mellen
1819 - 1886
In recent years, Mary Blood Mellen has emerged as one of the most talented women artists to work in the area in the years immediately preceding the Civil War. The Cape Ann Museum received its first work by her in 1932, a bequest of Miss Catalina Davis, one of the organization's early supporters. Davis left the Museum three oil paintings, each attributed at the time to Fitz H. Lane (1804–1865); one has since been reattributed to Mellen, Lane's most prodigious student. In coming decades, three additional works by Mellen would be added to the Museum's holdings, including Field Beach, Stage Fort Park, providing a sizeable enough body of work to truly appreciate the depth of her skills.
Mellen is thought to have been born in Vermont and to have grown up in Sterling, Massachusetts, where she also attended a girl's academy and studied, among other subjects, the art of painting in watercolor. The circumstances under which Fitz Henry Lane and Mellen met seem destined to remain uncertain, however, by the 1850s they knew each other. Like many women artists of her generation, Mary Mellen was a copiest, not only working under Lane's tutelage but apparently using his pencil drawings and his paintings as the basis of her own works. This has made attribution of her paintings a challenge but at the same time speaks to Lane's respect for her skills. While evocative of Lane's work, Mellen's exhibit her own distinct palette, treatment of space and level of detail. Perhaps the strongest work by Mary Mellen in the Museum's collection is this view of Field Beach on the Western Shore of Gloucester Harbor, a handsomely composed pastoral view, which was given to the Museum by descendants of the painting's original owners.