Artist Biography

Blanche Lazzell

(1878 - 1956)

Table of Contents

    An early female modernist recognized for her involvement in the Cape Cod art colony of Provincetown, Massachusetts. She is best known for her “white-line” color woodcuts and brilliantly colored abstract paintings.

    By Chelsea DeLay

    I. Biography

    Born in West Virginia on October 10, 1878, Nettie Blanche Lazzell was a motivated student of the arts: she received degrees in art history, painting, and drawing from West Virginia University, where she studied under Eva Hubbard and William J. Leonard, who was a graduate of the Académie Julian.[1] She was later a pupil of William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League from 1907 to 1908, and in went on the traditional Grand Tour. During the fall, she enrolled at the Académie Moderne in Paris under the instruction of Charles Rosen and Charles Guerin, and the following summer she resumed study with the two at Fontenay-aux-Roses. Lazzell left Europe just before the onset of World War I and returned to West Virginia, where she opened her own art school.

    In 1915, Lazzell traveled to Cape Cod to study at Charles Webster Hawthorne’s art school located in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Hawthorne—a student of William Merritt Chase and a decorated artist—was a widely respected impressionist , and his popular en plein air classes have been credited as a driving force that established the town as an important art colony. Lazzell fell in love with the town’s natural scenery and beauty, and the next year she exhibited for the first time at the Provincetown Art Association. She continued to display her work at the association’s exhibitions until her death in 1956, showing a total of 123 pieces over the course of forty years.[2]

    Three years after her first visit to Provincetown, Lazzell returned to the art colony to study woodcutting techniques with the avant-garde artist Oliver Newberry Chaffee. Under Chaffee’s instruction, she flourished at woodblock printmaking and mastered the “white-line method,” an aesthetic that became identified with her most important prints. Lazzell successfully achieved a mastery of woodcutting and produced over 130 prints during her career—her accomplishments in this medium earned her the reputation as Provincetown’s most respected printmaker.

    An extended stay in Paris from 1924 to 1926 led to encounters with post-impressionist painters Andre L’Hote, Albert Gleizes, and Fernand Leger, and the influence of the cubist movement became evident as Lazzell’s work became increasingly abstract. These pieces incorporated vibrantly hued cubist elements and geometric shapes, garnering acclaim for Lazzell as a promising female modernist. After returning to the United States, she served alongside fellow artist Dorothy Loeb (1887–1971) on the organizing committee, jury, and hanging committee of the First Modernistic Exhibition hosted by the Provincetown Art Association, which opened in July of 1927. She regularly returned to the Cape Cod art colony every summer for the next thirty years, where she actively painted, exhibited, and taught in her studio; Nancy W. Paine Smith described the artist, stating:
    Miss Blanche Lazzell, a dainty little lady, leaves a beautiful home in West Virginia, and lives here in a tiny studio on the end of a wharf because she loves to paint and because she loves the sea. She makes her studio bloom with boxes of flowers, many and luxuriant. She is a block printer.[3]

    The unique character of Lazell’s work is a product of her extensive training with some of the most esteemed teachers and artists of the early- and mid-nineteenth century. She once told her sister, “Abstract art does not represent anything seen by the eye. It is made up of tones, and planes or shapes of color. These shapes must be so related as to give harmony and rhythm.”[4] Regarded as one of the earliest female painters to work in the modernist style, Lazzell was involved in numerous important artist organizations up until her death in 1956, which included the American Color Print Society, New York Society of Women Artists, Society of Independent Artists, Provincetown Art Association, Provincetown Printers, and Societé Anonyme.

    The New York Times commended her oeuvre in 2000, praising:

    Lazzell’s Cuboid paintings and drawings of nudes, done in Paris in the 20’s, are handled with animation, and her strong representational drawings of hills in West Virginia and backyards in Provincetown show a fine sense of rhythmical massing…she was still firm about following her avant-garde instincts, and she produced an interesting body of work.[5]

    Examples of Lazzell’s work are featured in the permanent collections of prominent museums including the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Dallas Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and The Whitney Museum of American Art.

    II. Chronology

    • 1878 Born in Maidesville, West Virginia on October 10
    • 1901–5 Attends West Virginia University, graduates with a liberal arts degree
    • 1907–8 Moves to New York City, studies under William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League in New York
    • 1912 Travels to Paris and takes the Grand Tour with a group of women during the summer
    • 1913 Returns to Paris in the fall and enrolls at the Académie Moderne under the instruction of Charles Rosen and Charles Guerin
    • 1914 Spends the summer studying with Charles Guerin at Fontenay-aux-Roses, an artist commune located southwest of Paris, France
    • 1915–18 Travels to Cape Cod and spends the summer studying in Provincetown with Charles Webster Hawthorne
    • 1918 Studies woodcut techniques with avant-garde artist Oliver Newberry Chaffee
    • 1919 Exhibits work in the landmark show Wood Block Prints in Color by American Artists at the Detroit Institute of Arts
    • 1924–26 Studies in Paris with modernist painters Fernand Leger, Andre L’Hote, and Albert Gleizes
    • 1926 Returns to the United States from a study trip with Parisian modernists
    • 1927 In July, serves on the organizing committee, jury, and hanging committee of the Provincetown Art Association’s First Modernistic Exhibition
    • 1934 Receives Federal Art Project grant through the Works Progress Administration to produce a set of prints depicting scenes of her hometown in Morgantown, West Virginia
    • Creates a mural for the court room in the Morgantown courthouse entitled Justice
    • 1956 Passes away on June 1

    III. Collections

    • Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas
    • Boca Raton Museum of Art, Florida
    • Dallas Museum of Art, Texas
    • Detroit Institute of Art, Michigan
    • Greenville County Museum of Art, South Carolina
    • Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire
    • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
    • The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
    • New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, New Jersey
    • Newark Museum, New Jersey
    • RISD Museum, Providence, Rhode Island
    • Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
    • Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Massachusetts
    • West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia
    • Court House, Morgantown, West Virginia
    • Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York
    • Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C
    • University at Albany, State University of New York, New York
    • The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York

    IV. Exhibitions

    • 1917–23, 1925–27, 1936, 1938 Society of Independent Artists, New York
    • 1922, 1927 Salons of America, New York
    • 1925–1946 New York Society of Women Artists, New York
    • 1916–1946 Provincetown Art Association, Rhode Island
    • 1919 Touchstone Gallery, New York
    • Detroit Institute of Art, Michigan
    • 1923 Salon D’Automne, France
    • 1939 Federal Art Gallery, Massachusetts, Works Project Administration Exhibition
    • 1946 Color Print Society, Pennsylvania
    • San Francisco Art Association, California
    • Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
    • Philadelphia Print Club, Pennsylvania
    • 1982, 1984–85 M. Diamond Fine Art, New York, solo exhibition, 1982, 1985
    • 2000 Michel Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, solo exhibition
    • 2002 Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Massachusetts
    • 2002 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; Elvehjem Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin, Wisconsin, solo exhibition
    • 2005 New-York Historical Society, New York

    V. Memberships

    • American Color Print Society
    • American Women’s Art Association
    • Lodge Art League
    • New York Society of Women Artists
    • Provincetown Art Association
    • Provincetown Printers
    • Societé Anonyme, board of directors, 1928
    • Wolfe Art Club

    VI. Notes

    1. James R. Bakker, “Lazzell & Loeb: Women on the Edge of Modernism,” American Art Review 14 (January/February 2002): 146.
    2. Ibid., 147.
    3. Ibid., 150.
    4. Letter from Lazzell to her sister, from Provincetown, Massachusetts, 15 April 1927. Blanche Lazzell Papers 1890–1982, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Microfilm reel 2990.
    5. Grace Glueck, “Art in Review; Charmion von Wiegand Blanche Lazzell,” The New York Times, October 20, 2000.

    VII. Suggested Resources

    • Archer, Joan. “Women of Vision—A Century of Painting on Cape Cod” American Art Review, 14, no. 2 (2002): 146–153.
    • Bakker, James R. “Lazzell & Loeb: Women on the Edge of Modernism,” American Art Review 14, no. 1 (2002): 146–151.
    • Bridges, Robert. Blanche Lazzell: The Life and Work of an American Modernist. Morganton, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2004.
    • Eight Southern Women: Blanche Lazzell, Josephine Marien Crawford, Nell ChoateJones, Clara Weaver Parrish, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Helen M. Turner, Mary Harvey Tannahill, Anne Goldthwaite. Greenville, South Carolina: Greenville County Museum of Art, 1986.
    • Falk, Peter H. “Nettie Blanche Lazzell.” In Who Was Who in American Art. Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1999.
    • Paine-Smith, Nancy W. A Book About the Artists: A Book about the Artists Provincetown. Provincetown, Massachusetts: Tolman Print, Inc., 1927.
    • Rosenfeld, Michael and Halley K. Harrisburg. Blanche Lazzell: American Modernist. New York, New York: Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, 2000.

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