Skip to content

Allen Blagden

by Joseph Montebello

Allen Blagden’s father started it all. As the art teacher at the Hotchkiss School for twenty-two years, he encouraged and shaped the talents of students with artistic bents. And he did the same with his own children.

"There was a long bench in the living room of our house,” explained Blagden. “And it was full of paper, crayons, watercolors – all the essentials for creating art. So my two sisters, my younger brother and I sat down and drew whenever we wanted to.” Thanks to that nurturing all the Blagden children became artists.

“I went to Cornell and majored in fine arts,” Blagden said. “And I had to figure out what I was going to do to make a living. I always loved birds and managed to get a job as an artist in the Ornithology Department at the Smithsonian.”

Bladgen was painting a lot of birds now, but scientific illustration was beginning to feel too much like school work. And so, for a time, he dabbled in making movies with a friend who was Andrew Wyeth’s nephew.

“When making films turned out to be too slow a process for me, I decided to go back to painting and that would be my job.” A job he has excelled at for many years.

Although Blagden has traveled extensively, from Switzerland to Cairo and a trip down the Nile, to Big Sur and Santa Fe where he rented a house, his work is greatly influenced by New England.

“I was born in Connecticut and I love it. I summered in the Adirondacks and then discovered Maine. Perfect – it has the woods of the Adirondacks plus the ocean. I did a lot of painting there.”

For much of his career watercolor has been Bladgen’s chosen medium. “I am still a student when I try to use oils and I don’t use them in the winter because I might get high on the turpentine fumes.”

Like many artists Blagden suffers the frustration of not having enough time to paint. “Something is always happening that needs my attention. I don’t do research for my work, so I can just walk into my studio, which is on my property, and start puttering. I can’t work with artificial light, so I only work until the sun sets,”

As one of the nation’s foremost watercolorists, Blagden creates images of the environment and landscape as well as of people and animals. His work has been called some of the best American realist painting. His art recalls that of Louis Agassiz Fuertes, famous ornithologist and illustrator of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and also of American artist Winslow Homer. Both are important inspirations for him.

Blagden’s work is much in demand and after so many years of success, he should be content. “You always wonder: Do I still have it? I question every piece I create – have I achieved the original point of painting this particular subject? Where’s the source of light? Every painting is a new challenge,” Bladgen said.

Blagden is a perfectionist and his work is impeccable, as witnessed by the legions of fans and collectors. He is now compiling a book of his work to be published by David Godine in Fall 2016.