Go Back

Edward Greene Malbone
American, 1777 - 1807

Edward Greene Malbone's premature death at age twenty-nine cut short the brilliant career of a painter widely considered to be America's most accomplished miniaturist. He began life inauspiciously as an illegitimate son born to Patience Green and merchant John Malbone, whose fortune was depleted during the British occupation of Newport during the Revolutionary War. Malbone may have received limited, informal instruction from Samuel King (1748/9-1819), a Newport painter and instrument maker, but he was largely self-taught. At seventeen, Edward Greene, as he was then known, ran away to Providence to establish himself as a miniaturist. The young painter wrote to his father in October 1794 to announce that he wished to use the name "Malbone," which he promised "never to dishonor." A desire to appeal to an affluent, influential clientele probably motivated Malbone to add his father's prestigious surname to his own when he launched his career.

Malbone's talent, charm, and artistic skill contributed to his rapid entrepreneurial success, but the lot of an itinerant miniature was a difficult one, involving long periods of overwork and constant travel from city to city. Over the next several years, he painted in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, where he befriended Charles Fraser, a lawyer whose later work as a miniaturist he strongly influenced. In 1801, Malbone traveled to London, where he found affirmation of his stylistic sensibilities in the airy and elegant miniatures of Richard Cosway (1742-1821). Malbone returned to Charleston later that year and began his most prolific period, documented in his account book, which records only a portion of his prodigious output. The artist briefly returned to Newport in the fall of 1802 and spent the remainder of his brief life traveling between there and Boston, Providence, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.

Weakened by tuberculosis, Malbone found himself unable to paint and journeyed to Jamaica for his health in December 1806. Five months later, he died at the home of his cousin in Savannah on his way back to Newport. So great was his fame that nearly half a century later, novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne invoked Malbone's name in The House of the Seven Gables to explain the uncommon power of a miniature to conjure the presence of an absent lover.

Click on an image below for more information on Edward Greene Malbone's miniatures.

Mrs. Richard Sullivan (Sarah Russell) (1786-1831)

2003 © Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520 USA. All rights reserved.
Comments or suggestions to site editor.
Home URL: http://cmi.yale.edu