New Jersey Remembered: A Seventy-fifth Anniversary; Philadelphia Collection 75; October 2005
Morris Atkinson Blackburn
On the Beach
Oil on board, 15 3/4 × 19 3/4 inches
Signed lower left: “Morris Blackburn”

The landscape painter and art teacher Morris Atkinson Blackburn was born in Philadelphia, where he lived for the majority of his career. A descendant of the noted colonial portraitist Joseph J. Blackburn (c. 1700–1780), who was active in North America from 1753 to 1763, he became interested in art at an early age and studied architectural drawing at the Philadelphia Trade School. Blackburn took classes at the Graphic Sketch Club in 1922 and at the School of Industrial Art. While working for the noted Philadelphia furniture designer Oscar Mertz, he attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1925 to 1929. There he studied painting with Henry Bainbridge McCarter (1866–1942), drew from the antique with Daniel Garber (1880–1958), and took sketching classes with Arthur B. Carles (1882–1952), who introduced him to modernist styles. Blackburn won two Cresson Traveling Scholarships and visited Europe in 1928 and 1929, where he was influenced by the work of Gustav Klimt (1862–1918), Egon Schiele (1891–1918), and Paul Cézanne (1839–1906).

Blackburn returned to the United States during the Depression and painted murals for the federally funded Public Works of Art Project. He resumed working for Mertz and began to teach furniture design and drafting at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art in 1932; he later became an assistant there to the painter Franklin Chenault Watkins (1894–1972). Blackburn took private lessons from Carles during the late 1930s and began to paint in an increasingly abstract style. During World War II he worked as a mechanical draftsman for the Philco company. Blackburn taught at a number of Philadelphia area schools after the war, including the Philadelphia Museum (where he remained until 1972) and the Tyler School of Art from 1948 to 1952, when he became the first instructor of graphics at the Pennsylvania Academy. He exhibited widely after his first solo show at the Joseph Luyber Galleries in New York in 1947.

Blackburn is best known for his views of Philadelphia and New Jersey, where he taught classes in landscape painting in a barn studio in Millville. His activity in New Jersey was documented in a film made for Channel 52 in Philadelphia called South Jersey Sketch-Book, and in 1968 he was awarded the Ocean City Art Merit Award in recognition of his accomplishments as an artist and teacher. On the Beach is a representative example of his late figurative style, in which he emphasized strong, simplified, two-dimensional forms in a manner that reflects his earlier interest in abstraction.1


1. Biographical information on Blackburn is derived from Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art, pp. 584–85.

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