American Miniaturist, 1777-1807
.American miniature painter. Like his boyhood friend Washington Allston, he was encouraged in his artistic pursuits by Samuel King, who lent him engravings to study. In autumn 1794 Malbone set himself up as a miniature painter in Providence, RI, where he worked for two years, achieving almost immediate success. His earliest miniatures, such as that supposedly of Nicholas Brown (1794; New York, NY Hist. Soc.), although somewhat primitive, demonstrate his precosity. The sitters' faces are modelled with a stippling technique and chiselled planes; their outlines are distinct and crisp. These first compositions all include a conventional portrait background, usually a red curtain pulled back to reveal a blue sky. Despite the laboured technique, they are lively, direct and sensitive. During the second half of the 1790s Malbone travelled the eastern USA in search of commissions. He renewed his friendship with Allston in Boston and later visited New York and Philadelphia. In 1801 he was in Charleston, SC, where he befriended the miniature painter Charles Fraser, on whose work he had a strong influence. He developed a brilliant technique of delicate, barely perceptible crosshatching, using interwoven lines of pale colours to create graceful forms.