Edmund Blampied is one of the most significant artists to have hailed from the Channel Islands. Greatly versatile, he worked as a painter, illustrator, and occasional sculptor, though is best remembered as a printmaker and, especially, an etcher. Having been born on a farm, he produced some particularly evocative etchings of agricultural and peasant subjects. Their fluidity of line, strong sense of humanity and Gallic humour suggest a kinship with Daumier and Gavarni.
Edmund Blampied was born on a farm in the Parish of St Martin, Jersey, on 30 March 1886, the youngest of four sons of John and Elizabeth Blampied. His father died five days before he was born, and his mother brought up the family, working as a dressmaker and shopkeeper in the Parish of Trinity.
His first tongue was the Norman language of Jèrriais.
Blampied left school at the age of 14, and went to work in an architect’s office in St Helier, the capital of Jersey. A year later, he exhibited some drawings at an agricultural show, and these came to the notice of Marie Josephine Klintz, who ran a private art school in the town. As a result, she gave him his first formal lessons in art. His caricatures of local politicians attracted the attention of the businessman, Saumarez James Nicolle, who offered to sponsor his art studies in England.
In January 1903, the 16-year-old Blampied left Jersey for England, and enrolled at Lambeth School of Art, in London, studying there under Philip Connard and the Principal, Thomas McKeggie. McKeggie chose him to work part-time on the staff of the Daily Chronicle, and his first illustrations appeared in its pages on 13 January 1905. In the September, he transferred to the LCC School of Photo-Engraving and Lithography at Bolt Court, where he studied under Walter Seymour and through him perfected the art of etching. While there, he made a number of friends, including Salomon van Abbe, whose sister, Marianne, he would marry in 1914. In 1911, he established his own studio, and worked there, mainly as a magazine illustrator, into the early years of the First World War.
Following the introduction of conscription in Britain in 1916, Blampied returned to Jersey. Though classified as not fully fit for active service in 1917, he took up guard duties in the Royal Jersey Militia, and remained on the island until 1919, when he resumed his professional life in London.
Though Blampied had been producing etchings from as early as 1909, he only now began to establish himself as a printmaker. In 1920, he became an associate of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers, with full membership following just a year later. Also in 1920, he held a solo show of etchings and drypoints in London at the Leicester Galleries. His first American exhibition took place at Kennedy and Company, New York, in 1922. Many other joint and solo exhibitions followed.
Experimenting with lithography from 1920, Blampied joined the Senefelder Club of lithographic artists in 1923. He took classes in the medium from Archibald Hartrick, a founder member of the Senefelder, at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in 1925, but was already sufficiently expert by that date to win a Gold Medal for lithography at the Paris International Exhibition.
During the 1920s and 30s, Blampied worked extensively as an illustrator, contributing to numerous magazines, especially The Bystander and The Illustrated London News, and illustrating a number of books, including an edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (1931). His illustrations of children’s books such as the 1939 edition of J M Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, published by Hodder and Stoughton, were met with particular acclaim.
Between the wars, Blampied and his wife often travelled to France, and regularly wintered on the Riviera. In 1926, they sold their house in South London, and spent five months in southern France and Tunisia, Blampied producing a number of North African drawings and etchings.
Though he became a member of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1938, Blampied decided to return to Jersey just before the outbreak of the Second World War and stayed there, with his wife, during the German Occupation, despite the fact that she was Jewish. While he found little work as an illustrator, he received some commissions from the State of Jersey to design bank notes and postage stamps. Continuing to live on Jersey beyond the end of the war, he worked mostly in oil and watercolour during his final years. A large exhibition of his work was mounted at the John Nelson Bergstrom Art Center and Museum, Neenah, Wisconsin, in July 1954. A retrospective took place at the Societe Jersiaise, Jersey Museum, a decade later. He died on Jersey on 26 August 1966.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including The Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge); Jersey Museum (St Helier); and Boston Public Library and the Cleveland Museum of Art (Ohio).
Further reading: Jean Arnold and John Appleby, A Catalogue Raisonné of Etchings, Drypoints and Lithographs of Edmund Blampied, St Ouen: John Appleby Publishing, 1996 Andrew Hall, Edmund Blampied. An Illustrated Life, Jersey Heritage Trust, 2010