CHILDE HASSAM (1859–1935)
Isles of Shoals, 1890
Watercolor on paper, 13 3/4 x 19 3/4 in.
Signed, dated, and inscribed (at lower right): Childe Hassam; (within square drawn box, at lower right): Isles / of / Shoals / 1890
EXHIBITED: The Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C., April 30–August 1, 1965; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, August 17–September 19, 1956; The Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire, September 28–October 31, 1965; and The Gallery of Modern Art, New York, November 16–December 19, 1965, Childe Hassam: A Retrospective Exhibition // Harbor Gallery, Cold Spring Harbor, New York, August 7–September 10, 1977, A Selection of American Landscapes, p. 8 illus. // Hirschl and Adler Galleries, New York, October 6–29, 1979, American Drawings and Watercolors, no. 46 as “Isles of Shoals”
EX COLL.: the artist, 1890; [Rosalie Wasserman, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, until 1977]; to [Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1977–79] to [Barridoff Galleries, Portland, Maine, 1979]; to private collection, until 1981; to sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, May 29, 1981, no 34. illus. as “Isles of Shoals;” to Mr. and Mrs. Walter H. Shorenstein, San Francisco, California, 1994–2010; to sale, Christie’s New York, December 1, 2010, lot 18; to private collection, Connecticut, until the present
Hassam’s relationship with Celia Thaxter and the Isles of Shoals began early and was of lasting importance to him, personally and professionally. He met Celia Laighton Thaxter (1835–1894) in Boston around 1880. Hassam, at the time, was a young painter and illustrator. Thaxter was a published poet who divided her time between the Boston-Cambridge literary circle and Appledore Island, part of the Isles of Shoals archipelago, where she held sway as the hostess of the island resort complex founded in 1847 by her father and his partner, Levi Thaxter (1824–1884). Levi Thaxter was a Harvard graduate with a long New England lineage and literary connections who became Celia’s tutor, and, in 1851, her husband. Appledore is the largest of the nine islands comprising the Isles of Shoals, six nautical miles off the coast of Kittery, Maine, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. (Appledore is in Maine. The islands to its south are part of New Hampshire.) Ultimately Levi Thaxter withdrew from spending time on Appledore, while his wife established herself as the doyenne of a lively a cultural salon, working as a hotel keeper with her brothers. Thaxter’s father died in 1866; her mother in 1877. Over the years, Thaxter’s notable guests at Appledore included Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Russell Lowell, John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry Ward Beecher, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Richard Henry Dana, William Dean Howells, William Morris Hunt, William Trost Richards, and Alfred Thompson Bricher.
When Celia Thaxter crossed paths with Hassam, she was pursuing her own interest in watercolor painting. Hassam may have briefly served as her watercolor instructor. According to Hassam’s later account, it was Thaxter who advised him to drop his Christian name, “Frederick,” in favor of his more exotic and distinctive middle name, “Childe.” Hassam’s earliest documented Appledore image is an illustration for a magazine article from 1882. By 1885, he was spending a considerable amount of his summer painting time on the Island. Hassam became a central figure in Appledore summer society and acquired his own purpose-built studio on the resort grounds in 1888. Curry estimates that Hassam’s work on the Isles of Shoals, including oils, watercolors, pastels, and drawings, accounts for some ten percent of his total oeuvre. Celia Thaxter was multi-talented and the garden that she carefully cultivated was a renowned source of delight and beauty. Thaxter’s garden inspired Hassam’s career-long fascination with garden painting, while the island offered endless inspiration in its natural variety of rocks and sea, bordered by a profusion of wildflowers and marine grasses. Celia Thaxter died in 1894, the same year in which Hassam painted one of his best-known works, The Room of Flowers, his tribute to the poet’s gloriously cluttered, warm, and personally evocative parlor.
After 1894, Thaxter’s coterie of friends promised to keep returning to Appledore. (In 1908, the family sold the resort. In 1914, a fired destroyed the grand hotel and most of the associated smaller buildings.) From 1899 to 1916, Hassam returned regularly to Appledore. Alhough Hassam found the island “full of ghosts” in the years after Thaxter’s death, he continued to return, enchanted by “the rocks and the sea.”
While the geology and botany that inspired Hassam has remained a constant, over the years Appledore Island has stood silent witness to ebbs and flows of human presence. Seasonally visited by Native Americans, the first Europeans to settle on the island in the seventeenth century were fishermen. By about 1700, the small settlement shifted to nearby Star Island. Caught between the British and the Americans during the Revolutionary War, Isles of Shoals residents fled to the mainland. In the early days of the republic, a few settlers trickled back to the essentially unhospitable terrain. Thomas Laighton (1803–1866), Celia Thaxter’s father, assumed the post of lighthouse keeper on tiny White Island, Isles of Shoals, in 1839. It was Laighton’s eccentric vision to build an offshore summer resort for New Englanders on what was then Hog Island that led to his family’s removal there in 1847. Appledore Resort Hotel opened in 1848, and, expanding over the following decades, its lifespan marked the period of the Island’s most intense human presence. Since 1916, Appledore has been owned by the Star Island Corporation, a not-for-profit endeavor loosely affiliated with the Unitarian/Universalist Church and the United Church of Christ. (Star Island, south of Appledore, is the second largest of the Isles of Shoals.) From 1928 to 1940, Appledore was the home of the University of New Hampshire Marine Zoological Laboratory. Beginning in 1940, the United States Military used the island for strategic purposes during the Second World War.
In 1966, the Shoals Marine Laboratory, a joint project of the University of New Hampshire and Cornell University, was established on Appledore where it remains, running a range of scientific, educational, and cultural programs. Beginning around 1977 the Shoals Marine Laboratory has worked to recreate Celia Thaxter’s garden using the 1894 publication illustrated by Childe Hassam. The Marine Laboratory also maintains a visiting artists program and offers organized garden and hiking tours of the Island for day-trippers during the summer season. Thus, it is possible today to walk in the footsteps of Childe Hassam and experience the views and vistas that he painted. This served as the organizing premise of the Childe Hassam exhibition organized by Austen Barron Bailly of the Peabody Essex Museum and John W. Coffey of the North Carolina Museum of Art.