August 9, 2016

'A charming fiction'

Childe Hassam, Isles of Shoals, Broad Cove, 1912

      ....painting out on the headlands of Appledore could not be an unalloyed pleasure. One has only to stand on the exposed rocks where Hassam painted to marvel at the artist's fortitude. The midsummer sun irradiates the rocks to a squinting brightness. A half-day's exposure would have left the painter scorched, even if shaded by an umbrella. Gusty salt breezes that might have danced the hollyhocks and poppies of Celia Thaxter's garden would have played havoc with a stretched canvas, unsteadily propped on an easel out on the rocks. ...
      In most of his painting away from Babb's cove and the hotel complex, Hassam presented Appledore as a deserted -- if not a desert -- island, untrammeled, almost primeval in its isolation. This was, of course, a charming fiction.  Today, one can sit at many of Hassam's painting sites and have only the gulls for company, but such solitude was hard to find in the heyday of The Appledore House. At the height of the summer season, the small island would have swarmed with hotel guests and day-trippers, the more youthful or adventurous exploring the secret coves and headlands, accessible without too much effort from cross-island trails and the two-mile gravel-and-plank road that ringed the shore. Surely Hassam, a genuine celebrity at the hotel, would have attracted onlookers as he worked away at his canvas. However, the playful, curious and probably annoying guests rarely figure in Hassam's paintings. His behavior was perhaps similar to a camera with a long exposure time: anything moving blurs or registers not at all ...
from American Impressionist: Childe Hassam and The Isles of Shoals
edited by Austin Barron Bailly and John W. Coffey

When I look at paintings, most often it's without knowing the stories behind them, so I've enjoyed spending time with this book in advance of seeing the exhibition. And this is a wonderful glimpse, isn't it?

I've also learned that Celia Thaxter, a poet, essayist and gardener, grew up in The Isles of Shoals, where her father was a lighthouse keeper.  Her father opened The Appledore House in 1848, and Celia lived and gardened in a cottage nearby, where her visitors also included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Sarah Orne Jewett,  The hotel burned to the ground in 1913, and the house is no longer there, either, but the marine laboratory on the island has recreated her garden.

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