We would like to thank Jeffrey Brown for his assistance with cataloguing this work.
Garden, Ironbound Island, Maine is the most ambitious work John Leslie Breck created during his five week stay on the small, privately owned island Ironbound, off the coast of Mt. Desert in Maine. Ironbound was owned by fellow American Impressionist and member of the artist’s group The St. Botolph Club, Dwight Blaney, and he and his family had several homes which dotted the island best known for its forbidding cliffs and dramatic views of the Atlantic. Garden, Ironbound Island, Maine depicts Margaret Blaney’s home, where the family stayed in the early days, with ocean views in the distance. The Blaneys would later move to “The Big House,” captured by John Singer Sargent in the early 1920s (offered as Lot 89). In the present work depicting Margaret Blaney’s garden, Breck has created an audacious profusion of flowers and rendered them in a veritable symphony of bold colors.
A pioneer of the early American Impressionist movement and perhaps its most lauded artist in the last decade of the 19th century, Breck spent several foundational years at Giverny in the inner circle of Claude Monet, who undoubtedly influenced both the subject matter and stylistic execution of Breck’s garden paintings. Following a brief romance with Monet’s stepdaughter Blanche Hoschédé-Monet and some success in the French art scene, Breck debuted his Impressionist style in 1890 at the St. Botolph Club in Boston and in 1892, settled permanently in Auburndale, a suburb of Boston. His subsequent work reveals the extent of Monet’s influence as well as a distinct and innovative New England aesthetic.
Breck’s time in Giverny had a profound influence on the direction of his painting. "Breck was primarily a Tonal landscape painter, but in the five years that he lived in close proximity to Monet, the undisputed master of the garden picture, he produced a number of dazzling, highly Impressionistic garden paintings. Garden at Giverny (In Monet's Garden), circa 1887, and Garden at Giverny, circa 1890, are fine examples of Breck's new high-keyed, lusciously textured style. Alternating broad strokes of paint with feathery touches, he builds up the dense garden growth. It is likely that these paintings were in Breck's first one-person show, which took place in Boston at the St. Botolph Club in 1890. Although critical reaction was generally negative--the works being considered too radical--the garden paintings elicited excitement." (Musée d'Art Americain Giverny, Lasting Impressions: American Painters in France, 1865-1915, Chicago, Illinois, 1992, p. 146)
In Garden, Ironbound Island, Maine, Monet’s influence is evident although the distinct New England landscape and the vibrant, high-keyed palette distinguish Breck’s brand of Impressionism. The layered poppies and deep recessive landscape demonstrate a practiced hand, evolved since the artist’s time in Giverny. The richly textured surface emulates the dazzling palette, and together the patterning of the surface and color are in rhythmic unison. While period photographs have confirmed that a small garden existed off the porch of the home, Breck has adopted artistic license here to dramatic effect. Historical garden expert May Brawley Hill wrote on the work, “A group of Boston Impressionists and avid gardeners, John Leslie Breck, Ross Turner, and Dwight Blaney often painted old-fashioned gardens, frequently their own. Breck painted Blaney’s house and garden on Ironbound Island, Maine, on a visit…filling the whole dooryard of the cottage with an unlikely profusion of giant poppies.” She goes on to report that photographs of the house and yard reveal the veritable lack of flowers, thus emphasizing Breck’s inventive creativity. (M. Hill, Grandmother’s Garden: The Old Fashioned American Garden, New York, 1995, p. 74)
Garden, Ironbound Island, Maine is one of the most important works by the artist left in private hands and it embodies all of the hallmarks of his lauded, mature style in which he incorporates the influence of Monet but adapts those techniques to create a distinct vision, uniquely American, all of his own. Indeed, an art critic for the Boston Journal wrote that his works of the mid-1890’s “caught the very spirit of New England.” (as quoted in M.S. Breck, “John Leslie Breck,” unpublished essay for the 1922 Breck exhibition at the St. Botolph Club)