After three years of study at the Academie Julian in Paris, Childe Hass am ventured in 1889 to the remote island of Appledore nestled among the Isles of Shoals off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. Though Appledore was primarily a resort community, Hassam was lured to the island by the poetess and avid gardener, Celia Thaxter. Thaxter had established an informal salon composed of distinguished writers, musicians and noteworthy artists such as Ross Turner, J. Appleton Brown and Arthur Quartley. Hassam discovered in Thaxter a unique and engaging spirit, a presence that invoked in him a sense of freedom, exhilaration and imagination. Among Thaxter's many undertakings was a sprawling garden that she had cultivated in the sand and rocky soil of Appledore. In addition to this famous garden, the rambling, rocky coastline of Appledore inspired a series of works that are some of Hassam's foremost achievements in Impressionism. East Headland, Appledore--Isles of Shoals illustrates Hassam's unending affair with the beautifully tranquil and remote shore line of this island, capturing on canvas brilliant light and jewel-like color that are trademarks of his finest works.
In addition to Hassam's works devoted to Thaxter's garden and to the internal landscape of Appledore, the artist ventured to the rocky edges of the island to create a unique visual blend of geology and sea. The rocks of Appledore were a great attraction to any island visitor, whether a tourist or artist. Thaxter herself found the island's eastern shoreline breathtaking with "rifts and chasms, and roughly piled gorges, and square quarries of stone, and stairways cut as if by human hands. The trap rock, softer than granite, is worn away in many places, leaving the bare perpendicular wall fifteen to twenty feet high...In some places, the geologists will tell you, certain deep scratches in the solid rock mean that here the glacier ground its way across the world's earlier stages." (Thaxter, Among the Isles, p. 18 in D.P. Curry, Childe Hassam: An Island Garden Revisited, New York, 1990, p. 156). Thaxter's reverence for the rocky terrain of Appledore aided Hassam to see beyond its "mere heaps of tumbling granite" and understand that "the infinitely aged Isles of Shoals were precious stones set in a silver sea, 'freshly green...flower strewn and fragrant...musical with birds, and with the continual caressing of summer waves.'" (Childe Hassam: An Island Garden Revisited, p. 115)
On the rocky island, Hassam found the raw, wild nature perfectly suited to his American style of Impressionism. His works "painted at the Shoals are energized by the artist's sensuous embrace of light and color effects, but they also reveal his efforts to maintain a balanced synthesis of color and line." (Childe Hassam: An Island Garden Revisited, New York, 1990, p. 14). In 1911 Hassam executed a number of works that were "notable for their deep brilliant colors of sapphire and emerald" such as East Headland- Appledore Isles of Shoals. (U. W. Hiesinger, Childe Hassam, New York, 1994, p. 150). Composed of varying rhythmic staccato strokes of paint, is filled with the present work varying blues that emphasize the jagged quality of the barren cliffs and the placidness of the flowing tide. Lichen and other sea plants are hinted at with dashes of brown and green pigment which punctuate the rocks and sheered cliffs. Thaxter, observing natural details such as these, wrote: "There is hardly a square foot of the bare rock that isn't precious for its soft coloring; and freshly beautiful are the uncovered lichens that with patient fingering have ornamented the rough surfaces with their wonderful embroideries." (Thaxter, Among the Isles, p. 157 in Childe Hassam: An Island Garden Revisited, p. 181) With lightening application of yellow and orange, Hassam ingeniously included a cluster of flowers nestled between sea worn rocks, adding softness and fragility to a landscape that has existed for ages.
The Headlands present a seemingly rough and foreboding landscape, yet in East Headland Appledore, Isles of Shoals masterfully bathes his view with the warmth of summer sunlight that metamorphoses the cruel terrain and sharp sea breezes into a haven for retreat and contemplation. As D. P. Curry noted, "Thaxter thought the tiny coves where the artist was fond of setting up a portable easel were "the most delightful places in the world": lovely with their..mosaic of stone and shell and sea-wrack, tangles of kelp and driftwood--a mass of warm neutral tints--with brown, green, and crimson mosses, and a few golden snail-shells lying on the many tinted gravel, where indolent ripples lapse in delicious murmurs." (Among the Isles, p. 21 in Childe Hassam: An Island Garden Revisited, p. 159)
Through Hassam's Impressionist gaze, the timeless beauty of Appledore is poignantly recorded in East Headland, Appledore--Isles of Shoals. Appledore afforded Hassam the ability to escape from the oppressive and mundane life in the city and allowed his mind to wander and retreat into the depths of his own imagination. Hassam, by fully manifesting these introspective journeys onto canvas, offered viewers of his Appledore pictures similar passage. As a critic in 1914 noted: "Mr. Hassam...has continued to make [The Shoals] his favorite painting ground and has helped to make the rocky coves and surf-washed headlands familiar to thousands who have never seen the place itself." ("Appledore and its memories" as quoted in Childe Hassam, A Garden Isle Revisited, p. 159)
This painting will be included in Stuart P. Feld's and Kathleen M. Burnside's forthcoming catalogue raisonn of the artist's work.