Hassam ventured in 1889 to the remote island of Appledore nestled among the Isles of Shoals off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. The artist was lured to the island by the poetess and island gardener Celia Thaxter, who had established an informal salon composed of distinguished writers, musicians, and noteworthy artists. Hassam discovered in Thaxter a unique and engaging spirit, a presence that invoked in him a sense of freedom, exhilaration and imagination. The rambling rocky coast of Appledore inspired a series of works that illustrate Hassam's brilliant impressionist technique. The artist's unending affair with the beautifully tranquil and remote shoreline of Appledore is poignantly recorded in Moonlight off the Isles of Shoals. The present work is a sophisticated image composed of serene color and luminous light.
The rocks and shoreline of Appledore were a great attraction to any island visitor, whether tourist or artist. Thaxter's reverence for the rocky terrain of Appledore aided Hassam to see beyond "the mere heaps of tumbling granite" and understand the "the infinitely aged Isles of Shoal with precious stones set in a silver sea." (D.P. Curry, Childe Hassam, An Island Garden Revisited, New York, 1990, p. 115) Hassam found the raw wild nature of the rocky island perfectly suited his American style of Impressionism. His works "painted at the Shoals are energized by the artist 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, p. 14) Moonlight off the Isles of Shoals is part of a series of works where Hassam investigated the effects of color and light on the Appledore landscape bathed by the brilliance of the moon, instead of the sun. Hassam in the present work, including only a glimpse of the rugged shoreline, focuses on the expanse of the sea inhabited by only a small sailboat and the night sky punctuated by a glowing orb.
Hassam's vision of twilight and nighttime were deeply influenced by James McNeill Whistler's innovative Nocturnes and aesthetic theories regarding light discussed in the Ten O'Clock Lectures. In fact, Hassam's summer reading on Appledore included this well-known treatise. Much like Whistler, Hassam was not concerned with duplicating specific light in his twilight and nighttime works, but rather utilizing light to create a harmonious effect. Hassam produced a series of moonlight pictures of Appledore which were well received. One review made the following comment regarding the work Moonlight (1907, Shaklee Corporate Art Collection, San Francisco, California): "Conspicuous on the broad wall is a moonlight shore scene from the Isles of Shoals, in which small clouds swarm about the moon like fish round golden bait. Depth of perspective and happy of suggestion of color in the Shoals make this nocturne one of the most successful in the collection." (Childe Hassam, An Island Garden Revisited, p. 164)
Hassam in Moonlight off the Isles of Shoals ingeniously manipulates through controlled brushwork varying hues of blue to create the rocky outcropping, the placid sea and endless sky. Localized areas of enamel white emerge from the symphony of blues, piercing the surface to create a delicate balance between the shoreline and sailboat. The entire image is unified with the infusion of shimmering light that only a summer moon could emit.
Through Hassam's Impressionist gaze, the timeless beauty of Appledore is poignantly recorded in Moonlight off the 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, offers viewers of his Appledore pictures similar passage.
This work will be included in Stuart P. Feld's and Kathleen M. Burnside's forthcoming catalogue raisonn of the artist's work.