View from Celia Thaxter's Veranda, Appledore, Isles of Shoals
oil on canvas
20 in. x 24 in. (50.8 cm x 60.96 cm)
Henry Melville Fuller Fund,
J. Appleton Brown
Although not as well known as Frank Benson (q.v.), Childe Hassam (q.v.), or Edmund Tarbell (q.v.), John Appleton Brown ranks among the forerunners of American Impressionism. Born and raised in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Brown opened his first studio in Boston in 1865. Soon afterward, he became the pupil of Alfred Thompson Bricher (q.v.), remaining with him about a year before traveling to Paris to study painting with the Barbizon landscapist Emile Charles Lambinet (1815-1877).
Brown made a second trip to France in 1875. During that year, the two paintings he sent to the French Salon were accepted, an honor that established his reputation at home. Settling in Boston, the artist became known for quietly cheerful landscapes that critics often likened to the work of the Barbizon master Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875). Apple orchards in bloom were among Brown's favorite subjects, and for his many canvases of these trees, the artist earned the sobriquet "Appleblossom Brown." Brown was also a highly regarded pastelist and an associate of the National Academy of Design. He died in New York City in 1902.
Brown met poet Celia Thaxter while studying porcelain painting in Boston in 1877. The two soon became good friends, and Brown was a frequent guest of the Thaxters at their island home off the New Hampshire coast. There many artists and musicians gathered, and a few favorites, including Brown and Childe Hassam, were eventually provided with nearby studios of their own. Brown was particularly inspired by Celia Thaxter's celebrated flower gardens, and his paintings and pastels of this subject are today regarded among his best work.
The Currier's View from Celia Thaxter's Veranda, Appledore, Isles of Shoals extols the beauty and familiar comfort of the Thaxter home. From a vine-garlanded porch, the viewer looks across a narrow strip of greenery, over a low picket fence, and beyond to a vista of sunlit water and rocky islets. The wide stretch of decking and the empty chair seem to welcome the viewer, reinforcing his or her status as a privileged guest. Although the composition is devoid of figures, a cloud-filled sky, windblown leaves, and passing ships convincingly suggest life and movement.
When Brown first traveled to France in 1867, Barbizon landscape painting was considered avant-garde in the United States. It was still current during the 1870s and 1880s, yet by then in Paris, Impressionism had come to the fore. Brown probably became aware of the Impressionists during his second trip to France, and after his return, he was one of the first American painters to experiment with the new style. As can be seen in View from Celia Thaxter's Veranda, he turned to the lighter, plein-air palette of Impressionism. In contrast to the stillness of much Barbizon painting, Brown now infused his work with a momentary quality, a sense of fleeting movement conveyed by loosely brushed vine leaves, clouds, and water. Light effects were of particular importance to the Impressionists, and in View from Celia Thaxter's Veranda, Brown followed suit in his treatment of the glittering sea and sunlight diffused through layers of cloud vapor. Even the subject itself is quintessentially Impressionist. Like Claude Monet's (1840-1926) images of the seaside resort at Trouville, painted in the early 1870s, Brown's view of Appledore is redolent of leisure and recreation.
Painted about 1880, View from Celia Thaxter's Veranda is a notably early example of Impressionism in the United States. The early date is supported by both material and visual evidence. The painting's original stretcher carried the label of the Boston art supply shop of A. A. Walker, located at 594 Washington Street. City directories indicate that A. A. Walker occupied this address between 1877 and 1880, after which the firm moved to 538 Washington Street. While it is certainly possible that Brown may have painted on this canvas after 1880, later photographs of Thaxter's garden show more extensive development and reveal that the picket fence was replaced by a higher board fence at some point.
As the earliest of the Currier's American Impressionist landscapes, View from Celia Thaxter's Veranda exemplifies the transition in American art from the native style of the antebellum period to the internationalism that marked the later decades of the nineteenth century. Experimental in nature and rather daring for its time, Brown's canvas also foreshadows the startling innovations that would come with the modernist movements of the early twentieth century. View from Celia Thaxter's Veranda was acquired by the Currier Museum of Art in 1994.
A Stern and Lovely Scene: A Visual History of the Isles of Shoals. Ex. cat. University Art Galleries, University of New Hampshire, 1978.
Catherine H. Campbell. New Hampshire Scenery: A Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Artists of New Hampshire Mountain Landscapes. Canaan, NH: Phoenix Publishing, 1985.
Walter Montgomery, ed. American Art and American Art Collections. 2 vols. Boston: E. W. Walker and Company, 1889, vol. 2.
1997 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "What's New At The Currier: Recent Acquisitions to the Permanent Collection." Feb. 7 - March 31.
2006-2007 Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME, "Masterpieces from the Currier Museum of Art." Sept. 2006 - Oct. 1, 2007.
Brown-Corbin Fine Art, Lincoln, MA
Purchased by Currier Gallery of Art, 1994