Collection of the artist, until 1935
Academy of Arts and Letters, New York (by bequest of the artist), 1935
The Milch Galleries, New York, 1951
Mr. John Fox, Boston, Massachusetts (acquired from the above), 1951
Mr. Dwight M. Collins (John Fox's business partner)
By descent in the family (sold: G.G. Sloan & Co., Washington, D.C., 1983, sale 745, lot 1803)
Ira Spanierman, Inc., New York (acquired at the above sale)
Acquired by the present owner from the above, early 1990s
New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Art Gallery, Childe Hassam: An Island Garden Revisited, April 1990-June 1990, no. 47, illustrated in color
Houston, Texas, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, American Painters in the Age of Impressionism, December 1994-March 1995, pl. 47, illustrated in color p. 113
New York, Adelson Galleries; Houston, Texas, Meredith Long and Company, Childe Hassam: An American Impressionist, November 1999-February 2000, no. 62, illustrated in color
We are grateful to Dr. Ulrich W. Hiesinger for preparing the following essay. Dr. Hiesinger is an independent writer and scholar curator whose publications have covered a variety of art historical fields. He is the creator of a sixteen-volume series on world art, has taught at Harvard University, The University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Delaware, and has served as exhibition curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He is the author of, Childe Hassam, American Impressionist (Prestel, New York and Munich, 1994).
Hollyhocks, Isles of Shoals represents the last known iteration of a theme that occupied Childe Hassam for more than a decade during his prime years, and which embodied one of his most personal and singular visions. Depicting a corner of the garden belonging to his friend and mentor Celia Thaxter (1835-94) on the Isles of Shoals, it is one of a group of works which occupy a privileged place among his many achievements, and which was the subject of a defining exhibition that traveled to several American cities in 1990‑91. 
Hollyhocks, Isles of Shoals was inspired by the famous summer garden created on the Isles of Shoals by Celia Thaxter (1835-94), an amateur writer, poet, decorative artist and aesthete from Boston whose family operated a busy vacation resort on the tiny island of Appledore. (see illustration) Hassam described the place as "a famous old summer hotel and then well-known summer resort - The Appledore - Isles of Shoals - five or six small rocky islands eight miles at sea off Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and in July and August crowded with people from New York, Boston, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, and the smaller cities and towns in New England." 
As a novice artist in Boston in the 1880s, Hassam was befriended by the matronly Thaxter and he continued to correspond with her during his pivotal stay in Paris between 1886 and 1889. Upon returning to America, Hassam eagerly resumed a place within the congenial company of writers, musicians and artists drawn to the informal salon Thaxter created in her private cottage apart from the island's main resort buildings. "I spent some of my pleasantest summers at the Isles of Shoals," reminisced Hassam, "and in [Thaxter's] salon there where I met the best people in the country."  Among those named by the artist were Henry M. Alden, Richard Watson Gilder, editors respectively of Harper's and Century magazine, and pianist and composer William Mason, whose talents had been nurtured in Europe as the first American student of Franz Liszt. Other frequent guests in Hassam's day were the writer William Dean Howells, pianist William K. Paine, and fellow artists Ross Turner, and J. Appleton Brown.
The center of this group activity was the main parlor of the Thaxter cottage, a large, airy room facing the garden and crowded with rugs, screens, chairs, tables, pictures and a boundless assortment of flowers set in vases. Thaxter encouraged the artists to display their works in this room, Hassam included, in the hope of finding a few buyers among the curious hotel guests who were discretely permitted to circulate through the house. A photograph of the parlor from around 1890 shows at least three, and possibly more, works by Hassam on display. It was a space memorialized in Hassam's well known painting The Room of Flowers of 1894 (Private collection).
Behind the cottage, facing the sea, Thaxter had created an informal garden, planted with a dense growth of climbing vines and many varieties of summer flowers. The garden was relatively small (50 by 15 feet) though possessed of that particular charm and poignancy such short‑lived summer endeavors radiate in the lee of stern New England winters. The plot served as both a cutting garden and an attraction in its own right, standing out against the rocky island's sparse vegetation with a flourish of dazzling colors.
Thaxter doted on the care of her garden, and Hassam was immediately swept up in her enthusiasm, adopting her garden as the leitmotif for one of his most important series of outdoor works. Hassam had previously integrated floral motifs into the larger contexts of street or garden scenes. On Appledore he chose to either focus on the garden in its own right, or combine it with wider landscape views, producing in the latter an original composite of landscape and floral still life. His favorite motif was an abundant display of red and white poppies. Having established the theme of flowering landscapes on Appledore, Hassam proceeded during the early to mid-1890s to develop it in numerous variations in oil, watercolor, and pastel.
Of his garden scenes most are executed in watercolor, and some, like Home of the Hummingbird (Private collection, illustrated), are close cousins to Hollyhocks, Isles of Shoals. Unlike his previous garden views in France, only exceptionately was a figure introduced, most notably in In the Garden (Smithsonian American Art Museum, illustrated) which centers on the venerable figure of Thaxter herself.
Hollyhocks, Isles of Shoals is one of only a few pastels that Hassam executed while staying on Appledore. Pastel was always a medium that the artist used sparingly, as if, from time to time, a momentary notion moved him to depart from his usual routine. Notable for its depiction of the clear northern air that Hassam so often praised, Hollyhocks, Isles of Shoals is both later in date and considerably larger than the few other known pastels from the Isles of Shoals, as well as being the only one that can be unquestionably identified with Thaxter's garden.
A sharpened pastel crayon may have suggested to Hassam the specific treatment accorded to Hollyhocks, Isles of Shoals, for it is an image that reveals a degree of detail and clarity beyond that found in most of his watercolors.
Although Hassam always considered the whole island of Appledore to be a garden of sorts, and often depicted its flowers and vegetation as they grew wild in the fields, there is no mistaking the subject of Hollyhocks, Isles of Shoals as Thaxter's own garden owing to its delineation of the wooden fencing and framed flower beds that are familiar to us from contemporary photographs (see illustration).
In general, Hassam's garden views demonstrate his conviction that art should reflect a general impression of nature, and not a botanical catalogue. Nonetheless, this image possesses a certain refreshing specificity. In a plan of the garden which Thaxter prepared for her 1893 publication An Island Garden, a volume for which Hassam provided the illustrations, Thaxter included fifty-seven separate varieties of plants, at least six of which were different kinds of poppies. Among these, recognizable to the left in Hollyhocks, Isles of Shoals, seems to be the Shirley Poppy, a breed ranging in color from white and pale lilac to pink and red, and which is distinguished by a narrow white border around the petals. This was a variety only first developed in England in the 1880s, and so it would seem that Thaxter was quite current in her knowledge of flowers. However, the dominant note is struck by tall growths of Hollyhocks soaring above the fence in hues of red, rose pink and cherry. Arrayed before them are blue/purple larkspur, while yellow Black Eyed Susan appear to occupy part of the leftward corner. Providing the background to this vibrant growth of flowers are bands of distant blue sea and sky separated by a thin white strip signifying the mainland beyond.
Celia Thaxter died in August, 1894, and was interred on the island, with Hassam helping to prepare her funeral bier. The artist returned to Appledore the following year, then was apparently absent for several more, in part due to travels in Europe, but returned to the island in 1899. In subsequent visits over the next decade and a half, however, Hassam's attention shifted away from Thaxter's house and garden towards the picturesque views offered by the island's ledges and rocky shoreline.
Hollyhocks, Isles of Shoals, created in 1902, represents an exception to this rule, and bears with it a special poignancy in having been created a full eight years after Thaxter's death. The image testifies to the fact that even in Thaxter's absence, someone maintained her garden in good order; more important, however, is the realization that long after his friend had gone, Hassam made a special point to revisit this spot, one that must have stirred heartfelt memories, and set about rendering it in a final act of nostalgia.
For a certain number of regular visitors, Hassam perhaps more than any other, the summer days spent on Appledore Island, Isles of Shoals, held a special place in their minds and hearts. Hassam said so directly in reminiscing words uttered in later years, just as he seems to have done through his art in this farewell tribute to Thaxter's memorable garden.
 Childe Hassam: An Island Garden Revisited. The Denver Art Museum, 1990 (traveled to New Haven, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C.). Text by David Park Curry.
 Hassam manuscript autobiography, 1934: American Academy of Arts and Letters
 Childe Hassam Papers, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York.
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