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Childe Hassam : “In the Garden (Celia Thaxter in Her Garden)” (1892)

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To anyone accustomed to academic landscape painting, wrote one reviewer, Childe Hassam’s Isles of Shoals paintings were “like taking off a pair of black spectacles that one has been compelled to wear out of doors, and letting the full glory of nature’s sunlight pour in upon the retina.” Of the nine treeless, rocky islands situated off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire, the largest is Appledore, where, between 1890 and 1894, Hassam visited the poet Celia Thaxter, and became enamored of her wildflower garden. He featured it in several of his works, including a series which repeat this composition of poppies with Babb’s rock in the distance. Later, the artist contributed pictures and illuminations to her 1894 book, An Island Garden, in which she mused:

“Of all the wonderful things in the wonderful universe of God, nothing seems to me more surprising than the planting of a seed in the blank earth and result thereof. Take a Poppy seed, for instance: it lies in your palm, the merest atom of matter, hardly visible, a speck, a pin’s point in bulk, but within it is imprisoned a spirit of beauty ineffable, which will break its bonds and emerge from the dark ground and blossom in a splendor so dazzling as to baffle all powers of description.”

Thaxter’s garden was later recreated by Cornell botany professor John M. Kingsbury, following the plan laid out in her book. It is now a tourist destination and the subject of the film Flowers in Winter: Celia Thaxter’s Island Garden.

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