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11. On the Painting’s Reported Nantucket Provenance

The report that this painting came from an estate sale on Nantucket can probably never be verified, but, from an a priori standpoint, the Nantucket provenance is both intriguing and highly appealing, as it would account for the painting’s early disappearance from the written record, its omission from catalogues of Cézanne’s known works, and its reappearance in 2016, still in its (apparent) 1890’s condition and frame, as though it had been caught in a time-warp.

Since the 1870’s, Nantucket (an island 30 mi/48 km off the Massachusetts coast) has been a seaside summer retreat for wealthy Americans from the mainland, who built large summer homes there and whose families returned to them every summer for generations.  We can easily imagine an affluent American from New York,  Philadelphia or Boston travelling to Paris, buying a French seascape as a souvenir, bringing it home and hanging it in his or her newly built summer home on the island, where it may have remained visible, seasonally, to the occupants for many summers (or may, in time, have been removed and stored in an attic), only to have its identity and importance forgotten by the owner’s heirs – being, as it was, unsigned.

A typical example of one such Nantucket summer home and the kinds of people who occupied it has been described by Katharine Stanley-Brown Abbott,[1] who relates how her grandfather, Charles Oliver, a Philadelphia physician, in 1887 received a bit of land in Siasconset, on the eastern shore of Nantucket, as payment from a patient of a medical bill.  The following year Oliver had a fine summer house built there, and after getting married and taking a three-month tour of Europe (with multiple weeks in Paris and London), he returned with his wife to occupy the cottage during the summer of 1889.  Although the marriage ultimately proved unsuccessful and ended in divorce in 1907, Mrs. Oliver received the house and continued to occupy it each summer for 39 seasons – while, as the text states (p. 44), also making trips to Europe every two years, buying clothes in London, and visiting Paris “where she immersed herself in art, music and beauty.”  The house was then occupied each summer by her children as they grew up, and then by their children and by members of the extended family until 1975, when the house was finally sold.

Such a history is completely compatible with the condition of the painting as found: a neglected, forgotten relic of a by-gone era that could perhaps only have been missed by existing for a century in the isolation of an old summer home, far from the mainland.

 

[1] Nantucket Summers: The Story of a Family and a Very Special Cottage called Sunnycliffe (Ipswich, MA: Pinniped Press, 1996).