“No Pleasanter Place”: Reading with Rose

As many of our readers know, January 11th, 2016 marked Rose Standish Nichols’ 145th birthday. In celebration of this fiercely intelligent, independent woman, we will take a look at one of her own published books in this month’s ‘Reading with Rose:’ Italian Pleasure Gardens.

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Rose Standish Nichols in her garden in Cornish, New Hampshire. Courtesy Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

Rose Standish Nichols was not only a distinguished landscape architect, but a world traveler, too. She did not travel merely for pleasure, but conducted thorough research during her trips to Europe so that she could supplement her landscape commissions with firsthand experience in sprawling estate gardens. In 1931, Rose published her third book, this time focusing on Italian gardens in the aptly-titled Italian Pleasure Gardens.

In her book, Rose details the histories and contemporary features of gardens throughout Italy, including villas in Tuscany, Siena, Perugia, Florence, the Riviera, and the Lake District. We can trace Rose’s experiences within these cities through numerous letters she sent home during her many trips to the country. At times, she was accompanied by friends; she writes to Margaret below:

“This morning Frances Arnold Anita Dible and I have been to the Villa Papa Giulio, which is about ten minutes walk beyond the Porto del Popolo.  We had a very good time and took lots of photographs.”

Rose Nichols to Margaret Nichols [Shurcliff]- February 4, 1899

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One of the many images of Italian villas Rose included in Italian Pleasure Gardens.

After “Italian Pleasure Gardens” was published, Rose continued to enjoy travelling to the country where she conducted her research. Indeed, we can read Rose’s words with sincerity when she writes “to those travellers who are weary of cities and who love both art and nature I can recommend these gardens as a joy to the eye and a balm to the soul.”

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“It is cold and rainy here and I feel rather swallowed up by the immensity of this old city – after the cozy intimate atmosphere of Florence.  Before leaving there I spent a week in Mrs. Davis’ pleasant old villa where I had a suite of three rooms.”

Rose to Marian Nichols- March 4, 1931

“I am to spend tomorrow night at the heavenly Villa Sante and shall push on the following afternoon to Florence where Mrs. Lathrop is expecting me at the Villa Tomegiani.  From there I shall go to visit the Tomegianis at their handsome Lucca villa, at least it is four or five miles outside Lucca on a hill with a beautiful view.  After that I shall go to Venice to stay until the last of June.”

Rose to Marian- June 5, 1931

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An illustration from Italian Pleasure Gardens.

It is clear that Rose imbues into her writing the firsthand experience of traveling through these Italian pleasure gardens. Before the close of the book, she includes a “Garden Itinerary” that guides readers through their own tours of the country, through the very cities and gardens she herself visited. The book, as a whole, serves as simultaneously as a history lesson, as Rose takes us through the history of the  gardens in view of the country’s political and social cultures; a  guidebook; and a testament to the love Rose had for the career she devoted her life to: the garden, in all its splendor.

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Rose concludes her book with many tips and suggestions for readers seeking to visit Italian villas and their gardens.

Bibliography

Nichols, Rose Standish. Italian Pleasure Gardens. Dodd, Mead & Company, 1931.

 

By Victoria Johnson, Visitor Services and Research Associate.

Happy Birthday Rose!

Today marks Rose Standish Nichols’ 145th birthday. To celebrate this day we are looking back at a likeness of Rose created shortly after her eighteenth birthday: an oil painting showing Rose with a powerful gaze and a pink dress. This painting represents Rose during a time of her life when most women her age were expected to focus on attracting a male suitor. Whether or not Rose was interested in finding a husband is open for interpretation. A few letters suggest an interest in romance yet her posture and tone in this painting of her as a young adult illustrates a fiercely independent and assertive woman.

There are some very attractive people at this hotel.  Next [to] me at [a] table is one of the handsomest and swellest looking men I have ever seen…How I wish you could see this kind of perfection at dinner in a dress-suit with his moustache waxed to an inimitable points…Now I suppose you can’t help wondering if I am not deeply in love for once in my life. 

Rose to Marian, 1896.

Rose lived 88 years independently but was rarely alone. She had a large network of friends and colleagues from all walks of life, both at home and internationally. One of her friends, Margarita “Daisy” Pumpelly, was the artist that painted her portrait in 1890. Daisy was born in 1873, one year after Rose, and died in 1959, one year before Rose. Their families, both from Boston, vacationed in Cornish and Dublin, active artist communities in New Hampshire. Rose and Daisy were both artistically gifted, apprenticing with local artists in New Hampshire and continuing their studies in Europe. [1] Despite all the parallels in the lives of the two women, one thing set them apart: Daisy was married.

Daisy Pumpelly married Henry “Harry” Lloyd Smyth in November 1894, when she was 21 years old. Despite her marriage to Harry, a geologist at Harvard University, and their four children, Daisy maintained an independent lifestyle. [2] In September of 1894, two months before Daisy and Harry’s wedding, Daisy’s sister wrote to Rose’s sister, Marian about Daisy’s travels in Paris:

“Daisy writes glowing accounts of Paris they had several adventures on the way. I should think that she would be excited at the thought of seeing Harry so soon, but to all appearances she does not show it.”

Elise Pumpelly to Marian, September 6, 1894.

Throughout Daisy and Harry’s marriage, they often traveled independently. In the Nichols family’s correspondence, mentions of Daisy and Harry in the same place are infrequent. She even traveled out West in 1920 with her father and two siblings, while Harry remained in New England. [3]

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“Sunrise near Agua Caliente, From a water-color by Margarita Pumpelly Smyth” [4].
Harry and Daisy had residences in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, but Daisy also had a presence in New York City. In the 1940s, Daisy rented a brownstone at 48 West 10th Street in Greenwich Village where she lived with Juliet Thompson, also a fine artist. The two painters spent many years there, working in their studios and entertaining guests. [5] 

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Daisy Pumpelly Smyth (left) and Juliet Thompson (right)

 

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Like Rose, Daisy and Juliet were followers of the Baha’i faith. This photograph shows the interior of Juliet and Daisy’s house, complete with a portrait of Abdu’l-Baha painted by Juliet [6].

 

The link between Rose Nichols and Daisy Pumpelly Smyth is deeper than friend to friend or artist to sitter. Rose and Daisy both represent independent and artistic women at the turn of the twentieth century, committed to their careers and artistic practices despite societal expectations. On Rose’s 145th birthday we celebrate a portrait, connecting the lives of two female friends through art and social progress.

[1] Quirk, Lisa. “Margarita Pumpelly Smyth.” A Circle of Friends: Art Colonies of Cornish and Dublin. Durham: University Art Galleries, University of New Hampshire, 1985. 117.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid

[4] Pumpelly, Raphael. My Reminiscences. New York: Henry Holt, 1918. 779. Print.

[5] Thompson, Juliet, and Marzieh Gail. “At 48th West Tenth.” The Diary of Juliet Thompson. Los Angeles: Kalimát, 1983. X.

[6] Parsons, Agnes. Abdu’l-Bahá in America, Agnes Parsons’ Diary, April 11 1912 – November 11, 1912. Los Angeles: Kalimát, 1996. 154.

 

By Emma Welty, Head of Collections and Administration.