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.

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Unitarian in the Winter and Episcopalian in Summer

In Rose Standish Nichols’ parlor, a room that was home to much intellectual, political, and religious discourse, hangs a painting depicting Mary, Jesus and Saint John the Baptist. The oil painting is a nineteenth century interpretation of a common scene in religious art during the Renaissance, the rural landscape featuring the Holy Family in the foreground and a shepherd with his flock in the background. The work is unsigned and the artist is unknown, though the nineteenth century painter was likely studying similar scenes by Raphael, Leonardo, Giorgione and Titian in the sixteenth century. 

 

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Leonardo, The Virgin and Child with Saint Ann, c. 1503, The Louvre.

 

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Titian, Madonna and Child with Female Saint Ann and Saint John the Baptist, c. 1530s, Kimbell Art Museum.

Rose’s belief system has often been the subject of discussion, especially with such a religiously charged painting displayed in a very public room in her home. However, by all accounts Rose Standish Nichols was not a traditionally religious person. Her friend Southard Menzel wrote, in an article entitled Sketches of the Life and Character of Rose Standish Nichols, Artist, Collector, Social Reformer, Museum Founder, that Rose considered herself, “Unitarian in the winter and Episcopalian in summer” simply based on the fact that King’s Chapel, the family’s local Boston church, was Unitarian and the neighborhood congregation close to their summer home in New Hampshire was Episcopalian. [1] The Nichols family attended King’s Chapel when the girls were young and according to Margaret, the family had their own pew “in the front row of the balcony near the choir.” [2]

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Interior of King’s Chapel, Emmet Collection of Manuscrips Etc. Relating to American History, New York Public Library.

Later in her life, however, Rose became interested in the principles of the Bahai, a faith system that advocates for peace and unity, which resonated with Rose, a committed pacifist.

“To be a Bahá’í simply means to love all the world; to love humanity and try to serve it; to work for universal peace and universal brotherhood.” –Abdu’l-Bahá [3]

Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of the religion’s founder, was an acquaintance of Rose’s and according to Southard Menzel, he visited her home and was “given a platform at her house to introduce his doctrine (‘In that corner between the fireplace and the window’).” [4]

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Abdu’l-Bahá

Despite Rose’s personal belief system, she was still fascinated by the culture and iconography of the Catholic church. Her travel through Europe often included visits to churches and cathedrals where she was very taken with the traditions as well as the aesthetics.

“We have seen larger picture galleries, but no paintings as beautiful as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and those of Raphael, called his Stanze.  We took a last look at them today on our way to the Pope’s auto-chamber, where Margaret and I left a rosary for Bridget with the chamberlain to be blessed by the Pope.  We inquired our way of the Swiss guard, who seem to be everywhere in the Vatican, their orange and black costumes are striking if not picturesque.”

Rose writing to her father Arthur from Rome, November 18, 1891.

Rose also took a specific interest in Catholic monasteries while researching her book, Italian Pleasure Gardens. Her 1928 book includes an entire chapter on “The Cloister Garth”where she explores the horticulture and ornamentation of Italian monasteries.

“The outer walls of the cloister, back of the columns, were covered with paintings…Scenes suggested by descriptions in the Old and New Testaments, or episodes in the lives of saints were chosen as affording religious inspiration to the monks, who would have turned away their eyes in horror from the flippant representations that amused the pleasure-loving Pompeians.” [5]  

Several objects in her collection also suggest her fascination with religious objects including , books, postcards, tiles and even a bust believed to be a reliquary.

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Italian wooden bust, 18th century, possibly used as a reliquary.
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Dutch earthenware tile, 19th century, showing the story of Matthew 9, “Jesus Forgives and Heals a Paralyzed Man.”

She collected dozens of postcards with Catholic iconography, including twenty-five that depict the Holy Family.

Over thirty titles in her library reflect her curiosity in the church, including books of poetry, theology, stories of the saints and the Bible given to her by her father with both their names inscribed in their own handwriting:

“Arthur H. Nichols Boston Jan. 1, 1852 A present from his Mother

Rose S. Nichols from her Father Arthur H. Nichols”

 

Rose Standish Nichols may not have been a conventionally religious person but she was thoughtful about religion both in aesthetics and in theology. Her collecting practices and her proud display of religious art show her affinity for Christian iconography, but it was in her discussions with people she met throughout her life where her fascination with faith becomes clear. Southard Menzel told a story of Rose’s experience encountering a Cardinal on a steamer ship on his way to Rome:

“After much talk and no conviction, Rose had said to him: ‘I suppose you think I am going to Hell.’

‘Not necessarily so Miss Nichols,’ said O’Connell.

‘How can that be?’ asked Rose.

‘Well God may possibly pardon you on the basis of “invincible ignorance,”’ was his reply. 

Rose was charmed with this decisions, and apparently thought the term was invented for her. She loved to think that some day, because of, or in spite of, her ‘invincible ignorance,’ she might continue the pleasant discussion with his Eminence in Heaven.” [6]

 

[1] Menzel, Southard. Sketches of the Life and Character of Rose Standish Nichols, Artist, Collector, Social Reformer, Museum Founder, 1975. Unpublished work.

[2] Shurcliff, Margaret Homer Nichols. Lively Days: Some Memoirs of Margaret Homer Shurcliff. Taipei: Literature House, 1965. 25.

[3] Esslemont, J. E. Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era; an Introduction to the Bahá’í Faith. Wilmette, IL: Bahá’í Pub. Trust, 1970.

[4] Menzel, Southard. Sketches of the Life and Character of Rose Standish Nichols, Artist, Collector, Social Reformer, Museum Founder, 1975. Unpublished work.

[5] Nichols, Rose Standish. “The Cloister Garth.” Italian Pleasure Gardens. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1928. 25.

[6] Menzel, Southard. Sketches of the Life and Character of Rose Standish Nichols, Artist, Collector, Social Reformer, Museum Founder, 1975. Unpublished work.

By Emma Welty, Head of Collections and Administration.