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]

“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] 

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


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.


“Unvegetative Ornaments”


In the late seventeenth century, garden statues, obelisks, dials, and other ‘unvegetative’ ornaments seemed to take the place of flowers. [1]

Illustrations from Rose Standish Nichols’ first book “English Pleasure Gardens”

Rose Standish Nichols was a landscape architect by trade. She designed dozens of gardens on large plots of land, including her parents’ estate in Cornish, New Hampshire, but she never had much of a garden at her home at 55 Mount Vernon Street.

The Nichols family garden in Cornish, New Hampshire

In her article, How to Make a Small Garden she classifies a “small” garden as one that “covers from about 1200 to 2500 square feet of ground.”[2] Since her Beacon Hill garden is little more than a stretch of grass that frames her brick walkway, she needed to be creative when bringing her passion for gardens home.  Her house is richly furnished with floral and horticultural imagery, from tapestries, to prints, to small needlework pictures. However, it is an object in the entrance of her home that references the style and scale of gardens she loved to visit and design.

1961.01 -- 2

A nearly life-size sandstone statue of a young woman adorned with an empire revival dress and a brimmed hat stands in the portico between the house’s two front doors. The statue is English and dates to the 19th century but Rose understood the history of outdoor sculpture dating back much further. In her first book, English Pleasure Gardens, published in 1902, she explores garden design dating back to the classic tradition of ancient Italy and Greece to modern English gardens (at this point “modern gardens” refers to late 19th century). Rose suggests that some of the most successful gardens are those that blend a range of styles.

In some of the best modern English gardens there is a combination of classic statuary, Renaissance fountains, French perspectives, Dutch topiary work and flowers from all over the world. But in such a garden, when there is breadth given to the masses of colour and a proper regard to scale and proportion, the effect is not always incongruous.[3]

While Rose was not displaying “classic statuary,” she placed her statue in the portico, which not only referenced the outdoors, but also connected it to classic architecture, as the entry hall is the only part of the Federal townhouse that was designed in the Greek Revival style.

The statue in the portico

Throughout her garden design and scholarship Rose suggested that outdoor sculpture was at its best in the Baroque period in Italy. She even utilized Baroque Italian figurative statues in one of her Illinois garden commissions.

Garden designed by Rose Nichols in Lake Forest, Illinois

In her 1925 article, Rhythm and Punctuation in Design, she argued that when the original foliage of Baroque gardens has faded, there is still beauty in the skeleton of the garden’s architecture and ornamentation,

Badly kept up as are many of these 17th and 18th century gardens they might have appealed to us less in their palmy days than in their present decadence. Still, however, walls, balustrades, fountains, and statuary of stone, mellowed by age, pattern an ancient pleasuance. And even if the former flowers have disappeared, clipped laurels, oleanders and potted orange trees accent the parapets and the parterre. Here poets will again and again find inspiration and garden-lovers delight. [4]

This sentiment suggests that even without a full, lush garden behind them, the sculptures that are associated with pleasure grounds can still inspire a “garden-lover” like Rose.

The walkway at 55 Mount Vernon Street in 1959, with the statue showing through the portico window


[1] Nichols, Rose Standish. “Gardens of the Stuarts.” English Pleasure Gardens. Boston: David R. Godine, 2003. 163.

[2] Nichols, Rose Standish. “How to Make a Small Garden.” House Beautiful 1912: 88.

[3] Nichols, Rose Standish. “Modern Gardens.” English Pleasure Gardens. Boston: David R. Godine, 2003. 252.

[4]Nichols, Rose Standish. “Rhythm and Punctuation in Design.” Horticulture Feb. 1925: 49.

By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist

Who is “Diana of the Tower”?

Diana of the Tower by Augustus Saint-Gaudens
“Diana of the Tower”
by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

The multitalented Rose Nichols and her two sisters, Marian and Margaret, were heavily influenced in their artistic endeavors by their famous uncle, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Married to their mother Elizabeth’s sister, Augusta, Rose’s “Uncle Gus” was the most renowned sculptor of his day. The Nichols family kept a home in Cornish, New Hampshire, where they would escape the hot Boston summers to the mountains of New Hampshire. While in Cornish, Rose spent a lot of time at her uncle’s home and studio. The Cornish Art Colony, a place of inspiration for many New York City artists, writers, and politicians, was a very dynamic social and creative environment for Rose and her summers there would greatly influence her in her life and career. The Nichols House Museum has several of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ works in its collection, including two pieces the artist personalized for his niece.[1]

The museum’s “Diana of the Tower” is a reduced version of one of the sculptor’s most famous works. Commissioned by the prominent architect Stanford White in 1892, Saint-Gaudens sculpted “Diana” to stand as a weathervane atop White’s new Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“Diana of the Tower” atop Madison Square Garden around 1905 From Wikimedia Commons via The Dunne Archives
“Diana of the Tower” atop
Madison Square Garden around 1905.
From Wikimedia Commons via The Dunne Archives

There have been four incarnations of New York’s Madison Square Garden with White’s design being the most extravagant. Made of gilded copper and standing 42 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, “Diana” was the tallest point in the city skyline when she was installed at 347 feet. Saint-Gaudens’ “Diana” was the first statue in history to be lit by electric light and during the day she shone bright enough in the sun to be seen across the Hudson River in New Jersey.[2]

Augustus Saint-Gaudens
Augustus Saint-Gaudens
From The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, edited by Homer Saint-Gaudens

Personal friends with the architect, Saint-Gaudens and Stanford White consulted and collaborated together frequently on various projects including the Farragut Monument in Madison Square Park, the Adams Memorial in Washington D.C., and the Boston Public Library. White designed many of the settings for Saint-Gaudens’ sculptures throughout the height of his career.[3] When looking for the crowning piece to his new Madison Square Garden, White approached Saint-Gaudens with the exclusive commission and the promise to absorb all of the costs.[4] In 1890 Saint-Gaudens set to work on what would become his most recognized sculptures.

The most remembered and celebrated version of Saint-Gaudens’ “Diana” was actually the second to stand on top of Madison Square Garden’s tower. The original sculpture designed by the artist was much larger and installed 1891.

First version of
The first version of “Diana of the Tower.”
From Wikimedia Commons via Redlemur

Standing at 18 feet tall and weighing nearly 2,000 pounds, this first design was too poorly balanced to turn properly in the wind and disproportionate for the building.[5] She was taken down in September 1892 and Saint-Gaudens brought her to Chicago to be exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition, where he served as an artistic advisor and head of the fair’s sculpture committee. Placed atop the dome of the Agriculture Building, the bottom half of the first “Diana of the Tower” was lost to the fire that destroyed the fair grounds in July 1894 after the close of the exhibition. Her top half found its way to the basement of Chicago’s Field Museum for a time before it disappeared.[6]

The original
The original “Diana” atop the dome of the
Agricultural Building at The World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.
From Wikimedia Commons via The Project Gutenberg

Saint-Gaudens’ second version of the statue was a 13 feet tall complete redesign with a slimmer and more feminine figure. Installed in November 1893, Saint-Gaudens also corrected the elements that prohibited the first weathervane from turning.[7] The artist’s only nude female figure, “Diana of the Tower” brought notoriety to White’s Madison Square Garden. Some praised the work and others condemned it. The Philadelphia Times denounced “the depraved artistic taste of New York” and one New York newspaper remarked that there had been, “a marked change in the character of the frequenters of Madison Square … formerly this beautiful park was the gathering place of children … in their place the Square is thronged with club men armed with field glasses.”

Collier’s Magazine cover satirizing Comstock’s adamant public displeasure of Saint Gaudens’
“Created by St. Gaudens. Purified by
St. Anthony Comstock”
Collier’s Magazine satirizing Comstock’s adamant public displeasure of “Diana.”
From American Eve, by Paula Uruburu

Her nudity particularly offended Anthony Comstock the founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, an institution dedicated to supervising the morality of the public. In reluctant acceptance to Comstock’s very public disapproval, White asked Saint-Gaudens to fashion his “Diana” a metal drapery to “cover her modesty,” but it was lost in the wind only weeks after being installed.[8]

With the rising popularity of the sculpture, “Diana of the Tower” was the first large work Saint-Gaudens made reductions of. In 1895, the artist obtained a copyright for reproductions and produced three different editions of the work.[9] The Nichols House Museums’ reduction is an early version, dated 1894 and marked with the artist’s name and the foundry in Paris where it was cast, but with no copyright mark.[10]

“Diana of the Tower” atop Madison Square Garden around 1900
“Diana of the Tower” atop
Madison Square Garden around 1900.
From American Eve, by Paula Uruburu

Stanford White’s luxurious Madison Square Garden, despite being the host to some of the biggest and most elaborate shows and events, never could turn a profit and in 1925 it was demolished to make way for the New York Life Insurance Building. Saint-Gaudens’ “Diana” was removed from the tower and placed in storage. The search for a new home for her in New York City proved difficult and after seven years she was gifted to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Today she stands greeting visitors at the top of the museum’s grand staircase.[11] In recent years, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has undertaken the task of regilding the sculpture for the first time since she stood as the highest point in New York City.[12]

The Nichols House Museum is fortunate to have such outstanding works by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in its collection. Come discover more about the sculptor’s extraordinary life and career through his connection to Rose Nichols and her family at the Nichols House Museum!

Diana at the top of the grand staircase at the Philadelphia Museum of Art From Wikimedia Commons via Sailko
The freshly gilded “Diana” at the top of the grand staircase at
the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
From Wikimedia Commons via Sailko

See this object in the Nichols House Museum online collection here.

“Diana” on the second floor landing at the Nichols House Museum

By Danielle Cournoyer, Summer Intern 2015

Danielle is a graduate student in history at the University of Massachusetts Boston on the public history track. While interning at the Nichols House Museum, she is working on several public outreach initiatives as well as giving visitors tours of the house and its collection. Danielle is interested in progressive era Boston and New York City. Her favorite room in the house is Rose’s library.


[1] Read more about Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ life in Cornish at http://www.nps.gov/saga

[2] Burke Wilkinson, Uncommon Clay: The Life and Works of Augustus Saint Gaudens (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985), 210-211.

[3] For more about Saint Gaudens’ collaborations with Stanford White read: David McCullough’s article “Adventures in Paris.”

[4] Wilkinson, Uncommon Clay, 212.

[5] Ibid. 217.

[6] John Dryfhout, The Work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1982), 194.

[7] Wilkinson, Uncommon Clay, 216-217.

[8] Ibid. 209-210; Paula M. Uruburu, American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the “It” Girl, and the Crime of the Century (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008), 67-68.

[9] Dryfhout, The Work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 34. “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History,” Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Diana, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1985.353.

[10] View a remarkable image of a model of “Diana” in Saint-Gaudens’ studio (with Boston’s Robert Shaw Memorial in the background) in the Museum of the City of New York’s Collection.

[11] David Dunlap, “A Gilded Goddess Would Rather Be in Philadelphia,” New York Times, January 22, 2014.

[12] For a behind the scenes look at The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s regilding of “Diana” visit the PMA webpage on the conservation project.

A Trip to the Mountains

Untitled View of Mount Ascutney, Henry Fitch Taylor, c. 1908
Untitled View of Mount Ascutney, Henry Fitch Taylor, c. 1908










Untitled Landscape of Mount Ascutney

Attributed to Henry Fitch Taylor (1853-1925)

Created: Vermont, c. 1908

Materials: Oil, canvas, wooden board
Dimensions: 8 1/8” x 10 3/8”

On display at the Nichols House Museum

To see this object in the Nichols House Museum online collection, search for 1961.125 here: http://nicholshouse.pastperfect-online.com/36637cgi/mweb.exe?request=ks

For the artists and families who summered in Cornish, New Hampshire, at the turn of the twentieth century, the surrounding mountains defined the landscape, particularly the view of Mount Ascutney. The landscape inspired myriad designers, artists, and writers, and provided a perpetually dramatic backdrop for everyday activities.[i]  Artist Henry Fitch Taylor and his wife, Clara Davidge Taylor, owned a home in Cornish and participated in the life of the colony, whose members included sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, painter and illustrator Maxfield Parrish, and architect Charles Platt. The Taylors knew many Cornish residents, including the Nichols family, who owned a home called Mastlands (due to the tall, straight white pine trees on the property which were harvested to serve as masts of sailing ships) where they summered from 1880s-1930s.[ii]

Mastlands, summer home of the Nichols family

The view of Mount Ascutney influenced how homes and gardens were designed in Cornish so that the dwellings could take advantage of the best views possible.  A visit to Cornish in 1906 by the horticulturalist and author Frances Duncan led her to observe:

“[Most] Cornish folk have wisely taken to the hills, and overlook the valley and Ascutney, each with a view of his own; for there are views and to spare at Cornish… [but] Rare is it in Cornish that the garden runs an opposition show, or challenges comparison with the loveliness of the mountains.”[iii]

The veranda at Mastlands

Although the gardens in Cornish were the pride and joy of the homeowners of the colony, they were designed to accent the spectacular natural beauty of the mountains surrounding the area. Rose Standish Nichols wrote in 1911 of her first garden she designed for her parents’ summer home:

“But when seen from the safe distance of the piazza, where we live most of the summer, [the garden’s] deficiencies of detail are lost in space and the masses of bright-colored flowers against the gray background of stone wall, with the exquisite contours of purple Mount Ascutney rising high above the dark pine forests in the distance, fill one with a sense of abiding peace and beauty.”[iv]

A view from the garden at Mastlands, designed by Rose Standish Nichols
A view from the garden at Mastlands, designed by Rose Standish Nichols

Rose’s mother could not have agreed more- she wrote home to her husband in 1886, “The lovely views of Ascutney and the hills are a constant delight.”[v]

Henry Fitch Taylor was one of America’s first Impressionist painters and later was one of the first to embrace the early modernist movement.[vi] His works spanned from oil painting to cement carvings to carved wooden panel sculptures. Always interested in pushing boundaries in the art world, he was also instrumental in organizing the ground-breaking 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, often referred to as the Armory Show, in New York City.[vii] Taylor was a member of two New England art colonies, the Cos Cob Art Colony of Greenwich, Connecticut, and the Cornish Art Colony, where he spent the later years of his life.

This small oil painting may have been painted en plein air, outdoors, with the view of Mount Ascutney directly before him. The paint is quite thick in some places and thin in others, but the bright colors (since darkened with age) are suggestive of Taylor’s interest in color and color theory. Although the Nichols House Museum does not know how Rose Nichols’ came to own this painting, it evidently meant a lot to her. She had it hanging in her bedroom at the time of her death in 1960.

Taylor’s small, colorful oil painting of Mount Ascutney is a little reminder of those vibrant, creative Cornish summers the Nichols enjoyed, on display in the Boston home.

1964 RSN bedroom
Rose Nichols’ bedroom at 55 Mount Vernon Street, Boston, Massachusetts, c. 1964

Interested in learning more about the artists of Cornish and Rose Nichols’ time there? The Nichols House Museum is hosting a lecture Tuesday, October 28 at 6:00 p.m. entitled “Life at Mastlands: Rose Nichols and the Cornish Art Colony” by Margaret Dimock, the museum’s inaugural Julie Linsdell and Georgia Linsdell Enders Research Intern. Please call the museum at 617-227-6993 to reserve a seat for this free lecture.

Mount Ascutney, located in Windsor and Weathersfield, Vermont, is located across the Connecticut River from Cornish, New Hampshire. It rises 3,144 feet, and is geographically termed a “monadnock” or “inselberg”- a mountain or rocky mass that has resisted erosion and stands isolated in an essentially level area[viii].  Although not the only mountain able to be seen from Cornish, Mount Ascutney is distinctive for its granite outcroppings along its peak. Mount Ascutney and surrounding areas became a Vermont state park in 1935.[ix]

By Ashley Jahrling Bannon, Assistant to the Director of the Nichols House Museum


[i]  A Circle of Friends: Art Colonies of Cornish and Dublin, exhibition catalog. University Art Galleries, University of New Hampshire, Durham: Mark-Burton Inc., 1985.

[ii] Hutchinson, B. June. At Home on Beacon Hill: Rose Standish Nichols and Her Family. Board of Governors, Nichols House Museum. South Korea: 2011. Pg. 79-114

[iii] Duncan, Frances. “The Gardens of Cornish.” The Century Magazine. Vol. LXXII, no. 1. May, 1906.

[iv] Nichols, Rose Standish. “How Not to Make a Flower Garden.” House Beautiful, September, 1911. Pg. 104.

[v] Hutchinson, At Home on Beacon Hill, 79. Elizabeth to Arthur, July 9, 1886.

[vi] Oaklander, Christine I. “Cos Cob’s Surprising Modernist: Henry Fitch Taylor, An Exhibition at Bush-Holley Historic Site September 30 to December 31 2005.” The Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich.

[vii] Oaklander, “Cos Cob’s Surprising Modernist.”

[viii] http://www.thefreedictionary.com/monadnock

[ix] http://www.vtstateparks.com/htm/ascutney.htm