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Oil on Canvas on Board
4 7/8 x 12 inches
7 3/4 x 15 inches framed
Signed CPC lower right
Signed C Cranch by another including in graphite “C.P.C. Magnola Mass 1879”
Provenance: Wisconsin collection
Fine detail and brilliant colors inpainting and light loss

Cranch painted this during his stay in the Magnolia village of Gloucester, MA near Manchester-by-the-Sea. During this same stay he also painted Landscape by the Sea, visible at wwwdotthe-athenaeumdotorg and in a private collection. His signature varies and initials were also used in that 1879 painting. Below contains his biography, a letter he wrote during his 1879 stay in Magnolia, and an overview of Magnolia.

Christopher Pearse Cranch (March 8, 1813 District of Columbia -1892 Cambridge, MA)

Christopher Pearse Cranch may have well had the greatest range of interests of the Transcendentalists, yet perhaps was not a shallow dilettante as sometimes labeled. He was a minister, poet, artist, a writer of children’s fiction, translator of Latin and German, music lover and a caricaturist with a keen sense of humor. Perry Miller called him “one of the most delightful of the Transcendental group–if only because he alone had a feeling of frivolity,” then he calls him “one of the most futile and wasted talents.” Yet was Miller measuring him by Emerson’s standards for poetry, which he himself could not reach?

Cranch was a tireless contributor to the Transcendental periodicals, the Dial,the Harbinger and the Western Messenger, and published four volumes of verse, including Ariel and Caliban Web Site (1887). He enjoyed drawing caricatures, especially of Emerson and most notably one which gently teases Emerson for the transparent eyeball passage in Nature. He wrote children’s stories, notably The last of the Huggermuggers, A Giant Story (1856), and translated Virgil’s Aeneid into blank verse.

Most studies focus on Cranch’s early relationship with Transcendentalism and Emerson, as he followed him in leaving the Unitarian ministry to serve art. Educated at the Harvard Divinity School, he went to Ohio as a missionary where he became a close friend of James Freeman Clarke, editor of the Western Messenger and early Transcendentalist, where he published reviews of Emerson’s controversial addresses. Returning to New England, he discovered that his interest in Transcendentalism threatened his career as a Unitarian minister, so he eagerly turned to painting and writing poetry for the Dial for an enthusiastic Emerson. Even Poe found unusual merit in his poetry, calling him “One of the least intolerable of the school of Boston transcendentalists.” Later, Emerson would become disappointed with his failure to reach the kind of poetic stature he dreamed of, as he was with Jones Very, Henry David Thoreau, and Ellery Channing. In return, Cranch found Emerson’s poetry lacking in “one essential element, the sensuous.” As Buell says, he, like Ellery Channing and Dwight, were “closer to the purely artistic temperament than Emerson,” and were troubled by Emerson’s concept of poet as prophet. Cranch’s close friendship with John Sullivan Dwight, a pioneering music critic, led to many visits to Brook Farm, where he was appreciated for his music and entertainment for the children. (Like Thoreau, he played the flute) One Farmer, George William Curtis, concluded that Cranch’s was “a long and lovely life, and if great fame be denied, not less a beautiful memory remains.” (463) Readers can judge the value of his poetry for themselves in Selected Poems of Christopher Pearse Cranch.

In 1841 Cranch turned from poetry to art, especially landscape painting in the Hudson River School manner and Italian scenes. Music and theater, especially a love for Beethoven, was also an intense interest and even helped provide a livelihood. David Robinson suggests that Cranch tells us much about America’s “cultural coming of age”:

His early prose exemplifies the interplay of Unitarian sectarianism and romanticism out of which Transcendentalism emerged. . . The relation between his spiritual goals and his aesthetic tastes is similarly indicative of the merging of these two sensibilities in many of the other Transcendentalists. Cranch’s later work, still largely overlooked, suggests the delicate historical link between Transcendental moral concerns, and the more purely aesthetic concerns of a later generation of Americans. . . (471)

Ann Woodlief, VCU

Source: American Transcendentalism Web


To George William Curtis


July 19, 1879.

Here we are by the seaside, where we have been for over

a week. It is a pretty place, with plenty of trees about us,

and bushes, which grow down to the water s edge. We

are within two minutes walk to the beach, where wife and

daughter religiously plunge nearly every day into the ice-

cold water. But I don t think the bathers, on the whole,

are very enthusiastic in their devotions. There are a good

many very nice people here, mostly ladies, with the usual

sprinkling of young men, married and single, who go

about in colored sailor shirts with limp, turn-down collars,

and no vests, and young ladies who swing in hammocks

and read novels, and a select dozen of whom are artists.

We have very small rooms in the Sea View Cottage, and

take our meals at the Central House, which is Willow

Cottage. Rooms all full. I am in the smallest room, I

think, I ever was in, say about eight by twelve feet, in

cluding the closet. But have a fine view of the sea from

the window. The table is excellent, and the company

refined and agreeable. There are pretty bits among the

willows, but as to the shore views, I am disappointed.

Unfortunately I can t take my long exploring walks, as I

am troubled with a lame rheumatic knee, which seems to

get no better. Yesterday morning, while I was painting

a group of willows with the sea beyond, three New York

artists made me a call as they were taking a walk in

search of subjects. . . .

Our anniversary is fast approaching, and I hope to hear

from you as usual on that memorable day. How goes it

at Ashfield? Give our love to all, and greet the green-

wooded hills for me.

Magnolia is a small village in Gloucester, Massachusetts. It is located on the Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts town line in the southwestern part of the city. Straddling the town line between the two communities is Surf Park, a two-acre swath of land that has scenic views of Kettle Cove. Magnolia has its own library, restaurants, and shops. Another feature of Magnolia is its beach, which goes by the official name Gray Beach and is a part of Coolidge Reservation. Union Congregational Church is located in Magnolia, as is Hammond Castle. The village has its own Women’s Community Club which has been in existence for over sixty years.

After the Civil War, Bostonians began to summer in Magnolia. For example, Rev. James Freeman Clarke, well-known Unitarian minister, author, and social reformer of Boston’s Church of the Disciples, after searching the North Shore for the best possible summer resort purchased land in Magnolia in 1879 and built a house he called “Septingle” because it had seven open fireplaces. It was constructed on a cliff overlooking the rocky shore and the curving beach on its left. Clarke often walked on that beach for relaxation or sat on the long piazza of his house while working on one of his many books. Everywhere he saw Scarlet lilies and red wild roses, green bushes and vines, and heard seagulls in the sky and the ever constant surf. The center of Magnolia was but a short stroll along a footpath, and trains from nearby Manchester made it convenient to get to Boston. Here he and his family enjoyed the summers of the 1880s.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, Magnolia was well known as a vacation destination. The Oceanside Hotel and Casino, before it burnt down, attracted several big names in music and film. John Philip Sousa and Lucille Ball were among those known to vacation in Magnolia. During the Victorian era many wealthy businessmen and their families built large mansions along Shore Road, which were staffed by newly arrived immigrants to Massachusetts. They served the transient summer residents and visitors as servants, cooks, housekeepers, gardeners and clerks in the posh branch stores of firms from New York City, London, Paris, and Palm Beach that lined both sides of Lexington Avenue. Some of them were able to save their money and opened local businesses such as the Magnolia Hand Laundry that was located on Field Road. Source: Wikipedia