Abbott Fuller Graves was a renowned specialist in decorative plein-air garden painting, floral still-lifes and sun-dappled, flower-framed doorways of fine, Old New England Federal mansions and small cottages. His use of thick impasto brushstrokes, bright colors and natural light, most evident in his garden paintings, reflects the influence of European Impressionism.
Born in Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1859, Graves studied both in New England and overseas. He attended the School of Design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in 1884 went to Paris and Italy. In Europe, Graves shared a flat with Edmund C. Tarbell. Tarbell, remembered today as one of the most important painters of the Boston School, became a life-long friend.
Hollyhocks is a very fine example of Grave’s interest in Colonial Revival gardens. Beginning as early as 1876, avid gardeners and architects took an interest in 18th century gardens, fine English cottage gardens and Italian approaches to gardening spurring an avid renaissance of creating constructed beds and perennial gardens based on historic studies of European gardens. Graves took an interest in doing what could be termed “Garden portraiture”, capturing gardens and foliage around the architecture of a fine home. He became well recognized and sought after for these pastel and lively Impressionisticly rendered vignettes. He was known to do them in the Kennebunkport, Maine area, in New Hampshire, Gloucester, Massachussetts and other New England locations. He lived in Maine and would paint locally and then received commissions to do wealthy people’s gardens and often included the owner of the garden in the painting as well.
Graves returned from a long trip in France in 1905, and it was then that he began to render these outdoor garden views. He continued with them into the 1930’s. It is difficult to date this painting. The brushwork is a bit smaller and refined than his work moving toward and into the 1930’s. It could be pre – 1920 but a circa date of 1920 is a broad approach to dating it. It is also difficult to determine where in New England it is although it is clearly a well built architectural home with a view toward the magnificent 2nd floor patio. Graves did traditional compositions of gardens and landscapes but he is celebrated for his doorway and cropped views of a home. He understood that the mystery and containment of a smaller area was alluring. One has to wonder if he looked at the work of Henri Le Sidaner in France and borrowed this technical approach from him. Even if he did, Graves imbues his work in an aesthetic which is his alone.
Provenance: Private Collection, New England until 2004
Godel & Co., Inc., NY
Private collection, Bedford NY.