JoePublius

Newton, Massachusetts

The Girl in the Basement
&
Robert Philipp
America's Last Impressionist
(1895-1981)
 
Robert Philipp - Self portrait

The Gloucester Scenes
                                                                            

by

Guy vanDeresk

September - November 2008
First publication: 14 November 2008
Last revision and update: 12 August 2016






For the Readers’ Forum, please scroll to the end of the page. Thank you.


October 1978: The Girl in the Trash Can

In the mid-1970's I lived in a one-room rental on Curtis Avenue in Somerville, Mass. One autumn morning on the way to my classes at Tufts University I rescued from a rubbish bin a framed cardboard print showing a young woman on a balcony, with her back to the harbor, in a state of either leisure or trepidation. On the spot, I fell in love with it. I immediately ran home and hung it on my wall, giddy with the elation of a child who has just discovered his first hidden treasure.

 

The night of that fateful morn’ when I returned home form my lessons, I examined the painting, seeking to find its appeal. I do not know why -- despite all its dissimilarities with anything operatic or oriental, it had me reworking in my head a scene that I recalled from my childhood watching a televised version of Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Had it been the model’s delicate features that drew me or was it the very portrayal of an anxious maiden who awaited her man’s return from the sea? There was a longing in those eyes.

 
"Mom, who's the girl in the basement?," he asked

November 1995: The Girl in the Basement

Whenever I changed addresses, the painting accompanied me to new surroundings – to Medford, back to Somerville, Brookline, back to Somerville yet again, Cambridge. Where I lived alone, it became my roommate. When I moved into another’s apartment, the painting went into storage. When I got married and moved into our home on Carleton Street in Newton, much to my wife’s joy, I proudly hung the painting in the basement, where I had a small office and workshop.


When my son Jonah was 5 years old he would descend the staircase into my workshop to announce supper. As he grew more curious, he ventured to the dark corners of the basement and one day noticed the painting hanging so unceremoniously from the stone cold walls of the cellar. When he went back upstairs he inquired, "Mom, who is the girl in the basement?" My wife Gail told him it was no one in particular. Not that Gail and I had not tried to figure out the painting and painter's identity! When we gave up on deciphering the faded signature, we tried to find likes of the painting in my wife's art books, particularly on Renoir and Monet, as we believed that the genre was evocative of the impressionist school. So, following Jonah's innocent inquiry, thenceforth we came to call the work the Girl in the Basement.


Conversation by the boat?
Who?
Two aspects of the painting mesmerized me: In the lower left corner of the painting, there is a man standing by a boat, apparently engaged in conversation with another person. This scene told me that the balcony featured in the painting was almost above the beach or landing. In the lower right corner of the painting, there was this illegible scribble that could have passed for a signature. Today, in retrospect, it surely was Philipp’s, but that would not come to light for me until November 2006.
TrapWorks.com Workshop
September 2006: Twist of Fate
By Spring of 2004 I had achieved almost all that a person of my academic standing would have wanted. I had practiced law, I had taught for years at two institutions of higher learning; I had written a seminal book on the history of the world's largest lake and I had contributed numerous pieces of scholarly papers and chapters to various publications, including two reputable encyclopedias. It was high time, therefore, to try my hand at crafts. I chose to acquire vintage lobster traps, or pots, and transform them into functional items of furniture – but I wanted to stay away from making generic coffee tables; I wanted to do something fresh in design and bold in execution. Thus, www.TrapWorks.com was born.
Among TrapWork’s early admirers was a friend who long ago had packed her bags and left the Boston area for the islands in the Caribbean. If she had been a familiar sight combing the beaches from Ipswich to Gloucester in the 1970s, in the late '80s she applied the same dedication to exploring the islands. Eventually, she would come to post on the internet pictures of her travels under the byline “Beach Angel.”


In September 2006, Beach Angel put in an order for a pair of lobster trap chairs, which she wanted to deploy as patio furniture. It so happened that at the time I had begun to involve my clients in the birthing process of the items that they would commission. Often, I would send by electronic mail pictures of a work in progress. With Beach Angel I went a step further and put together video clips of her chairs in the various stages of progression. In one of the clips, I had panned the length of the workshop and, unawares, captured on the video a part of Girl in the Basement. Not long thereafter I received an e-mail from Beach Angel asking about the painting in the video. A lengthy correspondence followed. I described the physical aspects of the painting, its frame, and my history with the painting over time; then she tried to decipher the “signature” of the artist or hazard a guess as to the artist’s identity.


A young girl sitting by the ocean

Toward the end of October, I shipped the chairs to Beach Angel and settled into my autumnal pursuit: writing and civic work. One mid-November morning, I opened my e-mailbox to find a message from Beach Angel. She was asking if the attached picture of a painting (left) by Robert Philipp reminded me of the girl in my painting. "Yes, it does," I wrote back. The art house that was sponsoring the sale of this particular painting called it “A young girl sitting by the ocean.” While the work was attributed to Phillip, the art house was not sure of the illegible signature in the lower right of the painting.


Rochelle: Robert Philipp's wife and favorite model!

For my purposes, it mattered not if the girl in the painting was the same model in the work that hung on my basement wall. Thanks to Beach Angel, I now had the name of an artist to Google and perhaps in the body of his work I would find a picture of the original Girl in the Basement. I browsed the websites of several art galleries, museums and dealers, and paid the access fee for one site that promised a large selection of Philipp's works. Beach Angel, too, did the same with another website or two and had me browse them as well. At the end – after a two-day search marathon, I managed to assemble a collection of paintings, clearly by Philipp, in which the model bore a striking resemblance to the one in Girl in the Basement.


Image: 
Image: 
There was no doubt, now, the girl in the painting that had been hanging on my basement wall for all these years was Philipp’s wife, Rochelle (aka “Shelley”). So, now, I came to call the work “Shelley on the balcony.”

 

In my search for paintings by Philipp, I also happened upon a few internet sites that contained biographical information about Phillip. A synthesis of the artist’s biographical information appears below. By all accounts, Rochelle was Robert’s favorite model. Even though a redhead, in a few paintings she appeared with much darker hair color. See Nos. 9 and 10 below.

 


Image: 
Robert Philipp (1895-1981)

What do we know about Robert Phillip? According to AskArt.com there are some 45 books about the arts that mention Philipp by name, but there does not seem to be any scholarly work about him, even though he was well known in his time. In April 1940, Life magazine did a pictorial spread on Philipp, with the provocative subtitle “Noted for nudes, painter goes to Hollywood to portray stars.” See below. Pending a larger work on him, particularly in reference to his papers that are kept at the Smithsonian American Art Museum/Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the following composite from several short internet biographies and the Life magazine piece on him should suffice for now. The textual sources for the biography that follows are:

- Anne French Fine Arts, Miami Florida: www.anne-french.com  .
- AskArt: www.AskArt.com  .
- Blake Benton Fine Arts, Cragsmoor, New York (cited in AskArt).
- Blue Heron Fine Arts, Cohasset, Massachusetts: www.blueheronfa.com .
- Jo-An Fine Art Gallery, New York, New York  www.jo-an.com  .
- Life, April 8, 1940, pages 62-65.
- R.H. Love Galleries, Chicago, Illinois  www.rhlovegalleries.com  .  
- New York Times, November 25, 1981 (Obituary: Robert Phillip, 86, Portraitist and
   Instructor of Painting) http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE0D91638F936A15752C1A967948260 .
- Schatz, Jean Ershler: Artist and researcher, Laguna Woods, California (cited in AskArt).

 


Robert Philipp was born Moses Solomon Philipp on February 2, 1895 in New York City, into a family whose members were highly attuned to the arts, prominent in Europe and America in opera singing, composing, and theatre management. The family atmosphere fed and cultivated Philipp’s creativity as he began to draw at the age of three. His success as a painter came at an early age.


Philipp’s art education was a whirlwind of itineraries. Through constant travel, beginning with the turn of the century, Philipp was exposed to the invaluable cultural influences of some of the major cities of the world. Renoir, Monet, and Degas were active in his favorite Paris, the "City of Light," which, along with London, Amsterdam, and Venice, attracted and inspired him for a lifetime. In 1910, at age of 15, he entered the Art Students League until 1914, where he studied with Frank Vincent DuMond and George Bridgman. From 1914 to 1917 he studied at the National Academy of Design, where he studied Douglas Volk and George Willoughby Maynard. All this equipped him to develop a masterful, yet intensely personal style, which ultimately would produce his success.


After the death of his father, Philipp turned away from painting for a short time and joined his uncle’s opera company as a tenor. In the 1920s, Philipp left for Paris, where he lived for ten years, supporting himself through the sale of his paintings. In the early 1930s, Philipp retuned to New York City, where in 1934 he married the artist Rochelle Post, whom he adored. She became Philipp’s favorite model until her death in 1971.


Posing for Life magazine, 1940
Image: 

Rochelle appeared in more than 200 works by Philipp. Yet none captured her place in his life and art better than a painting (below) called “Homage to Sargent,” a 1956 work by Philipp.


As identified by John Howard Sanden, himself an instructor at the League in the late 1970s, the painting above depicted a gathering of the luminaries and instructors at the Art Students League. Standing (form left to right) are Stewart Klonis, JohnCarroll, Sidney Dickinson and Robert Philipp (painting). Seated are (from left to right) Louis Kronberg, Ivan Olinsky, Robert Brackman, and Shelley Post (Mrs. Robert Philipp).


"Olympia" by Philipp: First prize - $500

Overlooked by art scholars today, Philipp was well-known in his time as a portraitist and figure and still life painter and etcher. He was universally appreciated during his lifetime. His early works exhibited an eclectic range of artistic sources: Vermeer, Rembrant, Renoir, Bonnard, Sargent and Fantin-Latour. After his return from Paris, in 1930s, Philipp gained a reputation for his portraits and figure studies. In 1936, his Olympia (above) won the Logan Prize at the Art Institute of Chicago and was subsequently purchased by J. Paul Getty. During the Great Depression (1930s) Philipp worked for the Public Works of Art project, which seems to have coincided with the start of him painting landscapes, still lifes and nudes, evolving a distinctively lyric and modern style. The PWA project (1933-1934) generated some 225,000 works of art by some 5,000 artists.


Sometimes called “America's last Impressionist,” Philipp projected an image romantic and evocative, colorful and engaging. The observer is spellbound by his daydreaming girls or touched by his emotional involvement with each character caught in a frozen moment. He often depicted women on balconies or porches, seated and with an arm slung over the railing. Philipp painted passionately and directly creating a synthesis of observation and poetic vision using high keyed colors and rhythmic treatment of form. In his later years, Philipp’s work began to resemble increasingly the Expressionist and emotional style of Chaim Soutine.


National Academy of Design: Robert Philipp is seated at far right

Philipp’s body of work depicted a wide range of subjects: genre, celebrities, nudes, landscapes, portraits, Holland, Paris, Gloucester, balconies, bowl of fruit, umbrellas, harbors and rivers, wrecked boats, lighthouses, bars, nudes, clowns, flowers, hats and coats. His style employed an often-unusual use of color that, although different, seemed intriguing and appropriate to the composition. He favored subjects of leisure often depicting scenes such as ladies on a balcony enjoying a show below or relaxing, girls in interiors reading, views of the artist’s own studio, a night out, fiestas, stroll in the park, or his favorite model, Rochelle, in the various states of reading, knitting, sewing, or modeling for him. Besides several self-portraits, in many other paintings, Philipp inserted himself, often as the artist in the very scene that he was painting, especially if the painting showed Rochelle sitting for him for the painting that became.  

 

A 1970 quotation attributed to Philipp revealed the secret to his artistic longevity and drive. His own greatest critic, Philipp said, “The excitement of creating a picture never leaves me. It becomes more and more a delirium. Sometimes while painting, I awaken to the fact that I have gone through a subconscious experience. I find myself painting the visible, yet with a subjectiveness which changes reality into something transferred from an inner eye. I find myself using patterns, lines, and dimensions that I see in the visible and that come through the invisible. I know that my reality is not realism but my perspective of it, and a commentary upon it. The past, the present, and the future, become a blend. Only the essences within nature are the catalysts and the combinations that draw from me the reflections or them, - of me, and through me, as an instrument.”   

 

As much a student of the arts, Philipp was also an art instructor and teacher. He taught at the University of Illinois as a Carnegie Visiting Professor in 1940, High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1946, and at the American Art School in New York. His main teaching affiliation however was with New York’s Art Students League from 1948 to 1973 and National Academy of Design from 1950 to 1975. As a teacher he was well known for his attention to color and his constant emphasis on the importance of drawing. A powerful and memorable instructor, he teased and challenged his students, encouraging some, infuriating others, leaving a few in tears, but imbuing all with what he considered a serious responsibility -- to awake in each an awareness of talent for artistic expression.

 

Between 1917 and 1966 Philipp received numerous prizes and awards, gold, silver and bronze medals, and various honors were bestowed on him. Among them were the Hallgarten prize (1922), Logan Prize at the Art Institute of Chicago (1936), IBM (1939), Corcoran Gallery’s 16th biennial exhibition (silver medal, 1939), Carnegie International Award (honorable mention, 1940), National Academy of Design (1947, 1951), Laguna Beach Art Association, and Allied Artists of America (1958).

 

Collectors from around the world -- Tokyo or Tel Aviv, Sydney or Cape Town, Rio or Montreal -- made Philipp one of the rare Americans with a truly international following. Philipp’s works were not only in private collections, like J. Paul Getty's, but also were purchased by many museums: Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Dallas Museum, the Columbus Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City), Whitney Museum of American Art (New York City), and High Museum (Atlanta, Georgia), Brooklyn Museum, Houston Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts and Joslyn Art Museum (Omaha, Nebraska).

 

Philipp was a member of the Lotus Club and the Royal Society of Artists (London). Having been elected in 1935 as an Associate of the National Academy of Design, he became a full member and Academician of it in 1945. The National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts (New York City) is the home of the Robert and Rochelle Philipp Prize. In 1981 Philipp became a hall of fame honoree at Pastel Society of America, Inc.

 

A resident of Manhattan, Philipp died on Sunday, November 22, 1981, at Roosevelt Hospital from complications after a heart attack.

 

Robert Philipp’s place in American art is secured by his legacy of beautiful works and the vital creativity that he sparked in thousands of pupils who have continued in the tradition of his dedication to fine painting.


April 8, 1940

Rochelle and Robert Philipp in Life Magazine (April 1940)

One December afternoon in 2006, as I was in the middle of collating the forgoing information about Philipp, I received an unexpected package from Beach Angel. It contained the April 8, 1940 edition of Life magazine. The post-it that was affixed to the cover of the publication read, “You’ll find something delicious inside.” Inside, on pages 62 through 65, there it was – a full blown spread on Robert Philipp! The write-up and pictures that went with it captured the essence of Philipp in the days preceding the summer of 1940. Subtitled “Noted for nudes, painter goes to Hollywood to portray stars,” the piece read:


Life 4/8/1940: Pages 62-63

“As a boy Robert Philipp lived in a world of musical comedies. His father and his uncles, working as a team, wrote and produced dozens of such hits as Alma, Where Do You Live? and The Midnight Girl. Philipp’s painting today, with its gay scenes and lovely girls, shows the influence of this pleasant background. Almost any one of his powdery nudes looks as if she were ready to slip into costume and appear before the footlights to sing a sentimental song.


“Philipp’s sixth one-man show has just closed at New York’s Grand Central Art Galleries, and he is planning to exhibit his latest paintings this summer in Los Angeles. Critics still compare him to Renoir but they see an increasing austerity. Two years ago Philipp’s painting of a funeral took the only prize won by an American at the Carnegie show. His more recent picture, Derelicts (see p. 61), is further evidence of his ability to handle a sober, dramatic theme. For all his hazy impressionism, Philipp draws solidly and well. Henry McBride, a leading art critic, hails him as one of America’s six best painters.


Life 4/8/1940: Pages 64-65

“When Philipp was in his early twenties, he decided to be a musical-comedy singer and had a small part in a road company of The Student Prince. But in painting he found more satisfaction and just as much gaiety.


“Robert Philipp is 6 ft. tall. With his tiny wife, Rochelle, whom he has included in over 200 pictures, he lives in a New York penthouse (see page 65). Next month they are driving to the Coast, where Philipp has commissions to paint movie stars. His wife says that she dreads the trip because Robert drives very fast and never wants to stop. But she knows that they will feel at home in Hollywood.”


The Gloucester Connection
Having established to my own satisfaction that Girl in the Basement portrayed Philipp’s wife, I grew increasingly curious about the backdrop of the painting. First, I wanted to determine the location -- to know what seaside or riparian place was depicted in the background. Then, assuming I could figure that out, I wanted to know the particular address of the balcony on which Rochelle had posed.

My research (see Nos. 11-15 and others, below) would evetually show that Philipp and Rochelle spent several if not many summer vacations in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The gallery note accompanying Philipp's “Rochelle reading at park” (see No. 3 above) could not be any more direct and on point. Anne French Fine Art (
www.anne-french.com/1059R.htm ) noted, “Listed here is an oil painting on canvas done circa 1970. Robert Philipp spent his summer days in Gloucester where he had a summer house.”

Gloucester is a city on Cape Ann, north of Boston. Outside its urban core on the north side of the Gloucester Harbor, are the outlying neighborhoods of Annisquam, Bay View, Lanesville, Folly Cove, Magnolia, Riverdale, East Gloucester and West Gloucester. It is also home to the Rocky Neck Art Colony on Smith Cove, the oldest (and still active) art colony in the United States.

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Gloucester has always been a magnet for artists, especially painters, who found its scenic beauty, diverse population vibrant quality of light to be without rival. Among the thousands of artists who have planted their easels on Gloucester’s rocky bluffs are many well-known names: Fitz Henry Lane, William Morris Hunt, Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, John Henry Twachtman, Frederick Mulhaupt, Frank Duveneck, Cecilia Beaux, Jane Peterson, Gordon Grant, Emile Gruppé, Sturat Davis, Joseph Solman, Mark Rothko, Milton Avery, Barnett Newman, William Meyerowitz, Theresa Bernstein, Marsden Hartley, Edward Hopper, John Sloan, Robert Henri, William Glackens and Maurice Prendergast. 


In 1973 Cape Ann Museum (
www.capeannhistoricalmuseum.com) presented an exhibition of early 20th century painters who had some contact with Cape Ann. Although the exhibition featured landscapes by Winslow Homer and William Hunt, the show was dominated by artists who came later to Gloucester – Hassam, Twachtman, Mulhaupt, Duveneck, Davis, Hopper, Avery, Sloan, and Prendergast.

Robert Philipp did not figure among the artists shown at Cape Ann Museum. In fact his name did not appear in any roster of painters associated with Gloucester. Yet, many of the artists featured at Cape Ann Museum had much in common with Philipp. Several of them, like Philipp, were members of the Art Students League in New York City; some had been with the National Academy of Design and many of them had traveled in Europe, Paris in particular.

For example, Emile Gruppé (1896-1978) was Philipp’s contemporary. Born in Rochester, New York, he completed his studies at Art Students League and in 1929 started the Gloucester School of Art at Rocky Neck. Like Philipp, Gruppé had attended the National Academy and studied in Paris. Another painter known to Gloucester art historians was John French Sloan (1871-1951), who moved to New York City in 1904 and ten years later began to teach at the League for the next ten years; the summer of 1918 was the last he spent in Gloucester. Sloan’s friend Stuart Davis (1894-1964), too was a frequent visitor to Gloucester. Also a Philadelphia native, Davis moved to New York City in the mid-1910s and worked and lived there until his death. Milton Avery (1885-1965) was a student at the League in the mid 1920s through late 1930s and was a regular in Gloucester between 1920 and mid-1940s, where he met his wife Sally Michel, an art student; they married in 1926. Among the painters in the Cape Ann Museum’s roster of Gloucester enthusiasts the following also were itinerants from New York City: Childe Hassam (1859-1935), Paul Cornoyer (1864-1923), William Glackens (1870-1938), Marsden Hartley (1877-1943), Edward Hopper (1882-1967), Barnett Newman (1905-1970), Mark Rothko (1903-1970) and Joseph Solman (1909-2008). If the lure of the place was not itself enough to move Philipp to Gloucester, there certainly was sufficient connection between the New York City art community and Gloucester and a shared Gloucester experience among the League’s members to entice Philipp to spent some time in Gloucester.


Even though his name did not appear in the City's roster of famous painters, I was intrigued by the possibility that Philipp’s work touched on Gloucester. I even fancied that he painted Shelley on the balcony in Gloucester, with absolutely no proof other than a hunch. So, I then began to isolate as many of Philipp’s works that were positively identified by art houses as Gloucester scenes.


Image: 
16. "On the harbor"
Of the five paintings above, Nos. 12-15 shared a distinctive topographical feature that is a spit of orange-color land that jutted into the scene. In Nos. 12-14, it appeared on the right and in No. 15 it extended from the left of the frame past Rochelle’s shoulder. Because the same spit of land appeared also in No. 16 (left), I was inclined to assign the location of that painting to the same place as the location in Nos. 12-14, meaning somewhere on Gloucester Harbor, especially since the caption of No. 16 contained the word “harbor.”

If  No. 16 could be attributed to Gloucester on the basis of a spit of topography that it shared with Nos. 12-14, then why not look for recurrence of details from works that were identified with Gloucester in paintings of as-yet not identified as Gloucester? So, I put togehter a portfolio of Philipp paintings and three drawings that (a) portrayed or evoked a nautical theme, and (b) were not attributed to a particular location.

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When comparing Nos. 17-21, I could not help but notice the prominence of the black-color railing that demarcated the background of the paintings. If No. 19 could be attributed correctly to Gloucester, then one could conclude that, on the basis of their shared railing and nautical background, Nos. 17, 18, 20 and 21 probably were done in Gloucester.

Another intriguing detail in the foregoing portfolio had to do with an architectural feature(s) in white and slightly darker hue – albeit very faint – that appeared in the upper right hand corner of Nos. 17, 19, 20 and 26. The spiral-like depictions could have represented a tower or perhaps the steeple of a church in the distance. In light of the distance of the feature(s) and position of the models against the topographical backdrop, one could have concluded that Philipp painted Nos. 17, 20 and 26 in the same location as No. 20 - namely, Gloucester.

Equally intriguing in the foregoing collection was the appearance of a yellow sun hat, adorned with a black ribbon. The “hat” appeared in Nos. 11, 18, 19, 20 and 26, as well as in My Wife and I (according to Life magazine 4/8/1940, the scene in that painting was Connecticut). While searching for the hat in Philipp’s interior paintings, I encountered an interesting connection between Shelley on the balcony and Gloucester.


Going Indoors.  

The content of Philipp’s still-lifes was nothing out of the ordinary – flowers, umbrellas, vases, bowls, fruits – all items one expected to be strewn about the artist’s studio. It was while looking for the hat in Phillip’s interior scenes that I noticed in No. 25 (above) that he had added, as an element of background décor, depictions of other paintings, presumably painted by Philipp. Would it not be a delight to find the painting of Shelley on the balcony (in miniature form) in one of his paintings? Two of Philipp’s paintings showed some promise – “Buy this painting” and “My studio.”


Image: 
Buy this painting depicted an artist’s studio, with several paintings hanging on the wall and many more resting on the floor against the wall, as the painter was shown making a pitch to an indifferent buyer. In My studio showed many paintings on the floor and walls. In neither I could trace any hint of Shelley on the balcony. Then, one day I discovered “Gloucester interior.” I enlarged it and began scouring it for details, with great curiosity.
33. "Gloucester interior"
No hat, no umbrella, just fruits and flowers, a fieldstone fire place on the left, Rochelle sitting in a chair in the foreground on the right, reading. At the back of the room, between the two picture windows, there it was hanging -- a painting that, I could swear, looked like Shelley posing on a balcony.

I zoomed-in on the image to get more detail. And I was astounded to see that the painting hanging on the wall in Gloucester interior was, in fact, Shelley on the balcony. As I pondered the scene, I was struck by the contrast between the youthful appearance of Rochelle in Shelley on the balcony and a more mature-looking Rochelle in Gloucester interior.

33a. "Shelley on the balcony" hanging in "Gloucester interior"

This age difference suggested that Philipp painted Shelley on the balcony many years prior to Gloucester interior. It seems that he or Rochelle had attached some importance to the painting for it to have been hanging in so prominent of a location in their living room. Could it, too, have been the very first painting by Philipp or of Rochelle done in Gloucester?


"Shelley on the balcony" hanging on my basement wall

City of Gloucester Archives: Take #1: “We have no recrod ....”
Suspecting (nay, wishing) that Shelley on the balcony was a Gloucester scene, I began to try to locate the spot where Philipp might have actually stood when he painted it. I re-studied the gallery’s notation for No. 3 (above) -- “Robert Philipp spent his summer days in Gloucester where he had a summer house.” To me, the phrase suggested that Philipp owned a place in Gloucester. So, in June 2008, I asked the City of Gloucester’s Archives to see if their records showed either a Robert Philipp or Rochelle Post owning any property in the city between 1920 to mid-1940s. Archivist Sarah Dunlap quicly replied: “We have gone through City directories and the Assessor’s records from 1920-1945 and have found no record of Moses or Robert or Rochelle Phillip/Philipp/Phillips or Post etc. at all in Gloucester.”


Dunlap’s response suggested to me the possibility that Philipp rented or stayed at a house owned by someone else. Dunlap’s further research still turned up no clue. Interestingly, in some of Philipp's paintings, whose picture I had sent to her, Dunlap was able to identify the location in the Rocky Neck area. 

East Gloucester Rockaway Hotel. ca. 1930s

Still in June, Dunlap wrote to me: “From the paintings that you sent: Gloucester Harbor vacation time, with the flag -- on further, closer and calmer inspection, it seems to us to have been painted from Rocky Neck, the South end, looking west, with the (red) paint factory and the Universalist church tower on the horizon, and to the left, the then-new white tower from the high school near the cut.  The streets around there are Fremont, Rackliffe and Wiley. The Publicovers ran a large hotel, The Rockaway, on Rackliffe that had many buildings on that little cove and peninsula from which the painting was made … The Rockaway also had several cottages that it rented out …. They perhaps rented the same house year after year, but they do not seem to have owned anything in Gloucester.”

Of course, Rockaway was not the only game in town: there were other hotels – dozens - along the shore, including the Hawthorne, Harbor View, Beachcroft and so on. One reason for the abundant guest lodging in Gloucester was the tourism around the rest-and-recreation amenities located on the City's scenic beaches. The industry and arts that flourished there, too, had its attraction for visitors. But the single most important factor that spurred the growth of the hospitality industry in Gloucester, especially in East Gloucester, had to do with a rumor circulating in the late 19th century about a monster inhabiting the harbor. As one resident explained to me, that phenomenon caused many hotels to spring up in East Gloucester -- even well into the 1920s -- just to accommodate curiosity seekers who hoped to catch a glimpse of the monster immortalized in etchings and wood carving produced by the native craftsmen. Most of these lodgings were on East Main Street, Eastern Point Road and Eastern Point Boulevard or were nestled in every nook and cranny off those main thoroughfares.  


Field trip: September 10, 2008.
Armed with the information from Sarah Dunlap, I readied to hit the road. I was no stranger to Gloucester or Rocky Neck, but usually as an aimless wanderer off Good Harbor Beach. This time was going to be different; I had an objective: to purposefully walk in the footsteps of Robert Philipp.


I assembled all my research on Philipp inside a three-ring, complete with printouts of his Gloucester paintings, biographies, maps and descriptions of Gloucester and various destinations that I wanted to visit, all with the hope of finding the scene from Shelley on the balcony.


And, so, in the early morning hours of September 10, 2008, I headed north on Route 128. By the time I arrived at the Grant roundabout outside of Gloucester, the sun was up in full dress -- blinding, dazzling, illuminating a crisp and cloudless day.


"Lighthouse" by Philipp

There is something delicious about delaying gratification, especially when I know that delay would provide me a delightful union with scenes off Rocky Neck. And, so, instead of heading straight for Rocky Neck, I made a detour to the site of Annisquam Lighthouse, which I suspected as being the inspiration for Philipp’s Lighthouse (left, same as No. 27 above). I had no informed reason for making such an assumption because after all, without something more, all lighthouses looked more or less the same to me. In the Gloucester area alone there are three -- Annisquam, Eastern Point and Ten Pound Island and I intended to check out all three of them.


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Annisquam Lighthouse - GM 9/10/08

The access to the lighthouse at the tip of Wigwam Point at the entrance to Annisquam Harbor is easy. Follow Route 127 to Annisquam Village Church, then turn right on Leonard Street and head to Norwood Heights. Worried that I might be trespassing -- the entire coast being a part of private homes -- I moved hurriedly. Since the light-keeper’s quarters is a Coast Guard station, I assumed there must be some unpublicized easement that would allow one to frolic in the landscape near the lighthouse. I took a few pictures and hightailed it out of Wigwam Point.


Annisquam Lighthouse - GM 9/10/08

Wigwam Point and its surroundings looked nothing like the setting in Philipp’s renditions of Gloucester scenes. Even though in the olden days a street car ran from East Gloucester (and Rocky 


Neck) to Annisquam, it was unlikely that Philipp would have suffered the distance repeatedly in order to capture scenes that he easily could have done in the Gloucester Harbor area. The visit also confirmed my suspicion that Lighthouse was in all probability the Annisquam Lighthouse.


The ride from Wigwam Point back to the main drag took awhile as I navigated the tight one-way streets made narrower still by the empty trash cans left behind by a diligent crew of waste haulers. Before reaching the Annisquam Village Church, I stopped at a convenience store to grab a cup of tea. A couple of old-timers were chatting up the lady who was manning the cash register. After exchanging greetings with them, I fell into conversation with an off-duty firefighter named Joe, who offered me tips about the scenes captured in Philipp’s works. Pouring over the pictures in my binder, he looked at Nos. 20 and 26 and identified the towers in the background as one belonging to City Hall and the other one to the Universalist Church. “This [gazebo scene in No. 13],” he said “is off of Rocky Neck. It's still there.”

 

I reached the roundabout at the intersection of Route 127 with Route 128; but . instead of heading for Rocky Neck, I turned southbound and headed to Wingaersheek Beach, which is located on the opposite shore from Annisquam. I parked the car and looked around to see if I could correlate the views to any of the scenes in Phillipp’s paintings that were not around Rocky Neck. Nada. It was time to head into East Gloucester.

 

The Rocky Neck Avenue branched off East Main Street at a point where the main drag continued on under the name of Eastern Point Road. I decided Rocky Neck can wait. It was important to eliminate the Eastern Point Lighthouse as the inspiration for Philipp's Lighthouse. The drive to this lighthouse was also littered with cautionary signs about trespassing, privacy and parking or standing along Eastern Point Boulevard, even though the lighthouse was open to the public. The view of Gloucester from this vantage was exquisite -- even though the lighthouse did not look anything like it could inspire Philipp's Lighthouse. On the way back from the lighthouse, I stopped the car across the street from 500 Eastern Point Boulevard, crossed to the shore-side of the road, climbed onto a smallish rock and began snapping pictures in a horizontal sequence at a steady height – to create my own version of a panoramic view of that harbor scene.


Gloucester Harbor from Eastern Point Boulevard - GM 9/10/08



Upon finishing the last frame, an elderly gentleman on his morning walk drew close enough to say hello. My salutation prompted him to ask if I were up to any good. A lengthy conversation ensued. I learned that he, Joe Geary, was a retired physician from Rochester, New York, and that he and his wife spent their summers at the Hawthorne condominiums. He told me that the house next to where we were standing had been moved there from the other side of the harbor by an owner who was originally from Westchester, New York, and that the lot next to where my car was parked was actually the site of a very high-class hotel that went up in smoke on its very first anniversary, one New Year's eve in the early 1900s. With much care, Dr. Geary identified for me the salient parts of the topography across the harbor – going from left to right - the Magnolia hills, Stage Fort Park, the towers of the Universalist Church, City Hall and Paint Manufactory, the cluster of buildings that once were Rockaway Hotel, East Gloucester Yacht Club and Hawthorne Hotel.


Wonson's Cove from Eastern Point Road

With Dr. Geary’s hand-drawn map of Rocky Neck I drove out from Eastern Point Boulevard, finally heading to where Robert Philipp had painted. Just before entering Rocky Neck Avenue, I stopped at the junction of Hawthorne Lane and Eastern Point Road and took a picture of a scene that appeared to combine the spit of orange-color land in Philipp’s Gloucester Harbor vacation time (No. 12 above) and the green scenery in Girl daydreaming (No. 26 above).


"The Rockaway at Rocky Neck"

The clouds had begun to roll in when I pulled into Rocky Neck's free municipal parking lot on Smith Cove. With a basic digital camera – a hand-me down from my techno-savvy son – and my wife’s old fashion Canon, I set out to photograph what Philipp had captured in his paintings. I walked west on Rocky Neck Avenue, and turned left onto Fremont Street and up to the crest of the hill, and right on Rackliffe Street to the entrance of Rockaway condominiums. I took a left at the Rockaway Landing and there in its full glory was the husk of a once ornate gazebo that appeared in Philipp’s Rochelle and Robert Philipp painting in Gloucester (No. 13 above) and Robert Philipp painting in Gloucester (No. 14 above). As I stepped into the gazebo, which old timers call the Nubble,I was able to get a peek at the lighthouse on Ten Pound Island. For a split second, my heart dropped, because the shape and color of the lighthouse – and the fact that is was so close to Phlipp’s haunt – made me doubt my earlier identification of Lighthouse with the Annisquam Lighthouse. I breathed easier when I realized that this one did not have a keeper’s quarters and the kind of large rocks that buffered the Annisquam Lighthouse. “Nope,” I said self-assuredly, “this is not it.”


Gazebo - shadow of a former self
Rockaway condos - GM 9/10/08
Ten Pound Island Lighthouse - GM 9/10/08

I climbed down the rocks to the beach and began walking away from the gazebo and in the direction of Wonson’s Cove, seeking the widest possible perspective that could contain the gazebo, the orangey spit of land (which now I knew was a stretch of rocks), paint factory, flagpole, and towers that appeared in Philipp’s Rochelle and Robert Philipp painting in Gloucester. I went as far eastward as I could, right up to a short seawall. I found the one location or spot that might have supported Philipp's easel.  


This vista on the edge of Wonson's Cove inspired Philipp's "Rochelle and Robert Philipp painting in Gloucester"
As remarkably close as the above came to pointing to the place where Phillip may have stood, I was still not convinced. The geology in this area did not support vegetation, especially trees that appeared in Nos. 13 and 14 above. The angle and therefore the distance too was off. If Philipp painted from this neighborhood then he must have been on higher ground than the beach – from one of the elevated front yards of any of the several homes that sat on Wonson’s Cove.
 

I retraced my steps back to the car, knowing at least that I stomped the same ground as Philipp, but I also knew that I was far from establishing the spot where Philipp created Shelley on the balcony. Certainly, the railing around the balconies of the Rockaway condos and the triple-decker former East Gloucester Yacht Club offered a tantalizing possibility that perhaps any one of those balconies had been the spot where Shelley posed for Philipp.


City of Gloucester: Take #2: “Persistence pays.”
On the ride back to Newton, I surrendered to my musings. I kept thinking, why would the gallery’s notation of Rochelle reading at park mention that Philipp had a place in Gloucester if he had not. This is not a sort of thing that one would make up and even if one did make it up it would serve little purpose, be of even less value. Then I remembered the passage in Life magazine about the Philipps driving cross country to California in the summer of 1940. At the time Philipp would have been 45 years old, less than a decade from the time that he had returned from Paris where he had made his living by selling his paintings. Obviously, he could have not been a person of means, living through the Great Depression, as an arts instructor in every institution that would have him. It would have been likely therefore that the Philipps in the late 1930s and early 1940s may have not had the financial wherewithal to own a summer house in Gloucester. I also recalled from the Life piece that Philipp was going to Hollywood, where no doubt he would receive adequate compensation as an artist commissioned by the stars. “Perhaps,” I said to myself, “the Phillips did own property in Gloucester but at a later time than I was focused on.”


The gallery notation about Rochelle reading at park had suggested that Philipp may have been present in Gloucester in as late as circa 1970. I had grave doubts about the accuracy of that date. Assuming she was 16 years old when she was married to Philipp in 1934, Shelley’s age in 1970 would have been 52. The painting of her reading at the park (presumably in Gloucester) did not depict a model of 52 years. So, it was entirely possible that the date in the gallery’s note was a typographical error, the correct date being perhaps 1950.   


On Friday afternoon, October 17, 2008, I wrote to Sarah Dunlap at the Archives and requested that she search for records for Philipp and Post owning property in Gloucester in the decades of the 1940s through 1970s. “Apparently,” I wrote, “He was visiting Gloucester throughout the period. If he had a place it would have been in that period, when he was sufficiently liquid to actually buy a place.”


On Monday morning I received Dunlap’s response. “Persistence pays,” she began. The City directory for 1951 indeed showed one Robert Philipp (NYCity), summer resident, 13-15 Wiley Street, with the same information appearing for him in the 1953-1954 directory. According to the Assessor’s records, the tax on 13-15 Wiley Street in 1950 and 1951 were paid by Rochelle Philipp. The records indicate that Rochelle Philipp, wife of Robert, acquired 13-15 Wiley Street on December 31, 1948, from one Marion E. Rushton of Montgomery, Alabama. Rochelle Philipp sold 13-15 Wiley Street on October 21, 1951, to Joseph S. Somer of Brooklyn, New York. On November 10, 1961, Joseph and Judith Somer sold the property (renumbered as 21 Wiley Street) to James Donahue.    


Dunlap had come through with great news. The Philipps owned 21Wiley Street for a little under 3 years in 1949-1951. Of course, there was no reason to discount the possibility that the Philipps could have stayed at or near 21 Wiley Street in the years before and after owning the place. 

It was time for me to get on with a second field trip to East Gloucester.


Field trip: October 21, 2008.
I pulled into the municipal parking lot at the edge of the art colony fifty-seven years from the day Rochelle Philipp sold 13-15 (now 21) Wiley Street to a buyer from New York. The glow of the early morning sun was bringing Rocky Neck back to life. With my camera, reading glasses and three-ring binder, I walked up Rocky Neck Avenue. I was about to turn left on Fremont Street when an elderly pedestrian asked if I was appraising properties in the area. I replied in the negative and told her the reason for my visit. I had given the speech so many times by now that I fancied myself a polished salesman. As she wished me luck, I turned the corner along Fremont and walked up to the Rackliffe intersection and down the hill toward the water. I turned onto Wiley and made my way cautiously to the end of the Street.


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A resident out in his garden greeted me warmly but with obvious curiosity. A few minutes of chit-chat revealed very little about the character of the street beyond the fact that most of the homes on the street were or still are summer homes. The site next to his house, on the edge of Wonson’s Cove, had been more or less an open space with a smallish house on it until recently when the property, known as the Kuuse House, gave way to a large single-family stucco structure.

 

The Kuuse House at (now) 15 Wiley Street had belonged to one Philipp Kuuse, an Estonian immigrant who served as a Chief Boatswain Mate in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. Upon retiring to Gloucester, Kuuse purchased the property in 1948. Surviving his wife Ruth E. Trefry by many years, Kuuse succumbed to a heart attack in January 1981.


21 Wiley Street (side view): Paint Manufactory and its red tower and white steeple of Univesalist Church can be seen in the distance
21 Wiley Street. I crossed the street and walked up to the front door of 21 Wiley Street. I rang the door bell, and knocked on the door and was about to leave the premises when a tall man appeared at the door, with a coffee mug in hand, asking what I wanted. I introduced myself as one researching the life and times of Robert Philipp, who for a short spell, lived at the location. He seemed interested, but not overly surprised to see me there. “This must be a special place,” he said, “A few years back a lady came out here from Texas telling me that her father had built this place some ninety years ago and if she could have a look around.” He identified her as Camilla Graves from Dallas.
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Kenn Taber was a gracious host. At one point he picked up my binder of pictures and began positioning himself in various angles of the living room, trying to discern correspondence with Philipp’s pictorials. With his permission, I took pictures of the view from Kenn’s living room -- the western exposure, the south and east. Standing in the middle of his living room, I could see it all -- the City's skyline with its towers, gazebo, Ten Pound Island, rocky coast, rocks and all.
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“This,” pointing to Gloucester interior “was done in this room!” he exclaimed. Backing as far as he could to the western wall, he said, “You must imagine the room narrower than it is now.” The present day look of the living room was owed to alterations made by Donahues. They took down the exterior wall and brought in the porch, leaving its cement steps and stone foundation of the posts as evidence. They installed the bay windows at the eastern and western sides of the room. The fieldstone fireplace, too, did not survive: the Donahues chose to have it covered up with plaster instead of incurring the cost of rehabilitating the joints and mortar that held the work together. According to City records, the house was vacant in 1965 and was acquired by Albert Taber in 1969. According to Kenn Taber, the only change his parents made to the living room was to remove a remaining partial wall so as to have an unimpeded view of the harbor.  


"Gloucester interior" 21 Wiley Street circa 1950
Interior of 21 Wiley Street - GM 10/21/08 - a few feet further back, the picture would have been just right

I easily reconstructed in my mind the open porch that once wrapped around the living room. The porch, where Rochelle sat sewing, would have been the one that was visible in the 1921 photograph of 21 Wiley Street, with its short wall and columns that rested on stone foundations. The green grass in the background of Rochelle on the porch was easily the same grassy area in the side and front yards of 21 Wiley Street.


"Rochelle on the porch at Gloucester"
The open porch that is no more
What I could not reconcile between Rochelle on the porch and view of Wonson’s Cove from Kenn’s living room was the placement of the orangey rocks in the background. In all of Philipp’s other paintings, that topographical feature enters the painting from the right of the frame; in the case of Rochelle on the porch it juts in from the left. But, after viewing the shore from a narrow opening between the two houses across from Kenn’s, it became clear to me that it was a rock that would be most visible at low-tide across Kuuse’s property. This feature was also visible in the 1970s aerial view of Wonson’s Cove (see aerial image above).

Next, Kenn and I went over Rochelle on the balcony (No. 22 above), in which she was shown sitting in a chair on a balcony overlooking the ocean. Kenn thought about it for a moment and then said, “This could be off my bedroom.” We walked up the staircase to the upper level. He proceeded to open the door to the balcony. Turning to me with a grin he asked, “What do you think?”


"Rochelle on the balcony" ca. 1950
Balcony sans Rochelle - GM 10/21/08

As I stepped back to take a picture of the view, Kenn said, “Let me first get my stuff out of the way.” When he asked if he could put a rocking chair out on the deck to complete the scene for me, I knew he was totally invested in the process.

 

Back in the living room, I asked Kenn if he could spot the three etchings Philipp had done of some boats. “They could be from the beach over there,” pointing westward. A rocky coast, Docked boats and From my window (above Nos. 28-30) all could have been done from the window of Phlipp’s living room at 21 Wiley Street. This conclusion seemed even more valid in light of Kenn’s recollection that there had been a dock off Kuuse's property.


"A rocky coast"
"From my window"
"docked boats"
21 Wiley Street - waterfront lawn - Philipp's livingroom window was off the right side of the picture - GM10/21/08. Ten Pound Island is to the right of the flagpole.

One reliable marker for the identification of A rocky coast was the depiction of the entrance to Gloucester Harbor -- two elongated promontories. The Eastern Point Lighthouse is shown on the left of the drawing, while the land on the right side of the drawing would have been the mainland opposite Norman’s Woe, an islet, off Magnolia. The boat in From my window seemed to be the same vessel as in A rocky coast. In both drawings, Philipp depicted rocks that appeared whitish. I stood next to the rocks in the early morning light; they were still there, in Kenn's yard, as if little had changed in over fifty years.


The sloping rocks in the foreground of "A Rocky coast" and "From my window"
Philipp's livingroom side-window/door (upper right corner of pictures) looked onto the rocky coast

Kenn could not attribute Shelley on the balcony to any particular part of his property. “This could not have been in this house; we did not have a railing that looked like this - maybe the Wheeler House,” he said while pointing to the railing in Shelley on the balcony, “but it would not be black or metal.” In order for me to get a better sense of the street’s geography, we stepped outdoors. “That is the Wheeler House, two doors down,” he pointed to it. I surveyed the view.

 

Every spot I eyed along this coast, I saw Philipp lurking somewhere. I pointed to the triple-decker next to the Wheeler House. “How about the railing on the balconies of that building?,” I asked. “That,” he said like an historian, “used to be the Yacht Club; it is now a condo.” I thought any one of those balconies could give the right height and background for Shelley on the balcony. 


Saying goodbye, I made my way out of Kenn’s driveway, passing a white park-bench under the shade of a tree. Remembering Rochelle reading at park (No. 3 above), I thought, if indeed it was a Gloucester scene, Philipp probably painted it too on the premises of 21 Wiley Street.

I walked to the Wheeler House, 7 Wiley Street, in search of that elusive balcony.


7 Wiley Street - The Wheeler House

7 Wiley Street. I rang the doorbell with very little hope of being received as warmly as I had been at Kenn Taber’s. I was wrong. The door opened and a lady in elegant casuals asked if she could be of help. As I detected a French Canadian accent, I delivered my introduction en français and then switched to English for the trickier part about inquiring if I could come in take a look around. She said she and her husband were visiting and were not expecting visitors. “But,” she said, “if Carol says it is okay, then no problem.” The Carol in question was the lady’s in-law; her son being married to Carol’s daughter. When I asked if I could speak with Carol, the lady’s husband stepped in and gave me the directions to where I would find Carol. Carol was at the gift shop located on the premises of Building Center, off Rogers Street. I knew exactly where it was. 


Harbor Loop Gifts

Harbor Loop Gifts was tucked in the back of an old-fashioned hardware/lumber/utility store. As I had hoped, Carol was behind the counter, managing. It being early in the day, I felt lucky to have her undivided attention. I explained the object of research and showed her the pictures of Phlipp’s works in my black binder. After a long preface about Shelley on the balcony with a railing, I said, “Guess what?” “I know,” she said without missing a beat, “7 Wiley has railings like the one in the painting.” She gladly volunteered to call the occupants at the house and let them know that I would be going back there in a ten minutes’ time.


The Wheeler House has been almost forever in the Wheeler family; although a rental these days, it is still owned by a member of the Wheeler family, Paula Wheeler Hudson, who lives in Moody, Maine. According to Carol, Paula and her sister, Nancy, could well have been the girls in Philipp’s Teatime sisters and Girlfriends teatime) (above Nos. 24 and 25). However, according to Paula, whom I contacted on November 2, 2008, by phone and e-mail, none of the girls in the two paintings was Paula or her sister, but they could have been, she told me, the Rushton girls, who were also teenagers at the time. They would be the daughters of Marion E. Rushton, who owned 21 Wiley right before Robert and Rochelle Philipp bought the place in 1948. The Rushtons, Colonel Marion Rushton and his wife, were from Montgomery Alabama. They had three daughters – Camilla (aka Milla), Wyat, and Edith (aka Fluffy). Camilla was born in 1925 and passed on in February 2006 in Dallas Texas, of ovarian cancer. When I double-checked my notes I realized that it had been Camilla (married name Graves) who had come to Kenn Taber’s door in 2004 in search of her childhood memories. Her father, according to her, had built the house that Kenn now resided some ninety years earlier. As of November 2008, Wyat was no longer with us and Edith was living in Montgomery, Alabama. A further search by Sarah Dunlap revealed that in the years prior to the Philipps acquiring it from the Rushtons, 21 Wiley Street, while owned by the Rushtons, was occupied by one John A. Hedin from 1941-1948.

Anyway -- Just like Cape Ann Museum, which had no trace of Robert Philipp, the painter, nobody seemed to recollect Robert Philipp on Wiley Street as a neighbor.   

I left Carol and hurried back to the Wheeler House (7 Wiley Street). The gentleman let me in after just one knock. After he learned of my background and French-language schooling I learned about his many years of service with the Montreal-based international aviation authority. I had known of the agency’s work, as many years ago I had contacted them when researching the Soviet-Iranian air boundary over the Caspian Sea.


My hopes for locating the scene of Shelley on the balcony were not fulfilled. The porch was indeed protected by railing that could have been in the shape depicted by Phillip. But the narrowness of the porch could have not provided Philipp the kind of depth shown in the painting, unless he painted Rochelle from the interior of the house, from behind a window or doorway.

The maritime features on the right side of the painting could not have been in the painter’s view 7 Wiley Street, as the mammoth-like structure of  5 Wiley Street (“Yacht Club”) would have blocked the view of the little coves shown on the right side of the painting. Yet, the elevation of the porch at 7 Wiley seemed representative of the height of the balcony. The distance from the porch/balcony to the beach seemed also in the same proportion as depicted in Shelley on the balcony. This was particularly so in relation to the man standing below the balcony near a boat. The vegetation in the periphery of the painting on the right and also behind Shelley, if not due to the painter’s license, could have existed at 7 Wiley at the time. It was a remaining mystery why and how could the steamer traffic depicted in Shelley on the balcony be so close to the shore. I had to conclude, the balcony had to overlooked a deep-water harbor, not a beach.

  


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As it can be seen from the aerial map and photograph of 21 Wiley Street (see above), it was not likely that the Wheeler House ever had a balcony on the second floor.      

 
The view of Gloucester Harbor from 11 Wiley Street.
Some 100 years ago or so, the structure on stilts was a Yacht Club.

Nor was it likely that Philipp’s Shelley on the balcony was done at his immediate neighbor's -- 11 Wiley Street. Even though there may have been a balcony on the second floor of the house (as there is now), the view from that balcony, as majestic as it is (see above), could have not featured the kind of maritime traffic, topography and vegetation that filled the backdrop of Shelley on the balcony.


5 Wiley Street - formerly, East Gloucester Yacht Club

5 Wiley Street. I left the Wheeler House and went next door. The multiple cars in the drive way was good news; someone had to be home. There being no bell on the outside, I entered the building and knocked on the first floor door. When there was no answer, I cautiously went up the stairs to the second floor. One single knock and a gentleman opened the door. I was midway into my introduction when a warm voice, laced with much interest in my quest, summoned me to the inside.


Gail Sarofeen, a former school teacher, and her husband Peter Wolfskehl, a boating enthusiast, have lived at 5 Wiley Street for more than 12 years. Every bit as warm as the sun that illuminated the magnificent view of the harbor from their deck, they patiently listened to my story, reviewed the material in the black binder and gave me permission to snap pictures.

The building, a nineteenth century structure, originally had been the site of East Gloucester Yacht Club. Many years prior to Gail and Peter’s arrival there, the building had been apartments, according to Peter, and popular enough that many locals at some point in their lives had lived at the address.
 

From the beach - stilts, decks and balconies - GM 10/21/08
View from 2nd floor balcony of 5 Wiley Street - GM 10/21/08
I tried to picture Rochelle sitting on the balcony, slightly toward where the southern and western parts of the railing would have connected, with the strip of orange-color rocks over her left shoulder, and a boatman transacting with a customer down below on the beach. As tempting as this conjuration was, I could not buy the picture for one reason alone. It would have been very unlikely that the beach below could have supported the kind of vegetation that Phillip included under the balcony. The watermark on the stilts that held up the structure was proof positive that high tide alone would have inundated the beach below.


We chatted for a while. Peter spoke of the prior history of the building and invited me to take a look at Cape Ann Museum, where they had on display the rickety boat in which the courageous Howard Blackburn sailed the ocean. Gail shared a passage from a book in which the origin of the term “schooner” was attributed to a ship’s sails and rigging designed by one Robinson. When he unveiled his work to the public, one exclaimed, “Oh, how she scoons!” I should have expected nothing less than a history lesson from a couple who lived on the water's edge in America’s oldest seaport. “Good thing the rogue did not exclaim in words like moan and groan,” I thought to myself.

 

Peter went back to searching the internet for the burgee that once may have belonged to East Gloucester Yacht Club. Gail looked for Robert Philipp in a book that highlighted the painters who had a brush with Gloucester. I could have informed her of the futility of the search, but did not.


When I suggested that perhaps the elevation of her apartment was not consistent with the height depicted in Shelley on the balcony, Gail offered to have me take a look at the harbor from the deck off the first floor apartment.


View from 1st floor deck of 5 Wiley Street - GM 10/21/08
View from deck - 5 Wiley Street, 1st floor, looking west. GM 10/21/08
There, seated near the corner of the deck, against the railing and behind a cloth-draped table, would be Rochelle, with the deck at a realistic height from the boatman below, under the Yacht Club, naturally. The warmth of the background, the undulating lines of the landscape in the distance …


From this vantage point, one could imagine the sea at high tide, with the rocky walkway to the gazebo looking less prominent, with the gazebo either obscured by Rochelle’s head or it nothing being there at the time. This latter might well have been the case if the painting preceded the establishment of the gazebo on the point. For example, in Gloucester Harbor vacation time (No. 12  above), which depicts the same area as in Nos. 13 and 14, there is no sign of a gazebo. One could also explain the proximity of maritime traffic to the shore in Shelley on the balcony to the high tide and along the channel located west of the rocky promontory.


If there was a place on Wiley Street where Rochelle could sit for Shelley on the balcony it had to be on the deck of East Gloucester Yacht Club at 5 Wiley Street. But still, the rocky beach below the deck, submerged at high tide, could not have supported the vegetation -- tall grasses, trees and shrubs -- in Shelley on the balcony.

 

The visit to the deck had not been all in vain, however. The width of the deck of the Yacht Club seemed like a perfect venue for an artist to capture his models in various poses – be it the frolicsome girls in Summer afternoon at Gloucester (above No. 11) or conversationalists in On the harbor (above No. 16). The pillar or post in Summer afternoon at Gloucester was a necessary feature of the deck. The front corner of the deck was a quaint spot for the table that would hold at bay the subjects of On the harbor and Summer afternoon at Gloucester. It could not however been the place for Shelley on the balcony.

 

As I was about to pack up my camera and binder, Gail asked if I could wait a minute while she called someone who might be interested in what I was doing. J.J. Bell, a prominent member of the community and a director at the Cape Ann Museum, had not heard of Robert Philipp and was very interested in knowing more. So, he asked Gail that I call Stephanie Buck, the Librarian and Archivist at the Museum.

I thanked Gail for her kind hospitality and bid adieu to Peter on the way out.

Now, my work on Wiley Street was done. I drove out of Rocky Neck Art Colony and headed to the Museum. On the way, I stopped at City Hall to see if I could make Sarah Dunlap’s acquaintance in person; it was not meant to be. Nor was I successful in meeting anyone at the Museum who could answer my questions. Instead, I bought a ticket and perused the exhibits. Peter was right; Blackburn’s boat was as much nothing as he was something to float around in it.

I was very pleased with the acquaintances that I had made. I was certainly very pleased with the stories that I heard and visuals that I saw. I had definitively walked where Robert Philipp had painted. However, my quest was still unrequited – Shelley on the balcony, but whose?  



Field trip: November 7, 2008.

The night I returned from my second field trip to Gloucester I began working on preparations for the next one. I poured over the pictures that I had accumulated from my first two trips and searched for even more on the internet, looking for that combination of elevation, distance from shore, vegetation, and water depths that could support the kind of maritime activity depicted on Shelley on the balcony. The traffic seemed inbound – from the ocean, past the Eastern Point Lighthouse, into Gloucester Harbor, past the Ten Pound Island, along the channel west of Rocky Neck and into the inner harbor. Any elevated point along Wiley Street could have viewed this traffic but not a single location on that street could have produced the distances and proportions that were depicted in Shelley on the balcony. The absence (or vague representation) of the orange-color rocks – such as in On the harbor, Rochelle on the porch, Rochelle and Robert painting in Gloucester, Robert Philipp painting in Gloucester, and Gloucester Harbor vacation time – also suggested that Philipp may have painted Shelley on the balcony at a location that did not afford a clear view, or any at all, of the geological feature that was present in the other paintings.

 

On November 7, 2008, I was done with my day-job meetings by 9:30 a.m. So, on impulse, I went home, changed into my travel gear, grabbed my bag of tricks -- black binder, cameras and film -- and I hit the road. The clouds and drizzle would linger all day long, but neither dampened the spirit of discovery, yet again. 

By the time I arrived at my customary parking place at the edge of the art colony, I had resolved that I had to break out of the Wiley Street mold, for one reason alone – it was way too flat to produce the elevation that Shelley on the balcony had implied. Yet, I should not stray too far from Wonson’s Cove scene because I had intuited that the mood of the painting was compatible with the cove’s feel.


Rocky Neck Avenue. Keith Trefry Memorial Park- looking eastward - GM11/07/08. (1) Cluster of houses on Windward Point, (2) Eastern Point Lighthouse, (3) Eastern Point Road.

I crossed the street from the parking lot to Keith Trefry Memorial Park, a good-sized grassy open space overlooking the Wonson’s Cove, with the entrance of Gloucester Harbor visible in the distance between Eastern Point Lighthouse (2) and Magnolia hills. I panned the view and came to rest my eyes on a cluster of homes (1) on an elevation in the direction of Eastern Point Road (3).

 

I walked west out of Rocky Neck Avenue, turned right onto the start of Eastern Point Road. Up from No. 5 Eastern Point Road, I paused at a spot marked as Patch’s Hill, to snap a picture of the amber wave of marsh grass that covered this part of Wonson’s Cove that is known as Flat Cove Landing. Farther up, I arrived at 21 Eastern Point Road, a two family structure, on the corner of Windward Point, with a clear view of No. 15 Wiley Street on the opposite shore. According to Ann Ballerini, who has lived at 21 Eastern Point Road since the 1980s, at one time the whole Windward Point comprised Harbor View Hotel. I rang a few doorbells of the other houses on the point, to no avail.


Image: 

I knew Sarah Dunlap would be in the office only until 1 p.m. that day. So, I got back to my car and drove to City Hall with the hope that I could find out something about Harbor View Hotel, which stood there no more.    

 

The tiny Gloucester Archives office is tucked in the basement of City Hall. I knocked and entered, asking for Sarah Dunlap. No sooner than I had identified myself as “the Robert Philipp aficionado,” Sarah rose to greet me, asking if I’d like a cup of coffee. As I retold the story of my research to Sarah, two old timers, Mike and George, too joined the conversation. After a much appreciated coffee-and-cookies break, I began browsing the shelves for directories for information about the hotel, as Sarah, in her very helpful manner, searched in her files.  


The three buildings from the left would have offered the view for "Shelley on the balcony"

The last entry in the City’s telephone directory for Harbor View Hotel dated to 1958. According to Isaac Patch’s Growing up in Gloucester (2004), the hotel was in operation well before 1928, the year Waldo Brazier built the pier off the hotel. The address of the hotel at the time Brazier Court, which has been renamed Windward Point.

         

Sarah located a copy of a 2006 archival search for Harbor View Hotel. It noted its beginning in 1896, as a collection of buildings. The painter John Twachtman, friend of Frank Duveneck, died at the hotel in 1902. This piece of information was an indication that perhaps Harbor View Hotel attracted its share of painters. And, if so, why not Robert Philipp?

I left City Hall secure in the knowledge that the answer to my ultimate question about Shelley on the balcony had an answer and it was to be obtained by entry to No. 2 Windward Point and/or No. 3 Windward Point, two new houses that share the same waterfront that once belonged to Harbor View Hotel. I imagined Rochelle and Robert Philipp staying at the hotel, looking longingly across Wonson’s Cove with the thought that one day they might own a place of their own across the way on Wiley Street.

On the way home, I stopped at Captain Joe & Sons to pick up dinner: four chickens at $3.99 per pound; I also ended up with a single herring.    


The Finale!

On November 12, 2008, I arrived in Gloucester around 11 a.m. The tide has risen in the harbor. The areas in and around Patch’s Hill, off Wiley Street and elsewhere along Wonson’s Cove now sat veiled. Ten Pound Island had been reduced to its bare minimum and most of the rocks that punctuated the shoreline where under water. I proceeded to Windward Point and spent an hour in various spots and in different angles, seeking to situate the best possible candidates for Shelley on the balcony.


Much has changed at the former site of Harbor View Hotel at 19 Eastern Point Road of yore. New construction and renovation now interferes with the unobstructed vista Robert Phillip had had of Wonson’s Cove in the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. Likewise, new shrubbery, trees and fences multiply the distortions. Even the seawalls along Wiley Street, Rackliffe Street, Bickford Way, Rocky Neck Avenue, Eastern Point Road and Windward Point are of recent origin. Previously, according to Kenn Taber, the ground used to slope down to the beach. And, the Kuuse House at the western end of the cove had been a smaller, shorter structure.

Even in these surroundings -- through the fog of time, topographical variations, architectural replacements, and successive delineations of property rights -- I could still see, in a blurry way perhaps, some enduring relic of the elements that Phillip memorialized in Shelley on the balcony.

If I were to guess – Shelley on the balcony took place on the first floor balcony of a hotel that was replaced by today’s No. 21 Eastern Point Road and Nos. 2 and 3 Windward Point. It is also my belief that – as disparate as it seems from Shelley on the balcony - A young girl sitting by the ocean (No. 18 above) too was painted on the premises of Harbor View Hotel, with the model (probably also Rochelle) sitting at an angle that captured any one of the big houses that can be seen today across the cove along Bickford Way or Wiley Street.    


"A young girl sitting by the ocean"
- Shelley on the balcony -

In both paintings, the models were seated by a table on a balcony, with rounded with a black railing, with beach grass below to the right of the paintings. The background in A young girl sitting by the ocean was at high tide, with very little visible other than the houses on the opposite shore, to the right of Kuuse's property. To the left of the painting, the rocky extension from the end of Wiley Street (Kusse’s land) blended in to Ten Pound Island. The balcony would have been along the waterfront that is today a part of No. 3 Windward Point, bordering the lawn area belonging to 21 Eastern Point Road.


View of Wonson's Cove from the lawn area between No. 3 Windward Point and No. 21 Eastern Point Road - GM 11/12/08 - At high tide: Ten Pound Island is at far left, opposite what would have been Kuuse's lot-property; 21 Wiley Street is framed by the rectangular opening right of of No. 15 Wiley Street (boxy, beige color edifice.
View of Wonson’s Cove from No. 2 Windward Point - GM 11/12/08: The fence borders No. 3 Windward Point; the site of Kuuse’s property (today No. 15 Wiley Street) across the cove is obscured by the tree on the right of the fence; Ten Pound Island is obscured by the conifer trees on both sides of the fence.

Shelley on the balcony, on the other hand, depicted the cove at low tide, when it unveiled that particular composition of beach grass and orangey rocks. The steam ship in the background would sail off the western side of Ten Pound Island toward the inner harbor, a view that was possible because the view at the time was not obstructed by the house that replaced Kuuse’s house. The balcony would have been along the waterfront that is today a part of No. 2 and No. 3 Windward Point, which was high ground and suitable for trees to grow on. The part of the painting that showed a person standing by the boat in the lower left corner of the painting easily could have been set at Harbor View Hotel’s landing.   

 


View from No. 21 Eastern Point Road, looking in the direction of Rocky Neck Avenue – GM 11/12/08: The beach grass at high tide.
Postscript.
I do not know the date when Phillip painted Shelley on the balcony. It did not necessarily have to be painted during Phillips' ownership of 21 Wiley Street. As one does not merely arrive and buy a summer place without having developed some liking for the place and its ambiance, it is safe to suppose that Rochelle and Robert Philipp had spent some time in Gloucester prior to buying the house at the end of Wiley Street. Certainly, when compared to Rochelle in other paintings, like Gloucester interior or Rochelle on the porch, Shelley on the balcony of Harbor View Hotel would have been younger, suggesting an earlier sojourn in these climes prior to 1949.

I do not know who or what institution owns Shelley on the balcony which, undoubtedly, is known by another name. The painting was near and dear enough to Robert and Rochelle for it to be hanging on the wall of their living room at 21 Wiley Street, in East Gloucester, for a brief time, at least, between 1949 and 1951. Some person or institution thought enough of the work to have it printed in poster form, as my neighbor in Somerville thought enough of it to have the poster framed, despite its eventual curbside fate when she left Curtis Avenue in the late 1970s. If there is an end note to this story, it may come one day when I stand face to face with the original Shelley on the balcony. That may have to await another serendipitous event like the one presented by Beach Angel. I dedicate this narrative to her.

I am grateful for the warmth and hospitality extended to me by the many whom I met in this magnificent journey – in person or on the phone; Joe (the firefighter), Sarah at the Archives, Stephanie Buck at Cape Ann Museum, Ann Ballerini, Paula Rushton Hudson, Willian Paden, and the residents of Wiley Street -- Kenn, Gail, Peter, Carol and Carol’s in-laws. This would not have been possible – and certainly not as much fun - without them indulging me.
 

Guy vanDeresk

www.TrapWorks.com

24 Carleton Street

Newton, MA 02458

Phone: (617) 964-5252

Email: Gvanderesk@aol.com


Post-postscript: Revised and updated -- 12 August 2016

In light of the information revealed by readers (see Readers’ Forum below), I must conclude at this time that the print hanging in my basement (inset below), which I have called “Shelley on the balcony” (because the title ‘Rochelle on the balcony’ is already a name associated with No. 22 above) continues to remain unidentified by the name given to it by Philipp himself. Many of his paintings, as the story in the entry below at No. 11 indicates, were apparently names given to the paintings or prints of them by galleries and publishers who procured his work.

 The question still remains whether the title “Girl in Blue” is truly the name of my “Shelley on the balcony.” Certainly, the representations that have accompanied reader’s letters to me look just like my “Shelley on the balcony” and carry a tag calling the work “Girl in Blue,” mine does not have a name tag.


All that glitters is not necessarily gold. Here is why I think “Girl in Blue” as applied to my “Shelley on the balcony” is the title that did not originate with Philipp. First, as you will see in the entry No. 11 below, the title “Girl in Blue” referred to both “Rochelle in blue” and to my “Shelley on the balcony,” which are two distinct paintings. The painting that I have identified as “Shelley on the balcony hanging in Gloucester Interior” (No. 33a above) is the same as “Shelly on the balcony” that hangs on my basement wall.


"Gloucester Interior"

The painting hanging between the two windows in “Gloucester Interior” (No. 33 above) (inset above) could appear from a distance as being “Rochelle in blue,” but it is not so. In “Rochelle in blue” the subject has her hands clasped in front of her; in “Shelley on the balcony” the subject’s right arm is dangling freely from the railing, with left hand not in play. So misnomers can and do occur, as Philipp reminded us when he corrected Kotis’s “Girl in Blue” to “Rochelle in blue.” That Kotis’s “Girl in Blue” would also be called “By the Sea” is yet another example of mislabeling.

Second, in most of Philipp’s paintings that include representations of Rochelle the subject’s name is given as Rochelle. See Nos. 3, 6, 8, 10, 13, and 15. To this list we now add also Kotis’s “Girl in Blue” that Philipp corrected to “Rochelle in blue.” It seems that he preferred to identify his wife in these painting by her name Rochelle, and not “girl.” This particular painting – my “Shelly on the balcony” – which hung in his home in Gloucester certainly was personal and intimate enough that its subject merited a designation more respectful than simply any old “girl.”


 

Last update: 12 Augsut 2016

Readers’ Forum. This section of the site is dedicated to postscripts and notices that I have received from readers. It is intended to enlarge the circle of knowledge about Robert Philipp and our personal encounters with his work, especially when it involves his wife Rochelle (aka Shelley) in idyllic, contemplative poses on a balcony by the sea.

 

In 2008 when I finished the photo-essay, I sent notice of its publication to Kendall Fine Art, in Atlanta, Georgia (info@kendallfineart.com) and to others whose work informed my search and research. A few days later, I received via e-mail a booklet entitled, Robert Philipp: The Last American Impressionist, by Mark Meachem and Matt Kendall (Kendall Fine Art, undated). It is a must read for any Robert Philipp connoisseur, aficionado or just a plain admirer of a chance encounter. From time to time, the art house (http://www.kendallfineart.com) lists a few Philipp works in its inventory.

 

[No. 11] “Girl in Blue” and “By the Sea” are really “Rochelle in Blue” -- case closed! On 3 August 2016, I received an email from Jeanne Kotis, of Twin Lakes, Ohio. She stated that in the mid 1970’s [1975 to be precise] she inherited a print titled “The Girl in Blue” by Robert Philipp (inset of Kotis’s possession on the left). “At that time,” she wrote, “it was rumored that he had done several paintings for IBM’s headquarters,” where she suspected the original of the work might have ended up. So Jeanne Kotis found an address for Philipp and “wrote to him to see where the original painting was.” “Long story short,” she wrote to me, “I received a hand written letter dated August 14, 1975 from Mr. Philipp.”

The letter from Robert Philipp to Jeanne Kotis (aka Mrs. Robert A. Moeller) is available here. In it, Philipp wrote:


Dear Mrs. Moeller –

Excuse my not writing sooner as I just returned from abroad.

The representation you mentioned in your letter under the title “girl in blue” was incorrect. The real title was “Rochelle in blue” and was my wife, it was sold to Wally Findlay the art dealer, where it went after that, I do not know.

The only answer I can suggest is to get in touch with Wally Findlay in n.y. on East 57 St.

I am pretty sure he can help you locate the publisher –

I hope that this will help a little.

Good luck,

Sincerely

Robert Philipp 


Jeanne Kotis did not contact Wally Findlay, the art dealer. However, she managed to keep Philipp’s “letter with the print for all these 40 years,” she wrote. Her query to this day has been to know who the publisher was and what has happened to the original.

The revelation of Philipp’s letter by Jeanne Kotis puts an end to the question whether the print of the painting that is called by some as “By the Sea” (see the picture accompanying the entry No. 3 below) should be called “Girl in Blue,” the title that accompanied Kotis’s print -- Philipp corrected it as “Rochelle in blue.”     


[No. 10] Penny J. Zubb, Columbus, Ohio. On 21 April 2014, I received an email from Penny Zubb, wrote to say that she purchased her print of 'Girl in Blue' froman esate sale in the summer 1988 (inset below). "I was in my twenties and my husband (also in his twenties) was in the Navy in Norfolk Va. [and] he spent much of his enlistment, as one would not be surprised out at sea," she wrote. In 1986, Penny and her husband had a beautiful blonde angel named Randi.  Randi and she spent much of their time doing things to keep busy, writing many letters to daddy and sending photos and praying for our time apart to be swift. One day, they drove by an estate sale sign.  Penny had never been to an estate sale and wanted to go in. The family greeted them at the door and told them everything had to go, to walk around and take their time. "I immediately spotted a beautiful portrait on the wall without a price," she wrote,  'the portrait of a young woman which was so stunning, it spoke volumes of emotion to me, seeming almost as if time stood still.  I felt like she was reaching out to me, and I also noticed this young woman reminded me of my daughter Randi." 


Image: 

Penny walked around the house looking at the items for sale, but could not get past the portrait. "I didn’t think it was for sale and figured if it was I would not be able to afford it anyway as we did not have much extra money to spend (I had about $20.00), but I kept going back to the portrait of the young woman. Finally, I asked how much they wanted for her, I felt like she was supposed to go home with me. To my surprise they did sell me the portrait (to the best of my memory) for $20.00, or even less." 

"Shortly thereafter," Penny continued, "I had another little girl and named her Toni. It amazed me as now I can see ‘Toni’ in the portrait as well as her sister, Randi.  Never before have I seen a portrait that resembles or reminds me of ‘both’ my girls and our time in waiting for my husband, their father. After reading your webpage, I have decided this is an amazing, and special portrait.  It seems to have fallen in each of our hands in a unique way for a special purpose.   All who own this treasure hold the portrait near and dear, and have grown to truly love the 'Girl in Blue.'" "‘She’ is truly special and I love her.  I will print your journey and keep it with the portrait for the family to enjoy for many, many years," she concluded.  


[No. 9] Sue Kelly, East Sussex, England. On 5 March 2014, I received an email from Sue Kelly, who wrote to say that she also has a copy of 'The Girl in Blue' (inset on the left). At first Sue passed on buying it at a second hand store run by the homeless. She went home without it, but had to go back and get it “because I wanted it so much,” she wrote. Her children and husband were not impressed, but she refused their requests to take it off the wall! 

Not knowing the painter or the name of the piece, Sue kept referring to it as “The Girl in the Blue Ruffle Blouse.” In January [2012], she put the picture of the piece on Facebook and finally on 1 March 2014 her sister-in-law solved the mystery. “It is a real relief to know who painted the young girl,” wrote Sue, “I now know to be Rochelle.”

The story is not complete without some recognition of Sue’s friends and family’s efforts to solve the mystery. One friend (let’s call her "Jenny") had an inkling in late January 2012 that perhaps the picture may had been copied from a section of a larger painting – like a Renoir or Morisot. Taking that cue, by late February, Sue had searched through pictures of hundreds of paintings just to conclude that her “Girl in Blue Ruffle Blouse” looked like so many others but not exactly.   

By 1 March 2014, Sue’s sister-in-law (let’s call her "Carrie") had zeroed her search to this website, where she had found the picture of “A Young Girl Sitting by the Ocean,” dressed in red and in a bonnet. Sending the information to Sue, she noted, “The painting is ‘Girl in Blue’ by the American artist Robert Phillippe. See this link for amazing detective work.” Carrie further explained her search. “I found it by doing google search for ‘impressionist paintings girl balcony seaside’ which led me to the girl in red above which looked very similar,” she wrote to Sue. “Fantastic detective work,” Jenny remarked, “and so much background detail. So the girl in blue is actually the artist’s wife, Shelley, on a balcony in Gloucester, Mass. USA! Interesting that the data on the artist [Carrie] found was researched by someone who had had the very same image in his basement for years.” An appreciative Sue could not be more pleased. “Well done Carrie!,” she said, “I searched for very similar parameters including impressionist painting of girl by sea, blue ruffle blouse, seaside, coast etc.. but I could never spend more than 45 mins and never found either picture. I’ve now got loads of books on impressionist painters.”

The most precious part of Sue’s story has to do with the draw that 'The Girl in Blue' possessed. Not only Shelley drew Sue back into that second hand store, but she also played a part in the fantasy entertained by some of her friends who all work together at a bookstore.  They have talked often about opening a dream book-shop café, which Sue would like to call “The Blue Ruffle Café,” with Shelley's picture hanging in the place and the old valve radio playing in the background. Who knows, they may still do it!  

 


[No. 8] Colin Crawford, Tiburon, California. On 24 May 2011 I received an email from Colin Crawford, who wrote to tell that the 'Girl in Blue' was his late father-in-law's favorite and it was now with him and her family in San Francisco. He said that he had "tried for some time to find out about the artist and the history of the painting.  As our copy has a little damage I'd love to get a reproduction and put it into a canvas - have you been able to find a company that has the rights to this painting?"

A day later, Colin further disclosed that his 'Girl in Blue' was a print and as his father-in-law was a heavy smoker the print - even though had been framed -- has some grime on it. "It must be at least 60 years old. I always thought the girl (Shelly) looked wonderfully pensive and it reminded me of all the great times with Sue's parents…. Your story was amazing and I've shared it with the rest of my family - meant a lot to them as the painting was one of those objects that everyone remembered about their visits," he wrote. 


[No. 7] Kim B., Southington, Connecticut. On or about 12 Aprill 2011, I received a phone call from Kim B. from Southington, Connecticut, who was in the middle of a move back to Laguna Beach, California. She had researched her 'Girl in Blue' to see if it was worth hauling it all the way back to California, or she should just sell it or to gift it to someone (insets on the left). According to her, the painting is oil on canvas, to the touch. She purchased this some 10 years earlier at a fundraiser for a senior center in Laguna Beach. The frame bears a plaque that identifies the name of the painting and the artist, and there is a red stamp on the back “#95/custom.” We exchanged a few e-mails about how she could research the provenance of the painting, with the aim of discovering if it was a genuine article or a copy and if so who donated it to the fundraising/auction and so forth. I have not heard back from her since April 2011.


 

[Nos. 6 and 4 consolidated] Letters from Pat W, Georgia (USA). On 4 August 2010, I received an email from Pat W, from Georgia in the United States. Pat had written to say that she had just read the narrative above “of this beautiful portrait.” She went on the say, “I have one, also. Cannot locate any information other than yours, regarding this treasure of mine. Mine has ‘Girl in Blue,’ Robert Phillippe, Turner Manufacturing Company, Chicago, Illinois... and, on the back also, it has a small stamp that reads Davison-Paxon Company and the number 2632, and measures 22 1/2 x 30 1/4".” In the span of 5-8 September 2016, Pat and I corresponded further about the pedigree of the painting. In one email (Sep 5) Pat wrote “I took pictures of the back, and I think that the Davison-Paxon sticker indicates it would have to be, at least created before 1947, maybe?  Wonder how many of these there are?  It is not under glass, and it reflects light beautifully.” In another email (Sep 6), Pat stated that the painting “looks like oil on canvas and not a print on cardboard to me.  Frame is painted blue and trimmed on the inside with white.” Pat also wrote that “When you run your hand over it, it is not smooth or like a print, it is more like an oil painting.” On 8 September 2010, I Googled Turner Mfg Co and came up with a company in Chicago, Illinois, that closed in the 1970s; they specialized in making wall ornaments, like picture frames, etc. The other notation on Pat’s painting ‘something Paxon’ seemed to refer to a shop in Atlanta, Georgia, that eventually got bought out by Macy's. I shared with Pat my hunch that Turner printed the print and then they were wholesaled to stores round the country; and Paxon was one of the places (outlets) that this was sold. Interestingly, the African-American lady outside whose apartment in Somerville, Mass. I found the discarded framed print in the 1970’s had moved up to Somerville from Georgia.

The pictures below are what Pat W. sent along with her various emails to me.


Image: 
No.1 Jeff J.

[No. 5] Jeff J., Youngstown, Ohio. On 29 August 2010, I received an email from Jeff, J., Youngstown, Ohio, who wrote to say that he had recently come "across a painting and in researching for information on the painting, your website seemed to have the information I would need. I was surprised that the picture you had was the same as mine. I dont really know anything about art, but I came across this painting and purchased it. It looks like it could be by Robert Phillipp. Ive enclosed some pictures of the painting [inset on the left]. If you would have any information on if it might be original or a reprint, that would be great. I thought it was an actual painting untilI saw yours."

The icon (inset on the left) is a picture sent to me by Jeff. He also sent other pictures that appear below. Among the latter, there is one in partocular that seems to be from the back of the painting (Nos. 3 and 4 below) with the identification: "F335. Philipp: Girl in Blue, 24 X 30". The other interesting picture is No. 7 below, which seems to indicate that the work is an oil painting, not a print. The picture depicting the signature (No. 2) looks like a 'Philipp' signature.  Whether Jeff’s is an oil painting and/or an original Phillip or a copy (reproduction) best be answered by experts who can physically examine the work. 


Image: 

[No. 3] Dirk VanD, Brainerd, Minnesota. On 8 July 2010, I received an email from Dirk VanD, from Brainerd, Minnesota. Dirk had written to say that he had "bought as an absentee phone bidder a painting by Phillip titled 'The Yellow Menu' at an Aug. 22, 2006, auction held by James D. Julia at the Samoset Resort in Maine. As happened to you with the 'Shelley on the Balcony' print, the woman (now known by me to be Rochelle) in 'The Yellow Menu' drew me in upon seeing her in the auction catalog. I knew nothing of the artist Robert Philipp and the style of the painting was so unlike anything that interested me (an art amateur) before. I continued to know so little of Philipp until reading your article online."

  

Dirk wnr on to say, "Having repainted our living room and sanded the oak floors of our 1910 house, I am in the process of reorganizing furniture and paintings. I've decided to place my Philipp painting more prominently on the wall. This caused me to do a Google search again for Philipp, whereupon I discovered you. I thank you for your personal search into Philipp and I, too, am left wondering why so little has been written about him and his work. So, thanks."

 

"Just as I put down my printout in order to email you," Dirk concluded, "the page with the image of 'Buy this Painting' caught my eye. In it, the woman (Rochelle) is wearing the very same green dress and hat that she wears in my painting 'The Yellow Menu,' which presumably is in the setting of NYC's The Russian Tea Room. What a thrill for me to discover this connection!"

 


By the Sea

[No. 2] John S. On 1 October 2009, I received an email from one John S. who wrote to call my attention to Robert Philipp’s print ‘By the Sea’ from the book, Fine Art Color Prints by celebrated American Artists, published by the Peoples Book Club, Inc, Chicago, 1945 (see inset on the left). In attaching the picture on the left, John wrote, “Looks like the same railing [as in my ‘Shelley on the balcony’]. Different position on the same balcony? Also note the people talking around a boat below.” He further said, “This book is frequently available on eBay. This particular listing has photos of all the prints:  http://cgi.ebay.com/1945-CELEBRATED-AMERICAN-ARTIST-FINE-ART-COLOR-PRINTS_W0QQitemZ350230786470QQihZ022QQcategoryZ29223QQcmdZViewItem .”

The eBay site mentioned by John has this notation about Fine Art Color Prints by Celebrated American Artists: “This is a Fine collection of Celebrated American Artist.  This was published in 1945 by the Peoples Book Club Inc. of Chicago Illinois.  It contains 9 beautiful color Prints by the Artist listed:  Thomas Hart Benton - Wreck of the old 97,  James Chapin - Here Am I,  Miguel Covarrubias - Map of America,  Adolf Dehn - Toms Farm,  Ernest Fiene - Wild Flowers,  Robert Philipp - By the Sea,  Paul Sample - County Fair, William Schwartz - Walnut Street,  Baraboo & John Whorf - Flotsam.  Each description of each print is listed on the left side of Print on next page.  The Book itself is in excellent condition for the age of this book. The corners show small bump wear but in General this is in excellent condition.  (This book was taken to the Antiques Road Show for appraisal and was appraised for more than the price listed.) This is your chance to pick up a great collection for a great price.”

Postscript. In the winter of 2010, a friend indulged me with a print of a work by Robert Philipp, copyrighted as © AAA in the lower left corner. It looks exactly like the print referred to by John. We now know from the revelations contained in Readers’ Forum entry No. 11 above that this painting ‘By the Sea’ in reality is, according to Phillip, called ‘Rochelle in blue.’


[No. 1] This space is left blank. Item withdrawn per reader's request.