Eustis Estate

Landscape at Cortina

Sarah Wyman Whitman

Sarah Wyman Whitman was not only a successful painter and book cover designer, but also fulfilled important commissions in stained glass. Her windows can be found in Boston’s Trinity Church; Harvard University’s Memorial Hall; Berwick Academy in South Berwick, Maine; and Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. She made this fire screen as a wedding gift to Richard Norton, son of her friend Professor Charles Eliot Norton. Antonio Mancini’s portrait of Richard Norton appears in this gallery.

Sarah Wyman Whitman, Fire Screen, 1896

Sarah Orne Jewett

In this 1931 photograph from the main bedroom in the Sarah Orne Jewett House, we see on the mantel a framed portrait photograph of Jewett’s life partner, Annie Adams Fields (1834–1915). See the photograph in the Painting in Context section below.

Landscape at Cortina hangs in the bedroom of Sarah Orne Jewett (1849–1909) in South Berwick, Maine. In 1870, Jewett, a twenty-one-year-old author, met thirty-six-year-old Annie Adams Fields*, the wife of publisher James T. Fields and a gifted hostess, writer, and philanthropist. (James had published some of Jewett’s early stories in his literary magazine, The Atlantic Monthly.) According to Jewett’s biographer, Sarah Sherman, “sometime in the winter of 1881, in the wake of James Fields’s death, Annie Fields and Sarah Jewett fell in love.” In 1882 the pair began traveling to Europe regularly. Jewett began spending autumns and winters at Fields’s home at 148 Charles Street in Boston, returning to her family home in South Berwick, Maine, in the spring and staying there through early summer, when she joined Fields at her house in Manchester, Massachusetts.

Libby Bischof, Professor of History at the University of Southern Maine, notes that the relationship between Jewett and Fields was a “Boston marriage,” a term coined by author Henry James to describe the association between two unmarried women living together in a long-term, committed relationship, not always lesbian. Such alliances were most often found among middle-class, educated, financially independent white women and were considered quite socially acceptable.

* A painting by Annie Adams Fields’s sister Elizabeth is in Gallery 3. Click here to see it.

Sarah Orne Jewett (in front of the window) and Annie Adams Fields at 148 Charles Street, Fields’s Boston residence where the pair lived for most of the autumn and winter for almost two decades.

Sarah Orne Jewett’s large circle of female friends included the talented artist and designer Sarah Wyman Whitman. Historic New England owns several items that reflect the two women’s friendship.

Jewett and several more of Whitman’s close female friends were in loving, long-term relationships with other women. Whitman’s own loveless marriage to dry-goods merchant Henry Whitman meant they lived separate lives and freed her to pursue an artistic career. Sarah Wyman Whitman went on to launch the Boston Water Color Club after the Boston Society of Water Color Artists refused to admit women like herself, and she made a significant bequest to Radcliffe College, which was dedicated to educating women.

On the left, a paper silhouette of Sarah Orne Jewett’s profile cut by Sarah Wyman Whitman, 1900. On the right,  Sarah Orne Jewett’s novel The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), the binding of which was designed by Sarah Wyman Whitman in the Arts & Crafts style at which she excelled.

Painting in Context

Sarah Orne Jewett’s Bedroom

Landscape at Cortina hangs in Sarah Orne Jewett’s bedroom. The room was still intact, furnished as it was when Jewett lived there, when the house came to Historic New England in 1931. Click the hot spots in the picture to learn more about where this painting is usually found. More information about the Sarah Orne Jewett House can be found in the section below.

Whitman’s painting hangs among treasured items on the mantel in Jewett’s bedroom. Elsewhere in the house, Jewett kept a framed copy of this image of Whitman which was done by Jewett’s friend Helen Bigelow Merriam.

J. Appleton Brown picture (engraving), 1886
J. Appleton Brown was part of the artist community frequenting Celia Thaxter’s salon on the Isle of Shoals, off the coast of New Hampshire. Sarah Orne Jewett and Annie Fields, with whom Thaxter was a close friend, were also part of that community.

Appleton Brown gave this engraving to Sarah Orne Jewett and it is fitting that it should have a prominent place in her private space, one abundant both in references to friends and to the natural world, to which she was deeply drawn. In a letter thanking Appleton Brown for the engraving, Jewett wrote that, “it happens that there is a place 'downriver' which has grown dear to my heart, and which seems to have stood for this portrait.”

J. Appleton Brown’s painting Twilight Landscape is on view in the parlor on the first floor of the Eustis Estate.

On the mantel beneath the painting is a framed picture of Annie Adams Fields (1834–1915). She was a poet, philanthropist, social reformer, and brilliant society hostess, with whom Sarah Orne Jewett shared a decades-long loving relationship following the death of Annie’s husband James T. Fields (a major publisher of the nineteenth century). Two mirrors in the room (the Chippendale-style to the right of the door being one) are believed to be placed so that this portrait can be seen from any vantage point in the room.

Carriage Lamp and Riding Crops, c. 1860–1880

From childhood, Sarah Orne Jewett found refuge and inspiration in nature. Whether walking in the woods, canoeing in the nearby river, or riding her beloved horse Sheila, Jewett sometimes felt she was, as she once wrote to Annie Fields, “the last wild thing left in the fields.”

Click on the hot spots
to learn more

Click play below for a pan of the whole bedroom. Note that Landscape at Cortina has already been removed for conservation.

Sarah Orne Jewett House

Writer Sarah Orne Jewett was born in her grandparents’ eighteenth-century house. She lived there with her family until 1854, when they built a Greek Revival house next door. As Sarah gained attention as an author, she and her family lived in the two Portland Street homes in the center of town. Jewett and her older sister Mary inherited their grandparents’ house, now a National Historic Landmark, in 1887. It inspired Jewett’s novel Deephaven.

Today, the grandparents’ house is the Sarah Orne Jewett House Museum. It reflects a blend of the sisters’ eclectic tastes and their family’s tradition, with wallpapers and furnishing that show an Arts and Crafts influence. The newer Greek Revival house next door is a visitor center featuring exhibitions of work by local students, community meeting space, and a museum shop.

The Sarah Orne Jewett House Museum is located at 5 Portland Street, South Berwick, Maine 03908.

From the Conservator's Notebook

Whitman Conservation

For more than a century, Landscape at Cortina has enjoyed a prominent location in Sarah Orne Jewett’s bedroom. But the work was showing its age and soot and missing elements were disfiguring the frame.

At right you can see the painting before (top) and after (bottom) conservation treatment. Click the hot spots to learn how conservators returned the painting to its former splendor.

Dirt and uneven varnish were obscuring the painting.

This frame was gilded using an oil size to adhere the gold leaf directly to the wood surface without using gesso to fill and smooth the wood. Because oil and gold are not sensitive to water, this frame could be cleaned with a water-based solution that was very effective.

We made a mold of the decorative balls on the frame using dental putty.

Next we cast replica balls in the mold using wood epoxy putty.

We gilded the balls with a matching color of gold leaf.

Both the painting and the frame have come a long way. Now you can even see the yellow flowers in the grass!

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to learn more