Monday, May 27, 2019

Childe Hassam

Childe Hassam (1859–1935) was one of the founders of American Impressionism. Once very famous, his paintings collected by all the top museums, he has lately nearly disappeared from the big time art world. However he remains popular with the studios that will repaint classic works for your living room (Moonlight, 1992)

Hassam was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, a descendant of early settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. His family wanted to send him to Harvard, as befitted his ancestry, but he noticed that they had fallen on rough times financially so he decided to get a job to help out. He worked as an accountant for the publishers Little, Brown & Company and in his spare time studied engraving and painting. This is one of the few paintings I have found from his pre-Impressionist days, Rainy Day, Boston, 1885.

In 1882 Hassam set himself up as a freelance illustrator and also began selling paintings; he had his first solo show in 1883. By 1886 he was quite successful. This, Boston Common at Twilight (1885), was his first painting to draw big time attention – it is now in Boston's MFA – and it shows the first stages of his move toward Impressionism.

In 1886 the newly married Hassam moved to Paris to continue his artistic studies. He first enrolled in the Académie Julian, but they were still teaching precise academic painting, not the Impressionism that had captivated him, so he quickly dropped out and continued his studies on his own. (View in Monmartre, 1889)

In 1889 Hassam returned to America. He thereafter divided his time among the age's great cities – New York, Boston, and Philadelphia – and rural retreats, especially to the Maine coast. It was his cityscapes that especially made his reputation, and many New Yorkers in particular considered him the greatest painter of their city. (Snowstorm in Madison Square, 1890)

Washington Arch, Spring, 1893

Coast Scene, Isle of Shoals, 1901, now in the Met.

In 1918 Hassam did a series of paintings of the flags hung up in New York to celebrate the end of World War I. These were so popular that he eventually painted dozens to meet the demand. They are now called his "flag paintings." Barack Obama had one hanging in the Oval Office for a while. (Avenue of the Allies, 1918)

But I was moved to write about Hassam by his gardens, always my favorite Impressionist subjects. Celia Thaxter's Garden, 1890, and detail. Also in the Met.

The Water Garden, 1909.

Afternoon Sky, Harney Desert, 1908. Looking at this, you can see why so many people buy reproductions of his work to hang in their houses. Lovely.

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